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Parts Per Billion Blu-ray Review

Parts Per Billion (2014) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Parts Per Billion

Blu-ray Release Date: June 3, 2014 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Brian Horiuchi

Cast: Frank Langella (Andrew M. Sachs), Gena Rowlands (Esther Sachs), Rosario Dawson (Mia Hewitt), Josh Hartnett (Len Hewitt), Teresa Palmer (Anna), Penn Badgley (Erik Miller), Alexis Bledel (Sarah Hewitt), Hill Harper (Rick), Stephen Sowan (Jabe), Jon Prescott (Jay), Reis Ciaramitaro (Terran), Valerie Hurt (Tracy), Matt Lockwood (Jon), Conor Leslie (Des), Sonya Avakian (Carol Goto), Holly Wingler (Jess)

1.85:1 Widescreen / Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish / Extra Not Subtitled / Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($28.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Parts Per Billion from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

"When the Earth ends, will love survive?" asks the tagline for Parts Per Billion, a question that calls for rolled eyes and ridicule.

Set in the present day, this new film opens with news reports on a war in the Middle East that is believed to have escalated to biological weaponry. A deadly, unidentified pathogen spreads quickly,
within days resulting in deaths as far north as Italy and Portugal. It is only a matter of time before the airborne virus reaches America, which is where the film fixes its gaze upon three couples.

They are: Erik (Penn Badgley) and Anna (Teresa Palmer), newly-engaged twentysomethings; married thirtysomethings Len (Josh Hartnett) and Mia (Rosario Dawson, who's also one of 15 credited executive producers); and the elderly, long-wed Andy (Frank Langella) and Esther Sachs (Gena Rowlands).

Like a doomsday Crash, all three of the couples are connected in various ways. The wealthy Sachs are Erik's grandparents, while attorney Mia defends Andy in a civil lawsuit. There's also a link between the ongoing apocalypse and Andy, who is racked with guilt over his lucrative lab work for disreputable sources in the late 1970s.

Happier times: Erik (Penn Badgley) proposes to Anna (Teresa Palmer) at a scenic skyline view.

Despite the science fiction nature of the artwork, Parts Per Billion uses its global calamity premise purely to raise some existential questions and ponder the nature of romance in all its different stages. Those intentions seem noble enough, but the execution from third-time writer (Circle of Eight, America So Beautiful), first-time director Brian Horiuchi often leaves plenty to be desired.

Hoiruchi's script is full of false notes, as it assigns challenges and conflict to each of the three couples. Erik and Anna, who fears she may be facing the first signs of schizophrenia, fight about dishes and ex-girlfriends. Len, a long unemployed writer, feels uncomfortable at Mia's dressy work function. Andy has to deal with Erik rejecting a big handout.

The presentation unfolds nonlinearly but coherently, even introducing some secondary characters (played by Alexis Bledel and Hill Harper) to further intertwine these threads. It occasionally creates some genuine moments of power. Unfortunately, such instances are few and far between, staggered between scenes explaining how two of these couples are managing to stay alive while the world around them falls neatly and peacefully to their deaths.

Wealthy older couple Esther (Gena Rowlands) and Andrew Sachs (Frank Langella) protect themselves with oxygen tanks and respiratory masks.

The press release declares the film "star-studded" and while that overstatement may well amuse you, it doesn't change the fact that the relatively accomplished yet not terribly in demand cast assembled here poses a number of problems for the material. Palmer's Australian accent slips out once or twice, but she otherwise does a fine job, making the most of her character's propensity to daydream ambiguously.
"Gossip Girl" alum Badgely has zero chemistry with her and renders their romance obnoxious. Given top billing and the most onscreen action, Langella and, even more so, Rowlands don't have a lot to work with dramatically. Hartnett, who's apparently been trying to climb back up the face of the Earth with recent explanations for his career flatline, sports a '90s teen heartthrob center part hairdo that makes it tough to take anything else about him seriously. His and Dawson's characters have subplots either written out or underdeveloped; issues like a third party and the decision to have kids crop up like we missed something.

The ignoble fate of Parts, made available for digital download late last month and hitting Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow without a theatrical release, seems more a reflection of the film than of Millennium Entertainment, a distributor who has consistently struggled in the two years since Richard Linklater's Bernie gave them a breakout, word-of-mouth hit. That the studio wouldn't even bother releasing Parts in a couple of theaters, as they have their most minor of films, is a testament to the film's lack of appeal and unlikeliness to win over audiences. This directing debut of Horiuchi, who turned 52 earlier this year, makes the dreadful, downbeat Melancholia look commercial by comparison.

Parts stands little chance of recouping its reported $1.3 million budget now, some six years after it was supposed to start filming with a cast that would include Dennis Hopper, Robert Pattinson, and Olivia Thirlby.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though Millennium has a history of cropping their wide films to 1.78:1 for Blu-ray and DVD, Parts' 1.85:1 transfer seems to retain the film's original aspect ratio. (While the wider 2.40:1 would suit the material, the compositions don't seem compromised and the film's trailer, often a tell-tale sign, appears in 1.85:1.) Aspect ratio uncertainty aside, the picture quality satisfies absolutely with sharp, clean, and detailed visuals throughout.

The Blu-ray lets you choose between a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack and a plain Dolby 2.0 stereo mix. The former doesn't have the big impact you expect of an apocalyptic film, but it also doesn't suffer from any troubling issues.

"Will love survive?" asks the film's trailer and cover tagline. Like the cover art, the Blu-ray's menu montage emphasizes and overstates the doomsday action angle.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's unadvertised only extra is Parts Per Billion's HD trailer (1:24),
which is placed in a Previews section alongside the disc-opening SD trailers for Rob the Mob, Fading Gigolo, Life of a King, and Charlie Countryman.

The menu plays filtered clips from the film with bass-booming score in between an ominously-animated fire sky and a road lined with casualties. The disc doesn't let you set bookmarks, but it does resume unfinished playback just like a DVD.

No inserts join the disc, whose label adapts the cover art inside a keepcase that is topped by a glossy, embossed slipcover.

Len (Josh Hartnett) and Mia (Rosario Dawson) consider their options while taking safety in a sealed-off basement.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Although marketed like a disaster movie and classified as science fiction, Parts Per Billion is basically an ensemble romantic drama set against the end of the world. Given the lack of a theatrical release and any buzz despite some famous names, you may assume the real disaster is the movie itself and you wouldn't be wrong. I do admire writer-director Brian Horiuchi's interest in taking stock of humanity, but the intimate moments he gives us provoke cringes more than anything else.

Millennium's Blu-ray sports a fine feature presentation and almost nothing else. If my review hasn't entirely discouraged you, you may find this worthy of a low expectations rental, but I can't pretend that would be a great use of your time, unless you really love one or more of these actors.

Buy Parts Per Billion from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed June 2, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Millennium Entertainment, Also Known As Pictures, 120 dB Films, Miscellanous Entertainment,
Bowstreet Pictures, Palmstar Media Capital, and Traverse Media. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.