Under The Skin (Blu-ray Review)

So going into this Blu-ray review of Under The Skin I knew the following four pieces of intelligence: Scarlett Johansson is an alien, she gets naked in this, the film’s a little out there with its wild imagery and my peers here at Why So Blu absolutely love it.  Armed with that knowledge how bad can this really be?  I was dying to find out because unfortunately in Austin, TX it only screened in two of the dumpiest theaters that reside in the area.  I was not going to fork over my hard earned money to have my feet stick to the floor, not be able to see in case some Andre the Giant sat in front of me because of no stadium seating and watch it on a screen that’s barely any bigger than my HDTV at home and that has probably been around in age longer than I have.  Are you picking up what I’m dropping here?  I want my money’s worth.  And that’s why I salaciously waited for this flick on Blu-ray.  Was it worth the wait?  Read on and find out.

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So it should come as no surprise that this British-American sci-fi feature stars the like of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role as an alien seductress who preys on men in Scotland.  Now let’s be honest with ourselves here for a moment.  If it didn’t star Scarlett and involve her getting naked, would this still be a good film?  Hopefully I will be able to answer that and more very shortly, but for now you need to know that this film was co-written and directed by Jonathan Glazer as a loose adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name.

When a film’s genre is labeled as Erotic; Futuristic; Science Fiction; Sci-Fi; Thriller; Fantasy; Supernatural and it’s Rated-R for Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content, Some Violence and Language it just has to be good right?!!!  I would think so and it seems that 87% of Rotten Tomatoes readers agree too at the time of this writing.  Some even go as far to label this as a masterpiece and/or the best film of the year so far.  However, the only opinion that truly matters in this Blu-ray review of Under The Skin is the reviewer’s, and that would be me.  

So I know this won’t make any sense at all to moviegoers who have not seen this one yet, but here goes my best attempt to tackle a very simple film that’s told from a very complex point of view.  You still with me yet?  I just have to check because I’m going to be talking about a lot of things that will probably not make sense to you and (LOL) still don’t to me.  It all has something to do with this alien, which I guess we will refer to as “her” as she is never officially given a name.  In human form, she’s portrayed by Scarlett Johansson.  Duh!

Our story begins with this alien taking over a body resembling an attractive young woman.  She travels around Scotland picking up single men (who through her endless questions finds out that no one would ever miss them) in a van only to take them back to a house by luring them there with the false pretense of sex.  Alright, I have to stop you right there.  What single, unattached man is going to refuse seeing Scarlett (“her” human form here) naked?  That’s a rhetorical question of course.  Once the men are in the house “she” starts stripping and the guys do the same until they lack anything resembling a garment altogether on them.  As Brandon Peters would say (get it “peters”?), there are some dongs to be seen here, ladies.  As the guys make their naked way towards “her” they sink down into some black, inky goo until they are completely submerged and for lack of a better word, trapped.  They are suspended in this black goo and rest assured they do show you why, but I won’t spoil it for you here.  However, what still bothers me is that there’s this male motorcyclist that seems to follow “her” everywhere and I guess you can say even cleans up her mess.  Who is he?  What is he?  And why is he here is never really explained.  While the ending reveal is actually quite cool, the satisfaction level just isn’t all the way there for me to justify a perfect or near perfect film score.  It felt kind of lame, but truth be told, that won’t stop me from enjoying this piece of art over and over.  I guess in hindsight, how do you truly end something this intriguing and different that you are viewing onscreen?  Your guess is really as good as mine.

There are other moments that kind of make you go WTF like how you would kill a man who tried to save others or leave an infant on the beach alone, but don’t fret, it really does all makes sense.  You just have to remember you are seeing “our” world through “her” alien eyes for the very first time and witnessing first moments with her and she experiences them.  There’s a sort of innocence that goes hand in hand with ignorance there don’t you think?  Think about it guys.  How old were you when you started to wonder what is that appendage hanging down there?  Now put yourself in “her” shoes and think about how she wonders the same about her alien body, which to us looks like a Perfect 10, and that hole between her legs.  Let’s just say that Scarlett’s alien character begins to feel more and more conscious of her human body as the movie goes along and makes those kind of innocent discoveries we as humans do in our youth and sometimes even infancy.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Under The Skin isn’t even the story itself, but how it all came to be and most importantly to me, how it was all crafted.  It’s really quite fascinating in my opinion.  First off, this film literally took about ten years to get made from when Glazer first birthed the idea back in 2001 to adapt Faber’s novel.  Second, the script took a few different turns in the making stroy-wise and once upon a time it was rumored that even Brad Pitt was attached.  However, as you will learn in the disc’s supplemental features, Glazer really wanted an unknown cast and he really wanted to make a film that represented an alien perspective of the human world and focused solely on that female character.  Well, he got his wish alright.  And who better to play this female character than the sexy Scarlett Johansson?  Come on!  This was brilliant marketing.  You know how many guys probably couldn’t give a rat’s a$$ about the film’s subject matter and are purely watching this just to see their favorite starlet strip naked?  Well, do you?!

