Blu-ray Review: The Zero Theorem

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Starting with the good news: visionary director Terry Gilliam’s latest epic, The Zero Theorem, looks and sounds absolutely fantastic on Well Go USA’s Blu-ray edition. The set and costume design is, as fans have come to expect from Gilliam, positively teeming with visual points of interest. Nicola Pecorini (frequent Gilliam collaborator; see The Imaginarium of Doctor Pamassus, Tideland, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) has trained his camera on yet another uniquely Gilliam-driven smorgasbord of colorful, futuristic (yet often simultaneously retro) sights. Real 35mm film was utilized for The Zero Theorem and the resultant high definition transfer is certainly stimulating for fans of inventive cinematography.

Well Go’s Blu-ray should please fans’ ears as much as their eyes, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that not only shows off George Fenton’s evocative score, but also a barrage of sonic details that engage all audio channels frequently. It’s not action bombast, of course, but rather a more subtle, dystopian future filled with all manner of noisy video advertisements, inscrutable machinery and gadgetry, and bustling people hobnobbing with one another. It’s all blended together cleanly. What might’ve been a headache-inducing din in a messier presentation is a satisfyingly immersive audio experience here.

Zero Theorem 1 (380x214).jpgSadly, production values aside, The Zero Theorem is not one of Gilliam’s better films from a storytelling point of view. Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen Leth, a drone programmer toiling under the direction of Management (Matt Damon). Qohen refers to himself exclusively as “we” and “us” rather than “me” or “I,” doesn’t like physical contact, and waits endlessly for a phone call that may or may not provide the answers to his existential questions. Waltz works hard to infuse Qohen with identifiable, perhaps even relatable, qualities. But Pat Rushin’s screenplay and Gilliam’s handling of it seem to undercut any chance of that happening. From a narrative standpoint, the film is a mess of undeveloped ideas that may well displease even the most ardent Gilliam fans. It’s incoherent and quickly becomes tedious as we realize how little we care about Qohen’s quest to solve the “zero theorem.”

Zero Theorem 2 (380x214).jpgThe primary special features here are a trio of featurettes. One, running 18 minutes, is a standard-issue “Behind the Scene.” The other, 28 minutes, is simply titled “Costumes” and offers an in-depth look at the work instilled in characters’ wardrobes. “The Sets” runs 18 minutes and is a pretty thorough look at the visual world inhabited by Qohen and company. A much shorter piece, the seven-minute “Visual Effects,” is self-explanatory.

Hardcore Terry Gilliam fans will certainly want to spend some time with The Zero Theorem, but in the end it’s a brilliantly designed film with an interestingly quirky Christoph Waltz performance at its center… and sadly, not much else.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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