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Black Swan (Blu-ray Review)

I had my reservations about going to see Black Swan when it was playing theatrically.  I loved the concept, but I hate to admit it, I’m not the biggest Natalie Portman fan.  I know she’s a natural beauty and that she can act, but every time I hear her name I tend to cringe and think of her wooden performances in the Star Wars prequels.  Don’t get me wrong, I love those films, albeit they will never live up to the originals, and I know the blame should not fall on Portman’s shoulders alone, but on Lucas.  However, a film about ballet?  That sounded pretty boring to me.  How about you? Well needless to say, there were a variety of reasons why I finally decided to take the plunge on this movie in January and I know you want to hear about each and every one of them.  So I will forgo the suspense and fill you in on all the reasons.

Film  

Instead of the traditional paragraph review architecture, I have decided to simply list the reasons why I concluded that the Black Swan was a movie that I wanted to lay my hard earned cash down on in the theaters.  So sit back, take it all in and let me count the ways for you.

1.  I missed the press opportunity to screen and review the film because it was held during the day when I’m normally at my day job.

2.  The subject matter, as portrayed in the first theatrical trailer, looked dark and ominous.  I’m instantly drawn to that kind of stuff.

3.  WWTDD.com hosted an embedded video clip of a lesbian love scene between Portman and Mila Kunis.  I couldn’t care less about Natalie, but Mila is hot!

4.  The Oscar buzz among the critics started to peak my wandering curiosity.

5.  The film’s second theatrical trailer made this feature look like a physiological mind f#%k that couldn’t be missed.  My thinking was that if it was anything like Fight Club, then sign me up!

6.  But perhaps the biggest reason why I shelled out actual money to check this one out had not to do with my wife’s praise for the film, but fellow review Gregg Senko’s mostly negative reaction to it.  He did not like it very much and that’s fair, to each their own.  So why did his negative sentiments sway me the way it did you are probably asking?  Well it’s actually quite simple.  Whatever Gregg doesn’t like, I usually end up loving and vice versa.  It’s just the way it is between us.  It’s all cool.   As soon as he told me his feelings after his theatrical experience, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I knew, without any doubt, that the Black Swan and I was a match made in heaven.

So while working down in Florida this past January, I actually had a few down hours that I spent taking in the beauty of Black Swan.  I feel really morbid calling the film beautiful, but when you have a dark brooding soul like mine, how else would one describe it?  I have never seen the crowned champion, The King’s Speech, but I can’t imagine liking it more than I did the Black Swan.  But hey, that’s just me.  And speaking of myself, let’s take the spotlight and shine it where it truly belongs.

Mr. Darren Aronofsky must consider himself pretty fortunate to have two of his film’s nominated for an Oscar in the past three years, The Wrestler and Black Swan.  The origins of the latter’s screenplay is actually quite interesting, but I would spend way too much time there so for once in my life, I will spare you.   Let’s just say that the Black Swan was ten years in the making.   The Oscar nominated feature stars not one, but two onscreen beauties, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.  The supporting cast includes one of the luckiest men alive, Vincent Cassel (he’s married to a walking piece of art…Monica Bellucci), Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

The film revolves around a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet by a prestigious New York City company, spearheaded by director Thomas Leroy (Cassel).  Up and coming young dancer, Nina Sayers (Portman), lives with her overbearing mother (Hershey), a failed dancer who gave up ballet to have and raise her daughter.  To say that her mother controls much of Nina’s life would probably be an understatement.  However, our story shares another conundrum.  Director Leroy must find a lead dancer, the Swan Queen, who must be able to portray both the innocent and fragile White Swan and also the dark and seductive Black Swan.  Those are big shoes to fill.  Nina believes she was born to play the role.  But was she?  Personally, I think Nina as bigger problems to worry about than being the Swan Queen, but that’s just me.

As it would happen, Nina is the perfect ft for the White Swan.  Even I can’t deny that.  But for lack of a better word (and this will make sense when you watch the movie), she lacks the bite to be the other half, the Black Swan.  Meanwhile, there is another girl, Lily (Kunis), who is the perfect fit and personality for the role of the Black Swan.  When the two compete for the parts, that’s where all hell breaks loose.  Nina finds a very dark, Tyler Durden-like, side to herself.  And I love it so much!  In her pursuit of the role and ultimately perfection, Nina suffers from a number of psychotic symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations.  Despite the tragic events portrayed within the movie, there’s a strong message that is casted and I quote, “Perfection is not just about control.  It’s also about letting go.”  Man, where did we hear those words of “letting go” before?  Oh yeah, Fight Club!  Needless to say, in my life, those are powerful words.  The Black Swan, had I seen it last calendar year, would not have dethroned my champion, Inception, but it would have came damn close.  So that’s why you see a P-E-R-F-E-C-T film score here, because in my opinion, it is.