I won’t go too deep into the how’s and why’s of the casting process because it’s all in the special features, everything from the unique way this was shot to how even Scarlett herself was an alien filming in Scotland amongst all the unbeknown public who were oblivious to it all.  Now that’s quite cool huh?  It’s literally an alien playing an alien.  And then there’s this killer soundtrack by Mica Levi that literally infuses the feature and interjects with complete raw emotion.  It’s like the music is a character of its own.  You can almost say it carried the performances.  Can’t you?  And last but certainly not least, there’s this whole creep factor going on in this movie.  Yes, certain aspects of it are sexy, but it’s also moody, broody and unmistakably dark.  If you’re able to see the light in any of it, then maybe you’re an alien.  Did you ever think about that?  LOL.

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As we will discuss in more detail down below in the Extras section, this one is all over the place here due to the number of different cameras employed throughout (some even hidden) so just keep this in mind that your results may vary here with this one.

  • Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Clarity/Detail:  In my opinion, the levels of clarity and detail here is outstanding…when they want to be.  Things that we take for granite such as pavement, stone, bricks, fur coats, denim jackets, rain drops, snow flakes, twigs, etc. just rock your world here.  Now I do have to say the following.  Due to the many different cameras utilized here there are unfortunately some softer moments, but nothing to the point that will significantly distract or take away from your viewing enjoyment.
  • Depth: This one definitely has that three-dimensional Blu-ray pop thing going for it, but once again your results may vary due to the many different environments in this one.  But rest assured, there are some scenes where Scarlett’s body literally jumps out of the screen at you, and quite honestly, I could’t be happier about it.
  • Black Levels: Since a lot of this picture is shrouded in darkness I think this one’s an easy one to call.  The black levels are all gorgeously and bodaciously deep, dark and inky throughout.  You won’t find any complaints or nitpicking from me here at all in regards to these.
  • Color Reproduction: Ugh.  This one’s a toughie.  Because of artist intent, various scenery and environments and of course depending upon what kind of camera was used, I’m afraid your results will vary here.  LOL.  I will say this that Scarlett’s race car red lipstick really stands out prominently here and is a nice contrast from her pasty white skin and dark hair.  Otherwise, with the exception of some of the daytime outdoor shots, the colors are pretty muted and shrouded in darkness here, but once again…I have zero complaints here.
  • Flesh Tones: Despite the artistic ploys at work here, in my opinion, the skin and flesh tones are pretty natural and authentic throughout.  Flesh plays an important part of this film so I’m overjoyed they got that right here.
  • Noise/Artifacts: Other than one minor banding issue during a sunburst effect towards the beginning, the picture is free and clear of any nasty debris, white specks or really anything else that would hinder and deter your Blu-ray viewing experience.  Had it not been for some of the softer shots, this section would have been awarded a perfect score of 5.

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The audio on this one is very unique and very cool for a number of reasons, which we will discuss in more detail down below and also in the Extras section, but like the video score up above it’s only near perfect and would be unfair to rank it alongside the top tier Blu-ray releases of the year with perfect scores.

  • Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
  • Dynamics:  This one, also like in the Video section up above, is a very tough one to grade audio-wise only because the surround track is very minimalistic, but when it kicks in back the F up and watch out.  It’s monstrous at times.  We will discuss in more detail below down in the Extras section, but because of the minimalistic qualities of this one it feels (sounds) very documentary like.  Now with that being said, Mica’s score is a whole other topic of discussion here.  For a film with very few words and slow moving, almost rhythmic like, the score literally brings this picture to life and like the alien symbiote to a human host, it gives it body.  I guess you’ll get the point I’m trying to make when you have the pleasure to sit down with this one and watch.
  • Low Frequency Extension: So let’s see, you have the ocean waves breaking, the rave music pumping in the nightclub and a motorcycle ripping down the street.  Should I go on or do you need more examples of how the LFE channel is always here throughout this presentation to lend a helping hand?
  • Surround Sound Presentation:  This is always one of my favorite sections here in the Audio department as I get to tell you about all the cool surround stuff like the ocean noises, traffic zipping by, busy cityscapes, a bustling nightclub full of partygoers, hustling shoppers in a large mall, etc.  The list goes on and on.  The surround track swirls around you here like a hive of swarming bees.
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  Given the fact that the film takes place in Scotland you bet your sweet petunias that the heavy accents make this one very hard to understand at times.  Even Scarlett’s soft spoken voice gets lost in the shuffle here a few times due to the events or actions going on in the background.  I suggest if you have any trouble understanding the Scottish dialogue, use the subtitles.  They’re here to help you in these times of need.

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At first glance it doesn’t appear like there’s a lot to write home about here, but under the surface there’s actually more than meets the eye.  I guess you can kind of joke this section is much like our feature, huh?  Well I’ll dispense with the bad jokes and just get right down to business.  There’s a lone featurette that’s broken into a slew of segments, which I have dissected below for your reading enjoyment (I don’t take the easy road like the other sites do and just simply list the segments), as well as my favorite supplement, a redemption code for an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the movie so I can enjoy Scarlett naked wherever I go now.  Haha.  Come on!  I’ll show you are this Blu-ray spacecraft, I mean disc.

