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Saturday, March 31, 2018

DOWNSIZING -- Blu-ray/DVD Review by Porfle

For a movie that I originally thought was going to be a lightweight sci-fi comedy--sort of a modern-day THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN, or a variation on HONEY, I SHRANK WHATEVER--director/co-writer Alexander Payne's DOWNSIZING (2017) starts out as a fun indulgence and then, before you know it, develops into something much more substantial and meaningful.

The premise is instantly intriguing as scientists create a way to shrink humans to action-figure size, which will both greatly increase their financial wealth (little stuff costs a lot less) and decrease their negative collective impact upon the global eco-system. 

The actual shrinking part is where DOWNSIZING offers viewers the most enjoyable wallow in the story's sci-fi potential. We follow everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) through the process after they've gone through much soul-searching over this major (and permanent) change in their lives, submitting themselves to what amounts to a fascinating and suspenseful shrinking sequence inside a cold, impersonal laboratory environment.

This part of the movie is filled with wonderful sights such as tiny people traveling by bus or airplane in seperate sections with tiny seats, interacting with their fellow giant-sized alumni at a class reunion, etc. 

Naturally the effects are first-rate--with CGI currently at so advanced a stage it would practically be a disgrace if they weren't--giving the illusion a sense of dreamlike reality that's irresistible.

It's right around this point, however, that the story takes a more serious turn when something jarringly distressing happens to Paul.  He's suddenly left in his tiny new home in a tiny new city without a tiny wife, and facing the prospect of a lonely, meaningless tiny new life.

With Paul's arrival in the spotlessly clean mini-metropolis, the film shifts from the "ooh, ahh" sense-of-wonder of its premise to more down-to-earth social and interpersonal matters. 

We see Paul stumbling through the singles' scene until he runs into his almost freakishly outgoing new neighbor Dusan (an ebullient Christoph Waltz) who opens up a whole new world of experience on the wild side of life.

As Paul tastes the bohemian lifestyle he's brought back down to earth by Dusan's impishly abrasive housekeeper Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political refugee who was force-shrunken by her government and shipped out of the country in a TV box, losing a leg in the process. 

Ngoc introduces Paul to the lower class of little people on the fringes of small society, giving him a sense of purpose when she shows him what a positive impact he can have on their lives.

While all of this is going on, Paul's new environment becomes so familiar that it gradually loses its miniature charm and starts to feel like the real world apart from the occasional giant-sized reminder.

The simple premise also gives way to a more political undercurrent that will result in Paul experiencing an even more drastic, life-changing event when he encounters the original downsized colonists and their elaborate plan to abandon the doomed outer world for a new life underground.  This is in addition to even more social concerns about how "normal" sized people begin to regard the ever-growing "small" population.

It's deep stuff--not excessively so but enough to provide ample food for thought until, before we realize it, DOWNSIZING has transcended its simple, lighthearted premise and evolved into almost an epic of emotional and philosophical import.  Yet this remains grounded by its small personal stories, not the least of which is an unexpectedly sweet sort of romance between Paul and Ngoc. 

Alexander Payne's deliberately subtle direction gives the cast a lot of room to excell, which they do. Damon has the "regular guy" thing nailed, while Waltz gets to be as flamboyantly outgoing as I've seen him.  Hong Chau is a delight as Ngoc, her flighty exterior masking both inner pain and a life-affirming resolve.

Cult favorite Udo Kier appears as Dusan's ship captain friend who still sails tiny ships that he has Fed-Ex'd to various bodies of water around the world. Kristen Wiig's part is small, but she makes the most of it.

Paramount Home Entertainment's Combo Pack includes the film on both Blu-ray and DVD discs, with access to a digital copy as well.  The DVD contains only the feature film in standard definition, while the Blu-ray has it in HD with the following featurettes: "Working with Alexander", "The Cast", "A Visual Journey", "A Matter of Perspective", "That Smile", and "A Global Concern."

I was initially dubious of DOWNSIZING's running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, but that was when I thought it was just going to be a comedy.  As it became sort of an epic, albeit a rather downsized one, that time was well filled. 

DOWNSIZING DVD  The DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 televisions with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The disc includes the feature film in standard definition.

Street Date:      March 20, 2018 (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD)    March 6, 2018 (Digital)
U.S. Rating:    R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use
Canadian Rating: 14A, nudity, coarse language


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