Frank Langella, you can do better. Actually, everyone involved can
Parts Per Billion is apparently referencing its own parts – all two of them – which are snugly situated between a billion, endless lines of dire philosophical pandering and romance amidst a world being cut down by biological warfare.
To be clear, there IS an apocalypse happening in Parts Per Billion. That reminder is necessary to lift over the loudness of confusingly strewn flashbacks and conversations which elude to greater circumstances for three east coast couples. Writer/Director Brian Horiuchi pulls his best Crash, intersecting his characters as they deal with their dire circumstances. Or attend parties, because that’s what people do when global pandemics occur.
We’re asked if romance can survive when Earth’s human population is being internally roasted by an airborne pathogen. Apparently, despite lurid sexual encounters and personal squabbles, the answer is no. Billion is overdosed on hackneyed scripting evolution, from Teresa Palmer’s ‘out there’ visions to Rosario Dawson’s mental meltdown. Male characters exist as support structures to hold together their female counterparts who do nothing other than shed gallons of empty tears.
Billion offers no solidity to its story, going far enough as to disappear behind a veil of perceived danger. TV newscasts blurb about the incoming disaster while Horiuchi’s cast meanders around their own narratives, leaving an audience to wonder if they’re a target at all. Tension is missing, and these relationships are dire.
Casting coordinators draw in Frank Langella, Rosario Dawson, Josh Hartnett, and others without the material needed to utilize their skill sets. Langella’s screen experience lift his meaningfully soft performance over the others, despite languishing amongst tepid plotting.
While perceptions may appear different, critics take no pride in whipping easy targets. Laughing at Birdemic is universal and thrashing a Transformers film is passe, but then there exists Parts Per Billion’s where these features turn mystifying. Horiuchi’s conceptual process carries merit and emotional snippets work as intended, yet are so few, the film slips into banality without appearing to realize its own gross errors. This film is contemptibly terrible, wherein the crew of Mystery Science Theater would be abuzz over its creation for their own devious purposes.
For the rest of us, we can safely swerve to the side and not subject ourselves to this scornful project of tired and aimless ambiguity.
Appearing with the sharpened clarity of digital cinematography, Parts Per Billion will sink into its post production work, including a softening of all colors and graying of contrast. This feature is in a constant fight for depth which it loses amongst the viral outbreak. Black levels never adhere to the image, leaving it coated in dim layers.
Camerawork is persistent with noise as well, and Millennium’s AVC encode comes in unprepared. What appears to be a light layer of digital artifacts doubles when compression is layered on top. Without black level support, there are no shadows to hide any of these obnoxious faults. Further evidence of strained encoding includes plentiful banding, which becomes a consistent predator in the frame.
Saturation follows the path set in motion by other visual pieces, drowned out and pale. Although flesh tones can (and will) win out on occasion, any other hue outside of flashback visions are gone to reflect a crumbling society.
Some low resolution stock footage of riots and panic will fit into news reports, annoying with the obnoxious faux interlacing as if the laptop screens are actually thin CRTs from some alternate reality. Fidelity is otherwise inconsistent with some facial definition dependent on mild light sources. Texture proves bland otherwise.
Sedate DTS-HD mixing will keep a small stream of emergency vehicles or sirens slipping into the surrounds, while the rest of Billion’s design is claustrophobic in remaining tight around conversations. Dialog balance is fine and precise, but this end of the world event is awfully quaint considering the level of distress shown worldwide.
Near the close of its third act, silence takes on an eerie quality which would work in context were other scenes displaying any aptitude for activity. Since most of Billion is caught in rush of non-adrenaline, the effectiveness of quiet is lost.
Millennium’s Blu-ray is only afforded trailers, no other bonuses.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.