  • Featurettes (HD, 42:23) – The back of the Blu-ray cover art makes it seem like there is only one “The Making of Under The Skin” Featurette here, but in reality there are a total of 10 segments to be found here complete with a Play All option too.  All of the segments are listed below with some short comments I wrote about what I took away from each of them.  Enjoy!
    • Camera (HD, 5:28) – The Directory of Photography talked about how the camera followed “her.”  He also went on to discuss in detail how naturalism was the focus.  I found it very interesting that there was once 10 cameras running at the same time and also the way they hid the cameras from the actors.
    • Casting (HD, 4:38) – Jonathan Glazer talks about how he saw Scarlett as the character in his mind.  The cast is a mixture of professional actors and some untrained ones.  The story I found most intriguing wa about the man with the facial deformity who was indeed real and comfortable with the nudity.  He had never acted before and they talk about how it was so natural for him because it was his own words.
    • Editing (HD, 4:24) – The film’s editor talks about the eight layers of footage he had to wade through because of all the multiple cameras, etc.  It took ten weeks to cut nine to ten scenes a week, in total 88 scenes out of 230 hours of footage captured.
    • Locations (HD, 5:18) – Locations were scouted for this feature about six months in advance and they were originally looking to find an Eden like location for the film’s ending.  That idea got scrapped by Glazer for the forest.   It was kind of cool to hear how they kept Scarlett a secret at locations they were shooting at such as in all the excitement of the nightclub scene so they didn’t blow her cover.
    • Music (HD, 5:14) – They talk about the uniqueness of Mica’s music which encompasses real instruments as well as sounds.  For me, Mica’s music really made this feature and just captures the thematic perfectly in my opinion, but I digress.  Mica also discusses what the various sounds represent in the movie, the human versus alien feelings and those drums that captures her hunger.
    • Poster Design (HD, 2:06) – They talk about the freeze frame they took of Scarlett’s face and how it was used in the movie’s theatrical poster.  All the iterations of the movie’s poster is on display here as it was created over one weekend.  The artist’s wife said you know a poster is successful when it’s hanging everywhere and no one has drawn a dick on it yet.  LMAO.
    • Production Design (HD, 3:18) – They talk about the major issues they faced with the weather, finding the right van, generating power while trying to remain anonymous on the streets, hiding the cameras and all the other production challenges they overcame.  And yes!  They talk about the black floor the victims sink into!  The stage floor was actually made of black glass with a bladder to suck the victims into the liquid.  How cool!
    • Script (HD, 5:46) –  They talk about how we see the world through the eyes of the alien and the challenges of seeing things through a fresh lens.  I love how Glazer talks about the intro and what everything meant (I won’t divulge any spoilers).
    • Sound (HD, 1:56) – Haha!  I knew it!  They talk about how they left the parts of the sound that felt almost documentary like and kept it in as it’s what the alien hears.
    • VFX (HD, 4:12) – This one is what you would expect it to be, the design of the alien and even the snowflakes that fell in the final scene, but again I’m not giving anything away.  You will just have to see it for yourself!

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Looking back, I’m very happy with this Blu-ray release of Under The Skin.  I have to be honest with y’all.  It’s kind of everything I expected and more because the special features were a little heftier than what the back of the Blu-ray cover art initially suggested.  However, you know me.  I always like to complain about something.  I’m that glass is always half empty kind of guy I guess (insert the sad face that comes with poverty).  With that being said and admitted, I think this Blu-ray release would have really benefited from a commentary track from Mr. Glazer and hell while I’m at why not an isolated score track too from Levi?  Would that be too much to ask for?  Maybe a double dip, huh?  Other than that this Lionsgate Blu-ray title is a keeper for me and a much welcome addition to my collection of Blu-ray specimens.  The question still remains though of whether you will like it?  Under the Skin as I made mention about many times up above  is a very minimalistic film.  It’s a low budget independent film in itself, and it’s a very simple one.  However, it’s told through a complex eye and you just may not get that your first time around I fear.  You may actually get bored trying to figure out what the hell is happening and why.  Most may bark and refute the fact that there’s really nothing to ever be revisited again here other than Scarlett getting naked while others will praise it for its bold look at our world from an alien’s perspective, yada yada yada.  So what I’m trying to say in so many unnecessary words is that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  If you simply want to add this Blu-ray to your collection because of Scarlett’s nudity throughout, please click here or on the pre-order link below to have this waiting for you on your front doorstep after work on Tuesday, July 15th.  You definitely won’t be disappointed if that’s your intent.  All others, you’ve been warned.  Your results and mileage on this one will vary…me…I just can’t wait to see it again, fall into that black inky abyss and have my skin torn off as that killer soundtrack takes over and mesmerizes my mind to no end.  Enjoy!


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