Video  

Ugh.  There’s a reason why you are not seeing a higher score here.  Don’t worry.  There’s nothing wrong with your eyes or mine.  Fellow reviewer Gerard Iribe was the first to inform me how this feature was captured.  I was intrigued and I wanted to find out more.  I mean the picture looks beautiful, but it’s not Blu-ray perfect.  Gerard understood what I was talking about and hopefully before the next paragraph is over you will too.

Black Swan was filmed with 16mm Arriflex cameras and two Canon 1080p DSLRs, the 5D Mark II and the 7D.  By the way, I will take either of the two latter mentioned cameras if you want to get one for me.  Anyway, for those of you that don’t know, the 16mm camera produces a softer and grainier image than the traditional 35mm footage you are all used to seeing.  So what’s this all mean to you the Blu-ray consumer?

The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded video transfer is beautifully presented in a 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio.  Again, it sounds weird with me saying beautiful once again in this review when the video score is only a 4, doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  But guess what?  The video presentation is perfect here.  It’s only because of the soft image (i.e. the director’s intent) produced from the 16mm footage that I have to unfortunately lower the score for, because let’s face it, it’s no Avatar.  But that’s okay people. It really is.  Black levels are deep and inky, skin tones look normal, colors are natural and best of all, there are no artifacts, specks or noise to be found during the feature’s 108-minute runtime. And although the veil of grain prohibits the Blu-ray from exhibiting maximum levels of sharpness, all the important stuff is still in tact here like wood grain surfaces, rug patterns and fabrics on clothing, just to name a few.  Bravo Fox!  Bravo!

Audio  

You wouldn’t think it, of a film about ballet I mean, but sound plays a large role here.  It lends itself quite well in constructing a psychological horror masterpiece, if I do say so myself.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track packs a dynamite punch.  The bass is thunderous when it needs to be and the symphony orchestra will practically feel like they are playing right in the room with you.  The music is strong, robust and in your face.  The dialog is always clear and intelligible.  And just to name a few, ambient sound effects utilize the rear channels rather effectively in scenes like Beth M.’s dressing room trashing, subway tunnels and rest room door knocks.  One could say that the rear channels are utilized so effectively that they almost forecast the events yet to come.  I’m quite pleased with the bang up job Fox has done with this A/V package.  And probably, one of my favorite scenes that is reminiscent of The Dark Knight and Blade is the balls-to-the-wall nightclub scene.  Love it!

Special Features  

After the discussions above about the disc’s exquisite audio and video presentations, I bet you are all salivating as you read and anticipate my ancillary thoughts on the Special Features.  Like I did in the beginning of my review, I’ll forgo the suspense once again.  I can actually sum it up in two words plus a contraction for you.  They’re not bad!  Oddly enough, there’s no audio commentary, but there is an equally impressive behind-the-scenes feature to take its place and best of all…ALMOST EVERYTHING is in HD!  You got to love that.  However, we’re wasting time.  Let’s cut the BS and take a look at the Special Features you will find on the Blu-ray disc that should have won Best Picture this year.  And yes…I digress.

