"Another Earth" won the Alfred P. Sloan special jury prize at Sundance 2011, and it's found an appreciative fan-base that responds to the whole notion of alternate selves . . . something which, in this film, looms as a real possibility after a seemingly identical planet which scientists dub Earth 2 appears one day and continues to draw closer to its apparent sister.
Surprisingly, though, there's very little theoretical physics involved in this PG-13 drama, which focuses on the aftermath of a DUI accident that occurs on the very night that Earth 2 was discovered. Was it the result of what one scientist in the film dubs the "broken mirror theory"? Who knows, because it's really not explored in any depth. And if you try to look up the theory on the Internet, you'll find that it relates to autism, not alternate selves or parallel universes.
So "Another Earth" might disappoint hardcore sci-fi fans who want the dots to connect. But it does offer a searing portrait of the lives of two people living in the consequences of a nightmarish accident. It's an emotional journey that serves the same purpose, really, as those crumpled wrecks the police set up on college and high school campuses to show what driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can do. Don't drive and drink. Don't take drugs and drive. Message received. Earth 2, do you read me?
"Another Earth" comes from writer-director Mike Cahill, who directed the socially conscious "Boxers and Ballerinas" (about four Cubans united by culture and divided by politics) and such rock documentaries as "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man."
Co-writer Brit Marling shines on-camera as the obviously tormented driver in a fatal accident who tries to get her life back on track by making amends. But things are so badly screwed up that she has to wonder if she can ever make a normal life for herself, even after being released from a four-year prison term. William Mapother is also convincing as a college professor whose life was turned upside down because of that accident. He has a need. She has a need. And both of them look to Earth 2 wondering if it holds the answer.
If there were more science and less melodrama and pretentiousness, "Another Earth" would merit a 7 out of 10 because of strong performances. But science feels like a tease here—something that satisfies the requirement for narrative structure more than it does a philosophical or scientific foray into new ways of thinking or seeing. Put it this way: As an aftermath character drama, it's superb; as sci-fi, it stumbles.
I'm not sure what to make of the video presentation for "Another Earth," because visually it's all over the map. Some of it seems intentional, like the use of excessive grain, while haloing and aliasing seem the result of an inconsistent AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a dual-layered 50GB disc. As for noise, I'm not sure what's the culprit. The point where data shifts from one layer to the other is also more jarring than most discs these days. I keep reminding myself that despite the big concept "Another Earth" is still a low-budget film, and the production values at times reflect that. "Another Earth" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen.
The audio is a step up. Despite the scant budget and lack of significant rear-speaker involvement, the sound quality is strong and clear enough to make you forget this is an indie film. The bass isn't going to rattle anyone's bones, but it's richly textured enough to fortify the full range of sound. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and the semi-classical soundtrack also has a nice clarity. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio descriptive track also provided. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The bonus features seem kind of perfunctory. The longest chunk is a group of seven deleted scenes that run under 10 minutes. Everything else is like a mini-featurette. Three FOX Movie Channel Presents pieces that run just under five minutes each cover the concept with Cahill and actor-co-writer Brit Marling, and an "in character" promo with Mapother. Cahill and Marling appear in two even shorter (2 min.) pieces on "The Science behind Another Earth" and "Creating Another Earth," which pretty much reflects the level of science in the film: not much.
As a sci-fi thriller "Another Earth" will disappoint, but as an indie dramatic character study it's strong, if slow-moving. But that's just my opinion. I can't speak for my alternate self.