Buying a film solely on the basis of being promised stunning visuals is perhaps not always the best of approaches. But since that is what Blu-Ray & HD is all about, I didn’t hesitate in pre-ordering The Fall [Blu-ray] [2008].

You can tell that, at its inception, this film was built around the question “Where would be really cool places to shoot?“. The fantasy sections have no grounding in any actual location so this leaves the director free to pick and choose his shots from many of the most dramatic places in the world. Strangely, it seems as this questioning on location ended up with some of the same answers as the team behind Baraka as at least two of the locations appear in both films. Or, perhaps more likely given the relative age of the films, Tarsem saw Baraka and thought “I’ll be having some of that“. Certainly, there aren’t many places in the list of filming locations that you wouldn’t want to go to with a camera and a lot of batteries and memory cards.

Sadly, this scattering of the location inevitably leads to the fantasy sections not being all that involving. Perhaps, given their context in the film, this is how it was designed to be. But they lack any kind of dramatic or narrative tension and rely solely on looking really, really good. Which they do. So that’s OK then.

The story itself is very simple and, avoiding spoliers : A stuntman and a young girl are both patients in a hospital. He tells her stories and what you see in the fantasy sections are the young girls visualisation of the story she is being told. ( You could perhaps draw some wavy lines between this and Baron Munchausen ). You don’t need to now any more than that.

Elements from her life are woven in, which would be quite clever, if it wasn’t so obvious. The old “line between fiction and reality starting to blur” is a difficult one to tread and The Fall largely succeeds, only because it is kept very, very simple. It doesn’t manage to pull off anything like the real-life/fantasty crossover plot depth of Pan’s Labyrinth. Comparisons will be made and, while The Fall stands up on visuals, it loses out on depth of plot and story. The fantasy sections work really well because they are in stark contrast to the real life story going on behind. The Fall is much less gritty.

The emotional climax of the film seems a little rushed and, while it works well enough, it probably could have been so much better. This ties back to the weakness of the fantasy narrative and in particular, the final fantasy scenes feeling a little empty. Talking of which, it is odd generally about quite how empty it all seems, presumably deliberate, but leaving the locals in wouldn’t have made it any less beautiful and could have added some depth.

Obviously, we have a linger a while to discuss the visuals. The fade from the butterfly to Butterfly Reef is just lovely. The low horizon shots are peachy in the extreme (you don’t get this kind of gold from Barry Norman). I’m a sucker for low horizons and an even bigger sucker for abstract compression, of which there is lots. Clearly, its all about location. And the list of places I feel compelled to visit has increased again.

One thing that stands out is the natural, understated performance of the young Romanian actor Catinca Untaru as the little girl. She gives a very un-Hollywood performance both in terms of looks and delivery. And is all the better for it.

On an acting note, a special commendation should be given to the monkey who carried off its death scene far better than I’ve seen some/most human actors attempt same.

This is a good film that looks great. What the Blu-Ray world needs now is something with the depth and scope of a David Lean film that takes the same thirst for spectacular visuals and adds a more gripping, detailed plot.

Style over substance some will cry. But it don’t half look nice.