Sometimes, the problem with movies based on novels is that the filmmakers can’t possibly give us the richness of the literary experience in just two hours, so elements of the story have to fall by the wayside during the development process. If you’re talking about “Jurassic Park,” the stuff that was dropped wasn’t that important to the spine of the story anyway. While watching “Children of Men,” however, I was left with many head-scratchers that made me want to read the book at some point and hopefully fill in the blanks. Which isn’t good.
The film gets off to a fast start, which I always appreciate when a movie has a lot of ground to cover. The premise is fascinating: The year is 2027, and no babies have been born for 18 years; no one knows why. Clive Owen’s character, Theo, is working a dead-end job as a bureaucrat, so desensitized that he feels nothing when the youngest person in the world, known as Baby Diego, is murdered, even though everyone around him is sobbing. Theo only lightens up when he hangs out with his buddy, Jasper, who lives off the grid out in the English countryside. The world has gone to hell in recent years, and England is the only place left with any standard of living, it seems. As a result, there’s a steady flow of illegal immigrants, many of whom are rounded up and stuck in cages on the street.
I’m not sure how so many people could sneak into a country that’s an island, and I don’t get the point of sticking those arrested in cages on the street. I realize the point director Alfonso Cuaron is making here, and how it parallels what’s going on in our world today. I just don’t see the point in bonking us over the head with it. At one point, much later in the film, we even see someone striking the same pose as that poor man with the hood on his head, who was forced to stand on a box in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Yes, I get it. I thought the references to Pink Floyd’s album “Animals,” which included a inflatable pig drifting over London at one point, did a better job of letting us know that we’re dealing with a totalitarian state here, and we should all see the reference points with the world we live in today.
So, anyway, Theo’s ex-wife Julian has him grabbed at gunpoint so she can ask him to get transit papers for someone. She mentions that they’ve been having problems with the cops, which made me wonder why she’d choose a method that could have easily drawn their attention (masked men pointing a gun in someone’s back in broad daylight; yeah, that’s not suspicious), but, again, we’re supposed to just ignore such logical lapses.
It turns out that the woman who needs the papers is actually pregnant, and Julian’s group of rebels wants to get her out of England so they can rendezvous with a group called The Human Project, which is so shrouded in mystery that they can only make contact with them through a series of intermediaries. Why The Human Project wants this woman, Kee, and her baby is never explained, nor is it ever clear why a subset of the rebels wants to keep the baby for themselves. These same rebels launch an uprising against the government later in the film, so I’m not sure what good a baby would do while they’re running around fighting. Did they think the baby was the equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant or something?
In addition, no one in the film ever states a very obvious point: Isn’t Kee the important one here? Sure, the baby is great, but Kee has proven she can get pregnant once, which means she can probably get knocked up again. And again. (Of course, humanity will need a few more women like her if it wants to survive anyway, and it’s not clear in the film that there are any others out there.) Meanwhile, who knows if her baby girl will ever be able to bear offspring. But none of the questions I’ve asked are ever explored in the film, which relies on a couple deus ex machina incidents to help out Theo during the third act climax.
Unfortunately, in the end, “Children of Men” is one of those films that presents an idea much more interesting than its story. That statement is borne out by “The Possibility of Hope,” a nearly 30-minute featurette on this DVD that explores, through comments from an array of intellectual folks, what’s happening now in our world, and how things could end up in a situation similar to the one shown in the movie. A six-minute companion piece offers up further comments, as they relate directly to the film, by philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek, who is also shown in “The Possibility of Hope.”
We also get “Under Attack,” a 7.5-minute piece that explains how the filmmakers put together the very long takes shown in the film. One area of interest was a car that had a camera that could move around and point at different characters, enabling a scene taking place in it to happen in just about one shot. Another micro-featurette explores Theo and Julian’s relationship in the film, while “Futuristic Design,” running 8.5 minutes, gets into the thought behind creating the year 2027, and how the filmmakers expected technology would progress a bit beyond what we have now and then stall because of all the turmoil in the world.
Finally, we have the very brief “Visual Effects: Creating the Baby,” which shows how a CGI baby was created for the birth scene (we’ve come a long way since the baby in “Ally McBeal”), as well as two minutes of inconsequential deleted scenes. No commentary on this DVD. Even more importantly, there’s nothing that really delves into how the film was adapted from the book, and what parts of the original story were changed or left out completely. No movie based on a novel should make you feel like you have to read the book to fully understand the film, but, unfortunately, that’s how I felt when I was done with this DVD.