Updated: Apr 4, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; R for profanity including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), iTunes (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “A Global Concern”
WHAT’S with the comedy label?
Look up “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” at Redbox and you’ll find it under “comedies.” While it has some laughs, most would never call that story funny.
The same can be said for “Downsizing,” from Oscar-winning director Alexander Payne starring Matt Damon as good-hearted Paul Safranek. Payne, who won Academy Awards for best writing/adapted screenplay for “Sideways,” with Jim Taylor, and “The Descendants,” with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, works with Taylor again on “Downsizing.” With its emphasis on overpopulation, ecology and social ills, “Downsizing” is more social/eco science fiction than comedy. It’s a movie looking for its audience.
Blame dumb marketing – which persists as the film makes its way to home theaters. Folks came in looking for laughs, and were belted sideways with a different kind of story. There’s humor in “Downsizing,” but it’s more subtle than side-splitting.
Paul Safranek is always helping others. He left school to take care of his mother, a victim of fibromyalgia. His wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), is completely self-absorbed, but Paul would do anything – and everything – to please her.
Financial limits keep them from buying the HGTV mansion of her dreams, but then Paul crosses paths with an old friend who has undergone a newly invented procedure designed to shrink bodies down to five-inches. His buddy lives in Leisureland, an upscale colony. Descriptions of a new life of luxury that is also good for the environment – smaller size means a smaller carbon footprint on planet Earth; smaller needs means money goes further – inspire the Safraneks to downsize themselves.
Only Audrey has a last minute change of heart and Paul finds himself alone in his new world. And soon divorced. There are no perks for Paul; he must take a telephone customer service job, and move to small apartment. That’s where he meets his larger than life neighbor, Duŝan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz). He also meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese activist, who was forcibly downsized because of her politics. She’s the only survivor of a group forced out of her country. Shipped out in a “TV box,” Ngoc lost her leg, and became a short-lived media sensation. Now she’s hired help, running a cleaning service that keeps the tiny rich in style.
Despite some language barriers, Paul and Ngoc have a common impulse – to help others in need. Accompanying Ngoc home, Paul discovers the dark side of Leisureland: a slum made of plywood built around a communal square dominated by a big TV. Ngoc takes leftovers from her employers to distribute among her neighbors; she brings Paul along to use his medical skills to help them. The reflection of full-size society isn’t so funny, nor is it intended to be, but Payne and Taylor present the situations with realistic irony. We smile as we wince.
Effects drive “Downsizing” through digital technology (CG), perspective shots, and specially built sets and props.
“I told (Visual Effects Supervisor) James Price, visual effects [must be] extraordinaire,” Payne says in “A Matter of Perspective,” one of six bonus features on Paramount’s release. “I want you to trick me into feeling that I’m making a movie without visual effects so that I’m just focusing on the story and the characters.”
The Ultra 4K and Blu-ray are both made from a 3.4K digital source, but viewers will find little difference between the formats. Visuals are excellent throughout. Color is bright; skin tones are natural in an international cast.
Leisureland almost overwhelms with its tiny perfection. The sun always seems to shine there, until rain brings gloom near the end. The slum is washed in golden light, allowing us to see details of the plywood boards. Small items, like a champagne cork used as a stool in Ngoc’s home, and a flattened, metal soda cap used as a child’s sled, pop on the screen.
“When people are watching the movie, I really want them to be involved with the characters and the spirit of the movie,” Price says. “Not so much thinking about the visual effects, but thinking about the predicaments that the characters … find themselves in. And just enjoying the visual spectacle of the story that’s being told.”
The 4K and Blu-ray both use a fully immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack placing viewers in the midst of crowd and party scenes, while delivering dialogue clearly. Sound is balanced from bass to treble. The original score is by Rolfe Kent (“Up in the Air,” “Sideways”), and includes Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” “A Little Change in the Weather” by Sissel, and other tunes.
In addition to “A Matter of Perspective,” find production details in “The Cast” and “A Visual Journey.”
“It’s not just an animation movie, it’s not just a visual effect movie, it’s an Alexander Payne movie with five-inch-tall people,” Production Designer Stefania Cella says in “A Visual Journey.” “I didn’t want to do something too-cartoonish. The lack of details in the (Leisureworld) architecture, in the furniture, was the key of making it more toylike, without becoming grotesque.”
Cast and crew give their impressions of the director and star, Matt Damon, in “Working with Alexander” and “That Smile.” To their credit, both men work with the same actors and crew time and again. That doesn't happen unless relationships are good.
Payne talks about the environmental issues of the film in “A Global Concern.” “Downsizing” certainly preps us for them. “[The Film] imagines what might happen if, as a panacea for overpopulation and climate change, Norwegian scientists learned how to shrink people down to five-inches-tall,” he says.
“When you’re working on a movie like ‘Downsizing,’ it really does make you think about some of the bigger issues,” Price says. ”So I have thought about how much trash or how much waste we produce, and what are some things as a society we can do to make that better.”
“Downsizing” is a good movie – not a comedy, but a uniquely thoughtful film that slips its message in as it entertains. Just like good sci-fi should.
- Kay Reynolds