Thursday, March 23, 2017

THE CREEPING GARDEN (2014) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Arrow Academy

Region Code: Region-FREE 
Rating: Exempt
Duration: 81 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English LPCM Stereo 2.0 with Optional English SDH 
Director: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Cast: Mark Pagnell, Heather Barnett, Bryn Dentinger

Synopsis: The Creeping Garden is an award-winning feature-length creative documentary exploring the extraordinary world of the plasmodial slime mould as revealed through the eyes of the fringe scientists, mycologists and artists who work with them. Long overlooked by biologists, in recent years this curious organism has become the focus of much research in such areas as biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot engineering, much of which borders on the world of science fiction. The film transports us from the laboratory into its natural habitat, depicting these otherworldly lifeforms using startling time-lapse macro-cinematography to reveal hidden facets of the world around us.

Here we have something unusual, a documentary about a mysterious creature known as the "slime mould", which is part plant, part animal, it's not a fungus but it does reproduces through spores, it's a weird creature. A festering blob with creepy tendrils crawling at a snail's pace along the rotted woods of the forests. Honestly, this is a doc which on paper sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry, which was my initial impression, but in the hands of co-directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, it comes across with vivid imagery and a menacing undertone that I was not expecting. Tim Grabham is not a director I am familiar with, but Jasper Sharp was a name I knew well, as a noted Japanese cinema historian, who has written liner notes for many of Impulse Pictures' Nikkatsu erotic films collection, so it was sort of cool to see him be a part of this, glad to see a fellow lover of Asian smut have some other interest, it gives me hope, haha. 

The film approached the topic with a weird aesthetic, the ambiguous facts are presented by a series of amateur scientist who combs the woodlands in search of their primordial ooze of choice, the slime mold. There are also scientist and musicians who seek to unlock the mysteries of the goo through music and emotive robotic faces, it's fringy-stuff, but cool. I particularly enjoyed a tour of a fungarium, with a vast library of spores, molds and fungus, which sounds like it would have been nirvana for Egon from Ghostbusters.  

The science is not difficult to follow, it is presented in basic terms, and I love the tone, the doc is filled with stunning macro/time lapse photography of the various slime molds, the images are creepy, the unearthly blobs pulsating, the tendrils reaching out in search of a food source, and it seems that captive slime molds prefer oats as their food source. No one seems to know what these things are, what their place in the environment is, what their purpose it, but there's a select few out there, both professional and amateurs, who seem truly obsessed with the slime. Also cool is a look at turn of the naturalist F. Percy Smith, who aside from being an early slime mold pioneer was also a pioneer of an early version of time lapse photography, something he called “time magnification”, which we get to see, very cool.  

The directors have created something unique, a fringe science doc that feels more like science fiction, the movie has a creeping menace about it, the subject and visuals seem like something from the '78 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, particularly that scene on a rainy San Francisco morning when the red buds on the plant leaf, the tendrils reaching out, beginning their eventual replication/replacement of the human race. Another very cool analog to that Philip Kaufman film is the otherworldly and alien electronic score from composer/producer Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth) , which like the Body Snatchers score from Denny Zeitlin, it sets an alien and menacing tone, I was half expecting this doc to end with a reveal that these slime molds were somehow diabolical brain parasites. I also love some TV footage from the 70s, with a newscaster announcing the discovery of weird alien blobs in someones backyard, which are of course, turn out to be slime molds, but what was thought to have possibly been some alien life form descended from the sky, not unlike the pods from invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Audio/Video: The hypnotic 2014 doc arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Arrow Academy, framed in the original widescreen scope aspect ratio (2.35:1), the cinematography looks wonderful, those macro-time lapse images of the pulsating plasmodial ooze look crisp and stunning in HD, fine detail is abundant, colors are robust. The English LPCM Stereo 2.0 uncompressed audio sounds crisp and clean, with the eerie Jim O'Rourke score coming through nicely. Fans of the score will be keen to snatch up the 3-disc limited edition which also includes a CD of the soundtrack. 

This release is loaded with extras, beginning with an Audio commentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, a still gallery and the US theatrical trailer. There are also a series of shorts and featurettes, which if you enjoyed the main feature are pretty cool, including a short film documenting the creation of the aforementioned biocomputer music system, which brought to mind a scene from Close encounters of the Third Kind. there's also further exploration of the fungarium, with a large puff ball and a bighorn sheep skull encased in bone-devouring slime mold, plus a 2-min featurette about the eating habits of slime mold, who seem prefer oats, toenails, and weed.    

There are also three short films, two 1-min shorts using macro photography, and a 9-min mini doc about a project aimed at enabling the severely motor impaired to create music. Finishing up the extras we have a 3-min  animation of Angela Mele incredibly detailed illustration which play during the end credits which you can watch without text. We were only sent a disc copy for the purpose of review, but retail versions comes with a sleeve of reversible artwork and a collector's booklet.  

Special Features: 
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original 2.0 Audio (Uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp
- Biocomputer Music, a short film by Grabham on the first biocomputer music system, allowing a two-way musical dialogue between man and slime mould (6 min) HD 
- Return to the Fungarium, a featurette revealing further treasures of the fungarium at Kew Gardens (3 min) HD 
- Feeding Habits of Physarum, a featurette on the feeding preferences and dislikes of slime moulds (2 min) HD
- Three cinema iloobia short films: Milk (2009)(1 min)HD, Rotten (2012) HD and Paramusical Ensemble (2015)(9 min)HD 
- Angela Mele’s animated slime moulds (3 min) HD 
- Gallery (46 Images) HD 
- US Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Reversible sleeve featuring two pieces of original artwork
- THE CREEPING GARDEN SOUNDTRACK [Limited Edition Exclusive]
Bonus CD containing the rearranged soundtrack to The Creeping Garden by legendary producer and musician Jim O’Rourke
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing writing on the film by Jasper Sharp

This hypnotic doc sucked me in with it's menacing science fiction tone and the wonderful cinematography which transcends the usual science doc in terms of odd content and unusual visuals, The Creeping Garden (2014) is well-worth seeking out for fans of oddball science docs who can appreciate the arthouse/sci-fi aesthetic. 4/5 

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