Who? have thought that a rather turgid dystopian science-fiction novel by PD James would turn out to be not only the best film of 2006 but also very probably the best ?certainly the purest ?science-fiction film of the last ten years? Forget all that SF artifice ?there are no men in silver spacesuits here, no giant starships looming over British cities, no hordes of screeching aliens or men with unfeasible laser rifles. CHILDREN OF MEN is hewn from that dependable old bedrock of British science-fiction ?the doomy, gloomy end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, popularised in literature by John Christopher and John Wyndham and on TV in memorable dramas such as Terry Nation? SURVIVORS. It? both telling and unsettling that the cinema has returned to this theme in these disturbing, uncertain times. In some ways CHILDREN OF MEN is less a science-fiction film, more an eerily-believable portent of things to come.

It? 2027 and the world is dying. A global pandemic has destroyed Mankind? fertility and the human race is winding down, ready to face out its own extinction. No children have been born since 2009 and, at the start of the film, the youngest person in the world is killed in a street incident. Disenchanted journalist Theo (Owen, giving his career-best performance here) is enlisted by his ex-wife Julien (Moore), a terrorist fighting for the rights of persecuted immigrants, to help transport a very special cargo across the brutal, feral British landscape to a safe place, the mythical Human Project. Theo? not keen; he wants a quiet life before his quiet death. But when he discovers that the cargo, a young black girl named Kee (Claire Hope-Ashley) is eight months pregnant and that he? become involved in a murderous conspiracy, Theo has no choice but to go on the run ?with dangerous forces in hot pursuit.

CHILDREN OF MEN is an engrossing, utterly convincing depiction of a world not so far over our horizon. Britain in 2027 is cold and grey, dispirited and demoralised, a country decaying even before its people have died out. This 2027 is one far removed from the gleaming towers and chrome robots of some Hollywood sci-fi fantasy. There are some beautifully-understated nods to the future setting ?moving advertising billboards on buses, superslick computer screens, hi-tech SatNav systems ?but these postulations of the future are more rooted in today? technology than some script-writer? flight of fancy. In some ways they counterpoint and underscore the terrible dilemma of the human race; all the technological marvels of the 21st century are at its disposal and yet it? lost the ability to perform the most natural human function in the world.

The film? drama is apparently a simplistic one; in some ways it? just another chase movie. But director Alfonso Cuaron, who gave the HARRY POTTER series a much-needed shot of darkness a few years back, instils his film with an almost documentary style with some astonishing sequences which look almost as if they were filmed in one languid take. The initial terrorist attack on a London caf? one injured survivor staggering through the smoke clutching her severed arm ?is as ferocious as it? unexpected. Other action sequences have a heart-stopping urgency; the countryside attack on the car, the night-time flight from the farm, the incredible battle on the ravaged streets of the Bexhill immigration camp; they have a desperate reality to them that takes the viewer deep into this dismal war zone. We?e there with these people, we?e living their grimy, filthy existence and we?e suffering with them too. The lack of any musical score is particularly noticeable; CHILDREN OF MEN would be a much less effective movie with some orchestra crashing away in the background. You watch CHILDREN OF MEN and You Are There ?and it? an uncomfortable experience.

It helps too that the film has a cast so thoroughly at one with their script and their characters. Owen, who nearly scuppered SIN CITY with his blandness, has never been better as the cynical, deadbeat Theo. Michael Caine is on top form as his hippy mentor and although Moore? role is little more than a cameo, her exit from the film is still an affecting and surprising moment. The script dispenses with much of James? languid storyline, keeping only the skeleton of the story and a few character names. Thus CHILDREN OF MEN becomes an action film but, like the novel, it gives its audience plenty to think about when the experience has ended. It? a film with heart, soul and, ultimately, a glimmer of hope.

This, then, is proper science-fiction. It conjures up an all-too-believable future world and it asks us to think about what we?e watching as we?e watching it and hopefully for a long time afterwards. CHILDREN OF MEN is the first must-own DVD of 2007.

THE DISC: I? not happy. This is a five-star feature film which loses half a star for its tawdry appearance on disc. The cover? pretty terrible, gaudy and artless and the movie? supported by just one measly seven and-a-half minute featurette. It? interesting enough, focussing on how a couple of the set pieces were achieved but really this film deserves so much more than this. Sadly though, if the rumours are true and the studios are keeping the quality bonus material back for Hi-Def DVD release, we can expect to see a lot more of these perfunctory DVD releases in the coming months. Boo.


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