Release Date(s)2014 (February 17, 2015)
Studio(s)Focus Films (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Stephen Hawking… most of you probably have some idea who he is, or at least you’ve heard of him. He’s the guy in the wheelchair with the computer voice. The guy who was on that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or The Simpsons, or The Big Bang Theory. He’s the guy who makes headlines every couple of months by saying controversial things about AI, extraterrestrials, or the existence of God. Maybe you’ve read his book, “A Brief History of Time,” or you’ve seen the Errol Morris documentary of the same name. Some of you may even know that Stephen was diagnosed with ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s Disease – while in college in 1963 and given two years to live, yet he went on to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, to contribute significantly to our understanding of gravitational singularities (a.k.a. black holes), and that he’s still alive and working on his theories today. But who is he really? Who’s the human being behind that unique voice?
James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything tells the personal side of Stephen’s life. It’s based upon the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” written by his ex-wife, Jane Wilde Hawking. Though obviously a dramatization, the film is an honestly told story that documents the meeting and thirty-year marriage of Stephen and Jane, in both good times and bad. What makes the film soar are the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Redmayne is uncanny in the way he manages to exemplify not just the physical manifestations of ALS but also the tiny little nuances of movement and gesture that reveal Stephen’s personality – the mischievous sparkle of the eye, the barest twitch of an eyebrow. I’ve admired the real Hawking for my entire adult life, and there are times watching this film when you forget that you’re looking at an actor. Redmayne channels Hawking to an extraordinary degree. Jones shines too in a role that could so easily have gotten overshadowed, but doesn’t. She gives her Jane the full measure of heartbreaking devotion and strength in her performance. It also helps that these two actors have great chemistry on screen. The Theory of Everything isn’t flashy, but it’s an unflinchingly intimate and engaging look at a truly unique partnership, held together by love – in all its many shadings – a deep friendship and sheer force of will.
Universal’s Blu-ray offers a lovely HD transfer in 1080p at 2.40:1. The image is clean, detailed, and nicely film-like. The color palette alternates between warm and cool hues, depending on the mood and location of the scene, but it’s always accurate to the theatrical presentation. Contrast too is satisfying, with deep yet detailed blacks. Audio is present in an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix, with a broad front soundstage, good clarity, and smooth atmospheric fill from the surrounds. There are times towards the middle of the film, as Stephen’s disease progresses and his speech becomes more difficult, when it’s handy to use the available English SDH subtitles, though that’s certainly no defect of the soundtrack. Subs are also available in Spanish and French.
In terms of extras, the Blu-ray includes a set of deleted scenes with optional commentary, an EPK-styled featurette called Becoming the Hawkings (7:03), and a feature-length audio commentary on the film with Marsh. The commentary is definitely the best of the lot, though it’s nice to see the actors interacting with the real Stephen and Jane, who have remained friends to this day, in the featurette.
Some call The Theory of Everything pedestrian, while others bemoan the fact that it doesn’t really cover Stephen’s scientific theories in much detail. And yet, what Stephen and Jane had to overcome in their lives would simply break most people, much less most relationships. For Stephen to have beaten the odds of ALS life-expectancy, for the couple to have raised three children, and for Stephen to have made the scientific contributions that he has on top of it all… these things are extraordinary, and you simply can’t imagine that any of them would have been possible without Jane’s involvement. The story of their life together is fascinating. I don’t know that this film is quite Oscar-worthy, but I do know that I enjoyed The Theory of Everything a great deal. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt