The Fall

The Fall
Director: Tarsem
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis & Tarsem Singh (based on the 1981 screenplay Yo ho ho by Valeri Petrov)
Stars: Catinca Untaru (Alexandria), Lee Pace (Roy Walker), Justine Waddell (Nurse Evelyn / Sister Evelyn), Kim Uylenbroek (Doctor / Alexander the Great), Emil Hostina (Alexandria’s Father / Bandit), Robin Smith (Luigi / One Legged Actor), Jeetu Verma (Indian / Orange Picker), Leo Bill (Charles Darwin / Orderly), Marcus Wesley (Otta Benga / Ice Delivery Man), Julian Bleach (Mystic / Orange Picker), Daniel Caltagirone (Sinclair / Governor Odious)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2008
Country: U.S. / India / U.K.
The Fall
The FallThe Fall, director Tarsem Singh’s first film since his directorial debut The Cell back in 2000, is a singular personal epic, a film that reminds us of the intertwined splendor of cinematic imagery and childlike wonderment. It is by no means a perfect film, and in some ways it reflects the nature of its lengthy production (Tarsem, as he likes to be called, paid for the entire film himself and spent four years shooting it around the world). Yet, there is so much passion invested in each image that it simply overwhelms any narrative inconsistencies and draws you into its free-floating imagination. With movies going more and more into the digital realm, with computer-generated imagery replacing actual locations, The Fall is a true throwback to the power of capturing reality on celluloid and turning it into a dreamworld fantasia.

The story takes place in Los Angeles some time around the turn of the 20th century--not coincidentally, the dawn of cinema. A hallucinatory black-and-white credits sequence establishes the film’s bold juxtaposition of reality and dreamscape, prodding us toward the liminal space between what we see with our eyes and what we see with our mind. This is the realm that Tarsem seems to relish, and it makes one wonder if he is capable of making a film that doesn’t take place primarily inside someone’s head, where the laws of physics and narrative logic lose their sway in favor of pure sensory intake (some might say overload).

We are introduced to our protagonist, a little girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) who has a broken arm and a tenuous grasp of the English language. Simultaneously precocious and unassuming, she befriends Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a Hollywood stuntman who is paralyzed after a devastating stunt-gone-wrong involving his leaping off a railroad bridge onto a horse. Roy’s physical damage is a pale shadow of his inner turmoil, which we gradually learn is a result of his girlfriend’s betrayal and has taken him to the brink of suicide. Ostensibly to pass the time, Roy begins telling Alexandria a fantastical story about a quintet of unlikely exotic characters--a masked bandit (Pace), an escaped African slave (Marcus Wesley), a silent Indian mystic (Julian Bleach), an explosions expert (Robin Smith), and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill)--who have sworn vengeance against a common enemy named Governor Odious.

Much of the film takes place in the world of Roy’s ever-evolving storyworld, which Tarsem strings together with gorgeously saturated imagery from more than two dozen countries. We get amazing vistas of orange sand dunes contrasted with a brown desert and blue sky (if this looks familiar, it’s because you saw the same location in The Cell), underwater shots of a swimming elephant (it’s much more glorious than it sounds), and a blue city surrounding a massive castle that includes staircases that would make M.C. Escher proud. While the physical locations are insistently real, Tarsem and first-time feature cinematographer Colin Watkinson give them the veneer of a dream, turning reality into mindscape. The story that Roy spins over a period of days has the fragmented, staccato cadence of something being made up on the fly, which is precisely what it is. Critics who complain about narrative clumsiness have somehow managed to ignore the fact that most of the story is a purposeful sham, albeit one that fires the imagination of those willing to toss convention aside and let the film’s imagery engulf them.

However, The Fall also works on an emotional level, in that Roy’s fantastical story has potent connections to his own reality. Tarsem and coscreenwriters Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis, who have essentially remade a 1981 Bulgarian film called Yo ho ho, offer a heady mixture of melodrama and comedy to balance out the storybook visuals. Ever the inquisitive child, Alexandria’s voice sometimes breaks into Roy’s story with the kind of unassuming candor that adults seem to lose sometime around puberty (after Roy describes each of the vengeful characters, Alexandria pipes in with a simple “I like him”). Eventually she infiltrates the story completely, forcing us to recognize the inescapable threads that bind together their fiction and reality. Even though it takes a while to build up its steam and may be too deliriously off-kilter for some viewers, The Fall is ultimately a deeply moving and life-affirming story about the beauty of redemption that is wrapped up in what can only be described as a love poem to the power of movies.

The Fall Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French
  • Audio commentary by director Tarsem
  • Audio commentary by star Lee Pace, writer/producer Nico Soultanakis, and writer Dan Gilroy
  • “Wanderlust” featurette
  • “Nostalgia” featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Photo gallery
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 9, 2008

    If you’re looking for an amazing Blu-Ray disc to show off your system, you could do a lot worse than The Fall. Transferred from a 4K digital intermediate, the image is astounding--sharp, clear, and extremely well-detailed, it does full justice to the extraordinary visuals Tarsem amassed during the film’s four-year production across 24 countries. Colors are bright and striking, from the electric hues of the blue city to the stark contrast between the white sands and the orange dunes of the desert scenes. The image never looks processed, though, and maintains a distinctly film-like appearance throughout. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround track is likewise,= excellent, with great fidelity and a strong sense of immersion in both the diegetic sounds and the sweeping score by Krishna Levy.
    The supplements, though limited in number, offer an impressive amount of depth in terms of understanding the film and its amazing journey from Tarsem’s mind to the screen. To get specific information about the production and the artistic drives behind it, there are two audio commentaries, one by Tarsem and the other by star Lee Pace, writer/producer Nico Soultanakis, and writer Dan Gilroy. Both are enjoyable and edifying, revealing all kinds of intriguing tidbits that make watching the film that much more enjoyable. There are also two featurettes, “Wanderlust” and “Nostalgia,” both of which run about half an hour in length. Unlike most DVD/Blu-Ray documentaries, these don’t offer a conventional framework of talking head interviews and chronological development, but are rather composed of raw footage from the production that offers an unadorned fly-on-the-wall perspective. Also included are two brief (and I mean brief) deleted scenes and an extensive photo gallery that is exclusive to the Blu-Ray release (all other supplements are available on the DVD release).

    Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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