The Nature of Existence Review

Roger Nygard attempts to explain the major questions of life, the universe, and everything in it, spending an awful lot of time and energy when we already know the answer is 42. Still, there are plenty of people who think otherwise, and Nygard is tackling a subject on a far broader scale than the popular Trekkies, his previous work.

The Nature of Existence blows by at a brisk 90-minutes, and the end result is that it can feel more like the cliff-notes for the larger companion series debuting along with it. Nygard travels around the world, introducing audiences to an array of people, those with philosophical views, those with deeply held religious beliefs, and those scientists with radical life theories.

Each is only a taste of the larger possibilities these conversations and interviews could hold. What is here, sure, is quite enlightening. Unlike something like Religulous from Bill Maher, for all of the entertainment value that film had, Nygard isn’t mocking these beliefs at their core, but trying to find a closer understanding that could connect us all. You can’t do that in 90-minutes unless the answer is 42.

The interviews are varied, from a casual cab driver, kids, Christian professional wrestlers (!), Oxford professors, Gurus, and various other denominations. This covers almost everything minus the Pope, who requested $20,000 for a meager 20-minutes of his time. It’s hard to blame Nygard for that one. They all discuss their side of the coin, and why they believe what they do, plus tackle difficult, reasonable topics that may or may not side with their own theories. The questions are logical, not attacks.

It’s easy to appreciate the time spent collecting all of this information, and even the time that the audience is given remains involving. When it comes down to explaining things like String theory, or delving ever so briefly into the life of a former Scientologist, those quick edits that keep the pacing up are not as appreciated as they should be. Existence needs some meat, a slow-moving pancake breakfast which could then be digested earlier, but apparently that only happens in the series, not the documentary itself.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

No doubt the money that went into this production went into the travel costs, literally going around the world for perspective on these topics. That leaves the camera to shoot it all with lackluster, and that’s being kind. This is one ugly looking documentary, and it’s doubtful the downright ancient MPEG-2 codec is doing it any favors either.

Presented only in 1080i, it would not be shocking to learn this is merely an upconvert, the idea of “definition” never really entering the vocabulary at any juncture. There are a mass of artifacts, a menagerie of possible Blu-ray issues combined onto one disc for all to see. The rampant interlacing hampers every frame and every shot. This is compounded by numerous digital artifacts, which oddly seem to take over the interlaced image like some odd graphical glitch in a video game.

What appears to be the low resolution source then causes further woes, including aliasing on any line and some of the most atrocious digital noise the format has likely ever seen during a guru’s presentation at 6:54. Ignoring the opening 8mm home movie footage and some VHS taping Nygard took during his college days at 25:25 (that would just be beating this whole thing up without a defense), not a frame of this movie seems to have a chance of looking “good.”

Bringing up the notion of detail would be laughable, and colors regularly bleed. Natural light leads to blindingly hot contrast, and there is hardly any appropriate statement for the black levels other than “there are none.” The best part of this entire transfer are the brief animation interludes as the movie pushes into a new topic, somewhat sharp and with stable colors without glaring halos. They last around a minute of the total movie.

Video ★☆☆☆☆ 

There are two audio mixes available, English 2.0 and 5.1 efforts. The latter would be a personal preferential choice, and not for any extravagant surround use, but it pushes all of the dialogue to a natural center. Note that either way, it’s compressed Dolby Digital.

There are a few surround effects, just for completion’s sake. Airplanes panning into the rears, some crowd cheers during the live wrestling event, and a drag racer takes off front to back in convincing fashion. Any musical accompaniment is limited at best, sitting neatly under the interviews mostly for effect. It has few opportunities to stretch.

There are no real fidelity issues, the material basic at its core in the first place. The variety of locations leads to variances in dialogue quality, from open rooms with heavy echoes, to closed off locales with tighter natural definition. It’s nothing wrong with the audio encode itself.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

There is a crowded commentary available, Nygard joined by some of his crew along with friends to chat over the main feature. That’s great, but the real extra are the deleted scenes, coming out to 29 in total and running for over an hour. They form a second documentary on their own, at times with a more relaxed pace too. It’s one of those rare times where deleted scenes not only act like an insight into the filming process, but expand on the material.

A making-of splits into nine sections, running 12-minutes. A section called “Classic Works,” looks at two of Nygard’s previous delves into religion and philosophy, including the full footage from that college preaching event. Some biographies and trailers remain.

Extras ★★★★☆