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Title: The Sea of Trees

Movie: :2stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :1star:

HTS Overall Score:66

I’ve become a huge Matthew McConaughey fan over the last few decades. 15 or 20 years ago he was known as the pretty boy without much acting skills. Someone who was content to make fluff popcorn films that showed off his six pack abs and boyish southern charm. However, actors do mature and get better over time, and while it’s rare, some actors come into their prime later in life. Look at Ben Affleck. He was raked over the coals in his younger days as a flash in the pan, but years late he has morphed in an amazing director and a very good actor with many a hit under his belt. McConaughey is much the same way. Gone are the days of “Sahara” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, and in are the incredible works like “Interstellar”, “Wolf of Wall Street”, “Mud” and the HBO show “True Detective”. Combine that background with Gus Van Sant, the director of “Finding Forrester”, “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk” and you had a VERY eager reviewer right here. Sadly the film is one of those movies that just doesn’t live up to the hype of the stars involved and ends up being one of those low points in the career for director and actors alike.

The film sets up the premise of the movie quite quickly. Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey), with a bleak stare in his eyes, books a flight to Japan where he visits the famed Aokigahara forest. A forest where many people from around the world go to commit suicide or just let themselves die in the midst of the forest (this was also the location for the horror film “The Forest” which I reviewed a few months back as well). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what he’s doing there. A bottle of pills. A water bottle, and a trip into the forest sets up the scenario quite blatantly. However, before Arthur is able to finish the job he spies a man stumbling around in the forest. Going over to see how the guy is, he finds one Takumi Nakamua (Ken Watanabe) dazed and confused with gash marks over his wrists. For some reason Arthur has a compulsion to help the man get back on the trail and out of the forest when it strikes him. He’s lost too. Despite his compulsive desire to end his own life, Arthur is willing to let someone else take their own on his watch.

While the two men start to delve into the reasons that they each wanted to commit suicide, we’re given backstory for Arthur’s particular fall into depression through the use of flashbacks of him and his wife Joan (Naomi Watts). Sadly there’s very little that’s clever about the flashbacks. The story is a time told tale of a man who was too busy with his work to pay attention to his lovely wife and then medical tragedy befalls them. This is not told all at once, but rather is intertwined throughout the story as Arthur and Takumi start to confide in each other. At first the flashbacks seem to be a bit like your classic romantic tragedy, but then for some reason it dips heavily into the realm of melodrama with the whole “oh my goodness! I now have the desire to connect with my spouse after they contract some terminal disease!” cliché.

The premise for “The Sea of Trees” is not a bad one. In fact it is a much better concept than the horrible “The Forest” from last year’s theatrical run. Instead of a spiritualized forest that messed with your mind and drew you into a world of horror, we have a movie that tries to turn itself into a theological and psychological work of melodrama that ends up being just as bad. Just without blood, guts and jump scares along the way. The two men engage in soul searching and deep introspection into their situation, but the movie takes a quick jump into survivalist mode after a while. A leap that seems especially strange with all the leaps backwards through time to flesh out Arthur’s tortured marriage.

Sadly the main flaw of “The Sea of Trees” is the fact that it’s boring. No matter how good an actor Ken Watanabe and Matthew McConaughey ARE, it can’t overcome the fact that the script meanders around dips way too much into soap opera level melodrama. Melodrama that just doesn’t have a way to grip the audience and really pull them in. I really held out for the first half of the movie, but once it dipped into a little bit of mysticism and a whole lot of survival while STILL trying to tell the sappy backstory for Arthur left me yelling at the screen “I GET IT! He’s a tragic character and wanted to DIE!”. On the flip side. There’s a sort of magical quality to the cinematography by Kasper Tuxen, as Van Sant creates an almost hypnotic feel to the film as focuses on little bits of nature, like a fluttering leaf or a bit of stream in the distance. Something that keeps the film feeling otherworldly despite the very down to earth situation the two men are in.


Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing images and brief strong language

Video :4stars:
“The Sea of Trees” appears to be a digital shoot using both the Arri Alex and Red Epic cameras and then finished with a standard 2K digital intermediary before making it to home video. The end result is quite pleasing with the luscious greens of the forest intermingled with a lightly blue color grading that creates a unique look into the Japanese forest. The flashback sequences show a more neutral color grading when looking at Joan and Arthur’s life, and makes for a distinct contrast to the mildly stylized look of the men’s trek through the mountain. Contrast levels get a bit wonky in the forest and create some overly dim sequences that garner some crush in the black levels. Other than that it’s a finely detailed image that shows plenty of the forest architecture as well as the more intimate bits of grime and blood on the two men’s disheveled faces and clothing.

Audio :4stars:
"The Sea of Trees" has a surprisingly active sound design that really lights up in the forest itself. The flashbacks to Arthur’s fights with Joan tend to be a bit front heavy and more traditionally “drama like”, but inside the Japanese forest the place is awash with fantastically nuanced surrounds and a few moments of LFE that really startle the listener. The forest is just alive with the rustling of the wind the through the trees. The crack of branches underfoot and the haunting call of what Takumi refers to as the forest spirits living in purgatory. It just creates this beautiful sense of immersion that doesn’t rely on over the top sound effects to make the viewer feel as if they’re right in the middle of the forest itself. LFE is restrained, but certainly active, adding weight to falls and crashes, along with a few moments of ominous scoring.

Extras :1star:

• The Sea of Trees: A Story of Beauty and Tragedy
• Trailers

Overall: :3.5stars:

“The Sea of Trees” was a major disappointment for this reviewer. It had all of the technical ability under the sun, but the end result was something that just couldn’t capture my attention past the opening credits. The actors gave it their all and so did Van Sant, but this seems to be a problem with overly artistic direction with a trite plot and a couple of actors that very obviously saw the flaws a mile away, but kept working at it hoping to make the film interesting. Audio and video are more than good for the budget release, but the extras are just about as weak as the plot is for some sad reason. Personally I’d skip the film, unless you’re a really big fan of McConaughey.

Additional Information:

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Chris Sparling
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 111 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 1st, 2016

Buy The Sea of Trees On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Skip It

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