Blu-ray Review: All Is Lost

STUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: J.C. Chandor | CAST: Robert Redford
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/11/2014 | PRICE: Blu-ray $29.99, DVD $26.98
BONUSES: commentary, featurette, vignettes, storyboards, more
SPECS: PG-13 | 106 min. | Action-adventure drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

When Robert Redford’s (The Sting, The Way We Were) unnamed central character in All is Lost discovers a gaping hole in his sailboat while in the middle of the ocean, his sense of annoyance is shared by the audience from the outset. That turns to anger, helplessness and desperation, and this unusual piece of filmmaking carries viewers along through each emotion. Such is the power of putting a lens on one man in a fight for survival against the elements, with no backstory, no explanation of how he came to be here, virtually no dialogue, and no land-based subplots of worried loved ones.

To his credit, director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)  pulls off what could be the most logistically challenging film experiment in historym. Its plot could fit on the tip of a sail mast with room to spare for a navigation chart. But with a camera lens that seldom goes outside of a two-foot radius of our sailor’s own eyes, and convincing visual effects when the ocean displays its ferocity, All is Lost is end-to-end agitation, a far cry from the typical escape of movie-going.

All is Lost isn’t a perfect movie – its lack of broad exposition and other characters won’t be to everyone’s taste, and its intentionally nebulous ending might aggravate some – but the technique is impeccable. Redford’s performance isn’t spare by any means, as his bodily movements, his head on a swivel, speak volumes about his thought process. Never blatantly panicked, never crossing into the expected madness, his character is just a highly capable everyman methodically dealing with one problem after another as they arise – until he no longer can. In one sense, this is pure acting without the “crutch” of the written word.

All Is Lost movie scene

Robert Redford battles the elements in All Is Lost.

It might be a cliché that a movie’s soundtrack can put you in the middle of the action, but All is Lost on Blu-ray gives credence to that platitude. The sailboat’s creaking and straining, the water gushing, and the wind blasting the rain fill the surrounds and put you on edge. If you’re sitting in your home theater’s sweet spot, the 5.1 DTS track makes no distinction between what our sailor is hearing and what you are. It’s not particularly booming, and even the bass is utilized sparingly, but the track is enveloping and immediate.

Fittingly, the most significant extra on the disc aside from the commentary track is an 11-minute documentary on the sound of the movie. All is Lost was nominated for an Oscar in Best Sound editing, and the segment provides some of the tricks that were used to draw the audience in, like purposely muting what would normally be loud artificial noises so as to make the sounds of nature that much more menacing.

Other featurettes cover Redford, Chandor, the story, and the production process. In the latter we see clips of a “pre-movie” that was shot two weeks before actual shooting and stars the underwater director of photography in the Redford role, on the actual boat sets. Although the movie was extensively storyboarded, Chandor notes that he did this because with hundreds of crew standing by for principle photography to start, he wanted to convince himself that the project would really work visually.

In a movie without any dialogue, inevitably questions arise, and motives may be unclear. In the commentary, Chandor and the producers supply some of those answers, but not in a lofty, “well, isn’t it obvious?” kind of way. Along with comments on the shoot itself (the movie used boats in a large tank, a green-screen studio and the open ocean) and some of the essentials of sailing, it’s a listen that greatly enhances the film.

All is Lost is an incredibly nerve-wracking film to sit through, but it’s worth the effort.

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.