The Zero Theorem is one of those off-the-wall films I wanted to see when it came out at the cinema, but my local Odeon criminally ignored it, and while I could’ve found somewhere in Manchester to watch it, the car parking situation is abysmal down there, so it’s a no-go.
Recent examples, for which I’ll also wait for the Blu-ray releases, are Cold in July and Boyhood.
In this film, Christoph Waltz (below) is Qoehn Leth, a man who’s not very well, and constantly refers to himself as “us”. Like Homer Simpson, he wants to get classified as disabled so he can work from home, on the Zip-T program, a graphics-filled program which is, intentionally, about as much fun to the end user as working in a call centre would be for anyone. Of course, to the viewer, it looks amazing, but when tied in with the 1984-style dystopian nightmare world, it’s just another element of hell for Qohen.
Qohen is a man who’s awkward in social situations, so when invited to a party, for example, he sits it out as much as possible, and ends up inadvertently meeting the Management (Matt Damon, although from the poster we see earlier, it did look rather like a slimmer Philip Seymour Hoffman)
He’s also waiting for the call… the one which will tell him what to do with his life – basically, the answer to everything he’s looking for.
When you settle down to watch a Terry Gilliam film, you expect a glorious mix of colours, with locations displaying a combination of the ancient and futuristic, hence Waltz’s house looks like a converted gothic church, while his landline phone has an old-style handle to it, but it makes a few beeps when he replaces the receiver.
Similarly, a wall-sized video advertising religion for “The Church of Batman The Redeemer” has a QR code on its screen. If you scan it with your phone, it simply reads “Bat-man is the new Messiah”. You can Google that, but it doesn’t turn up anything related to the film in question.
And crossing the street is like a game of Frogger and shops offer sales with “up to 100% discounts”!
The cast includes Mélanie Thierry (below) as Bainsley, a hot, young blonde who may or may not have a thing for our hero; David Thewlis as Joby, Qohen’s boss – or “Quinn” as he insists on calling him; Lucas Hedges as a lad called Bob, who calls everyone Bob, regardless of their real name; and an initially unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as Dr. Shrink-Rom.
Equally amusing, is watching actors ham it up in their various roles, including Peter Stormare, Ben Whishaw (both on page 2) and Sanjeev Bhaskar play the futuristic equivalent of ATOS, deciding whether employees are fit for work.
The Zero Theorem has been compared to Brazil, and it is in a way, as it, too, is a bit too weird for its own good. The films title does get explained along the way, but I’ll leave you to discover it. Don’t expect too much of it to make a lot of sense, however, hence another reason why I didn’t want to try and explain it.
However, you don’t need to know a lot prior to watching the film. The fact it’s Terry Gilliam, Christoph Waltz and a whole load of weird shit going on will be enticing enough for anyone in the target audience. It’s certainly worth a watch, although the film didn’t really gel together as much as I was expecting.
Also, rather than present the film in a conventional 1.85:1 ratio, it’s slightly windowboxed with the corners rounded.
The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, although sas stated earlier, it’s not quite a conventional 1.85:1 ratio – it’s slightly windowboxed with the corners rounded. It’s also in 1080p high definition and shows off Gilliam’s latest world perfectly, contrasting the bright & colourful with the dark & depressing. I’m watching on a Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV via a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and the rears get occasional use as the sound bounds around, while dialogue and ambience are blended with the occasional rendition from Karen Souza playing her 1920s-inspired Jazz version of Radiohead’s Creep.
The extras are as follows and they’re all in HD:
- The Zero Theorem: Behind the Scenes (18:29): Chat with the cast and crew, alongside clips from the film and work-in-progress shots, which show use of both green screen and blue screen. Expect everyone to blow smoke up each others’ arses, but the cast do all work to their best with what’s presented to them, but the content does tend to disappear its own backside from time to time.
This piece takes in the cast, set design, costumes and more, and I don’t know what the film’s budget was, but Gilliam refers to the fact, several times, that he made the film for next to nothing.
The background music in these extras sounds very much like that used in Look Around You, the TV comedy series of short pieces from Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz
- The Visual Effects of Crunching Entities (6:45): Without giving too much away, this is to do with the CGI of Qohen’s work.
- Sets (18:26): A more in-depth look at the sets, as they turn Romania into an alternate-looking London.
- Costumes (28:29): A look at all the outlandish costumes in the film.
- An interview with Sanjeev Bhaskar (4:33): talking about his time on-set. I’d rather have interviews with Wishaw and Stormare, but there aren’t those here.
- An interview with Emil Hostina (5:11): He plays one of the two clones in the film who, as it’s a Terry Gilliam movie, look nothing alike.
- The Rats (13:32): A segment about the other occupants of Qohen’s abode. Ota Bares is the wrangler of the rats and this is 13 minutes or so of footage of rats performing at being rather inept scavengers, so a viable take can be achieved.
- Location Breakdown (60:15): The only extra that’s chaptered, this one spends an hour looking in detail at Qohen’s home, the city streets, Mancom – his workplace, the Mancom mainframe, the virtual beach and the park.
- London Film Festival: Q&A with Terry Gilliam (10:03): A great addition, but I’m sure it must’ve lasted longer than the ten minutes presented here. It does bring a lot of questions together, however. There’s also a woman stood alongside him, but she is never introduced.
However, he does explain the reasons for the film’s corners being that everyone will see the film as it was intended, on whichever device they choose to watch it, as some mobile devices have curved edges. I thought we were past all that, now.
The menu is static with a piece of the incidental music playing in the background. Thankfully, it’s not one of those repetitive pieces you get on some menus which drive you up the wall after they’ve been round a few times.
Dialogue is only available in English and Spanish, while subtitles come in 7 flavours: English for the deaf and hard of hearing, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish.
Chapters are okay, but nothing exceptional: 16, which is better than most releases which get a mere 12.
The Zero Theorem is available now on Blu-ray and DVD, and it’s interesting that they both have completely different covers. This so rarely happens. Click on links and you’ll see how different they are.
Also available is the soundtrack album.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Released: July 21st 2014
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: English for the deaf and hard of hearing, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Terry Gilliam
Producers: Nicolas Chartier and Dean Zanuck
Screenplay: Pat Rushin
Music: George Fenton
Qohen Leth: Christoph Waltz
Bainsley: Mélanie Thierry
Joby: David Thewlis
Bob: Lucas Hedges
Management: Matt Damon
Dr. Shrink-Rom: Tilda Swinton
Doctors: Peter Stormare, Ben Whishaw, Sanjeev Bhaskar
Work Colleague: Ingrid Bisu
Mancom Computerised Lips: Margarita Doyle
Pizza Girl: Dana Rogoz
Lacy: Naomi Everson
TV Presenter: Rupert Friend
Slim Clone: Emil Hostina
Chubs Clone: Pavlic Nemes
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.