- by Jeff Beck
The Theory of Everything: A Pair of Great Leads Almost Saves a Struggling Biopic (Blu-ray)
It seemed almost inevitable that, one of these days, we’d be getting a film based on the extraordinary life of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, whose theories on time and black holes have captivated scientists for the last 50 years. Taking the story directly from someone who shared a good part of his life with him, Jane Hawking (Stephen’s wife of many years and author of the book on which the film is based), we are first taken back to his days at Cambridge in 1963, where Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) was trying to earn his PhD in Physics. While working on his thesis, he meets and falls deeply in love with a fellow student, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). However, during this period, he is also diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease and given merely two years to live.
At first, Stephen wants to shut himself away, but Jane is determined to be with him, no matter what should happen. Stephen’s thesis on a black hole at the beginning of the universe earns him his doctorate, but he doesn’t stop there. Instead, he immediately goes about trying to disprove what he had just worked so hard to prove. As his disease progresses, his ability to get around decreases, eventually leading to the need for a wheelchair, and even more help besides. Jane may have known that she was in for a difficult life with Stephen, but she may not have been prepared for just how hard it would be, or the toll that it would begin to take on their relationship.
“The Theory of Everything” is a film that starts off well and ends well, but has great difficulty keeping its engaging tale going throughout its middle section. The first act is fascinating to watch as we witness Hawking as a young, able-bodied youth, falling in love and coming up with the incredible theory that would earn him the title of Dr. Hawking. However, after this, the film slides into a kind of torpor as it shoves his intriguing work to the side to try and focus more on the relationship he has with Jane, but even there, in taking an area of his life that should have a lot of emotional draw to it, the film goes about it in a rather flat, unengaging way.
It’s understandable that the filmmakers would want to try and find a good balance between his relationship and his work, but with the latter being the far more interesting part of his life and the former getting more attention and being explored in nothing more than a superficial way, we end up with a middle act that brings the film down to a sluggish pace. Then, of course, we finally come to the third act that starts to reinvigorate the story again as Stephen writes his infamous bestseller “A Brief History of Time” and goes on to get honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his astounding work, but all this merely goes to show that a film that focused mainly on his work would have worked better.
What nearly makes the film work regardless are the outstanding performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Redmayne, who has recently broken out into stardom with roles in projects like “The Pillars of the Earth,” “My Week with Marilyn,” and “Les Miserables,” portrays an amazing likeness of Hawking, having learned a thing or two from the man himself, who continues to defy that two-year life expectancy diagnosis even after more than 50 years. Playing him at first as a young genius in love, Redmayne convincingly goes through the various debilitating stages of the disease (stumbling, walking canes, and finally his wheelchair, eventually replaced with his motor chair & infamous computer voice).
For Jones’s role, she fills it with genuine passion for Stephen, and the eventual frustration that such a life would bring. Her main section of the film may not have done justice to the real-life relationship that Stephen and Jane had, but that doesn’t stop her performance from being as powerful as it is. This makes it no surprise at all that both of them earned Oscar nominations this year for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.
The best way to make a film like this really work is to find that delicate balance between Stephen Hawking’s personal and professional life, which, sadly, “The Theory of Everything” doesn’t get quite right. Many of the vital elements of his story are here, but it shouldn’t feel as though it goes into hibernation for that middle portion. The fact that both lead actors are at the top of their game certainly helps, but they can only take it so far. Hawking’s life has indeed been an incredible one and deserves to be celebrated, and while this film does that in part, it just doesn’t do quite enough.
“The Theory of Everything” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. There are several times throughout the film where the image is a little fuzzy, an effect you can see primarily in the scenes with lots of sunlight, but for the most part the picture is impressively sharp and clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, giving you all elements of the soundtrack from dialogue to Johann Johannsson’s beautiful score in outstanding quality. Overall, the film looks and sounds great, giving you a nearly-perfect experience.
Feature Commentary with Director James Marsh: Sadly, this is a rather bland commentary track from the director in which he doesn’t reveal very much of interesting.
Becoming the Hawkings: A fascinating seven-minute featurette that explores how Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones got into character. Definitely worth watching.
Deleted Scenes: About ten minutes of deleted scenes that are, for the most part, little snippets that aren’t particularly important. However, there are two that stood out as worth watching: one in which we see how Stephen was able to put together his thesis for presentation and another in which he meets Queen Elizabeth II.
“The Theory of Everything” features incredible Oscar-nominated performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, but ultimately it’s unable to strike a good balance between Stephen Hawking’s personal and professional life, leading to a relationship-focused middle act that hurts the film more than it helps it. However, it’s certainly not a bad film. In fact, its first and third acts are pretty well done. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been that good all the way through, in turn giving Hawking the celebration his extraordinary life deserves.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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