  • Metamorphosis (HD, 48:55) – This one’s the grand daddy of them all here.  It’s a 3 Chapter long behind-the-scenes documentary with Director Darren Aronofsky and his hard working crew.  Simply put, I loved this feature.  There are two words you will hear about right from the get go here, low budget and independent filmmaking.  Coincidentally, those are two words on my mind a lot now these days too.  Huh?  Like I said, this movie was a match made in heaven for me.  If you are familiar with my Adam Green Blu-ray reviews, then you will understand when I say this is a MUST-SEE for all wannabe filmmakers.  And I want to go on record by saying how truly odd it was seeing them film scenes with a DSLR.  Wow!  I guess I better put mine to good use now.  Better late than never, right?  And listen up all you editors.  You want an inside look at the effects and how things were brought to life here?  Watch this!  I mean Jesus Christmas, even the back tattoo on Mila Kunis’ character was CG created.  My God!
  • Ballet (HD, 2:33) – This is a very quick featurette with equally quick interviews with cast and crew.  Ironically, this has nothing to do with the art of ballet; it’s more like an EPK for television.
  • Production Design (HD, 4:00) – Darren Aronofsky introduces us to the very talented Production Designer he used here, Therese DePrez.  I need one of her.  Therese discusses how much influence the Swan Lake ballet has on each set.  For fans of the Swan Lake ballet, there are a lot of Easter Eggs to be found in each scene.
  • Costume Design (HD, 3:55) – This featurette discusses exactly what you would think it would as Costume Designer Amy Westcott gives us the low down on all the costumes made and found within the film.
  • Profile: Natalie Portman (HD, 3:16) – Portman discusses the role and how Darren Aronofsky approached her in school about 8 years ago for this role.  I love stories like this.
  • Profile: Darren Aronofsky (HD, 2:48) – The Director gives us the shizzy about how he conceived the idea of Black Swan and more (basically all the stuff I neglected to talk about in my Film section above).
  • Conversation: Preparing for the Role (HD, 3:53) – This one is kind of weird, but it’s an interview/conversation between Portman and Aronofsky with some interjected behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Conversation: Dancing with the Camera (HD, 1:35) – This is a continuation of the previous conversation in regards to guess what…the film of the dances.
  • Cast Profiles (SD) – The following featurettes are all presented by Fox Movie Channel and showcase the actors reflecting on their challenging and rewarding characters.
    • In Character with Natalie Portman (5:56)
    • In Character with Winona Ryder (2:17)
    • In Character with Barbara Hershey (3:37)
    • In Character with Vincent Cassel (4:43)
    • Direct Effect, Darren Aronofsky (6:23)
  • BD-Live Extras – Go behind the scenes with brand-new exclusive footage on your Internet connected player.
  • LIVE LOOKUP – This feature is powered by IMDB.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:02) – Well duh!  The theatrical trailer is prominently featured here.
  • Other Trailers (HD) – There are three trailers that are forced upon you as you insert the Blu-ray disc into your playback system, 127 Hours, Love and Other Drugs and an FX channel commercial.  There’s also a section called Sneak Peek where we are treated with trailers of Conviction, Casino Jack, Never Let Me Go and Street Kings 2.
  • Digital Copy (SD) – There are actually two ways to access the digital copy here.  You can access it the old school way through the included DVD and also through Wi-Fi using an applicable pocket BLU device.  Enjoy this one the road!

Final Thoughts  

If you made it this far in the review, then I’m surprised you are not wondering why I never once talked about the controversy of just how many scenes were actually Natalie dancing and how many were not.  Quite honestly, I really don’t care.  If it was lip synching, then maybe I would feel differently here, but the dancing debauchery really doesn’t get to me.  I just love the tale that this film has to tell.  The truth of the matter is that the editing is done so well, that unless you are trained and know when and where to look, you cannot tell even when Natalie’s face is superimposed over her stand-in professional dancing double.  It’s spot on perfect!  With a psychotic tale of Fight Club proportions, an enticing A/V presentation and a Special Features package that left eve the supplemental hater in me happy, the Black Swan is an essential MUST-OWN on the Blu-ray format.  Don’t even think.  Order it now!  Experience the dark and dangerous world that Natalie Portman inhabits ad nails perfectly in the role for which she not only won, but also truly earned the Best Actress award for.  And needless to say, those are probably the kindest words I ever spoke about Natalie Portman.  Hopefully this is a trend that will continue.  Only time will tell.  Hands off Mr. Lucas!

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Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

6 Responses to “Black Swan (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Big BOys Oven

    wow I must make sure I wilol spare some time for this one!

  2. Gerard Iribe

    I’ve got my copy on deck. Brian, thanks for the shout out and kudos on your video review.

  3. Sean Ferguson

    This one is on my list to see.

  4. Gregg

    While I didn’t like this movie, I will say it was solidly assembled. I just couldn’t stand her meek character…too feeble for my tastes.

  5. Aaron Neuwirth

    Gregg, the movie revolves around Natalie Portman descending down a dark path to get over how she is too much a “White Swan” when she needs to be able to embrace the “Black Swan”.

    Also, this movie is as much about ballet as The Social Network was about Facebook. They are what these characters are involved in, but it is inconsequential to the overall themes of the story.

  6. lisa

    See…Brian this is a “review” best i’ve read about black swan.

    en pointe…bravo.
    and no pun intended.