Branded Blu-ray Review
Every movie aficionado has been in this situation before. You’re looking for something new to watch on either cable, pay per view, Netfilx, etc., and you come across a title whose trailers and commercial ads bring you zero recall. You immediately profile it as a “direct to video” release, but further research reveals that it was an honest to goodness attempt at mainstream success. Sure it probably only showed in 300 or so theaters nationwide, but in the theaters it was, proving that some executive at some point in time had at least a morsel of faith in the quality of the film. Be wary though how much faith you put into that faith, or you just might get BRANDED.
Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard, THE PIANIST) is a talented marketing executive in Moscow who works begrudgingly in alliance with Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor, HELLBOY), another experienced ad man that now moonlights for the CIA in an attempt to “capitalize” on the fall of the Soviet Union. As Misha’s career flourishes he begins to realize the detrimental effect of his work on society, while a reality show he co-produces with Bob’s niece Abby (Leelee Sobieski, THE GLASS HOUSE) is scrutinized by the media for ruining a young girl’s life. After years of self exile, Misha is granted a spiritual epiphany by an undisclosed higher power that all he has endured was part of a deep conspiracy to change the public’s view about fast food. He is then given instructions to perform a ritual that will give him the ability to see the hidden brand war that takes place for the public’s wants and desires.
If nothing else, BRANDED does illustrate the original idea of anthropomorphizing the commercial brands that consume our lives on a daily basis. Marketing and advertising are not exactly viewed as righteous occupations, but this film uses them as the main antagonist and society’s biggest threat. Director’s Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn are a bit too ambitious in their first big screen project, trying to depict brands as living parasites that feed off of peoples’ mental appetite for fast food, electronics, perfume, designer clothes and all other things with a household name. Borrowing a plot device from 1988’s THEY LIVE, only the main character Misha can see the creatures battling it out for product supremacy. At times is seems the duo are trying to set a Stanley Kubrick-like tone as the story is a bit disjointed with some hard-left turns that take the viewer on a completely different line of thought. However, that’s where the similarity with any master work of Kubrick’s ends. BRANDED is not nearly as cerebral as tries to depict, exhibiting poor character development, a weak gravity of consequence and an ending in which the best attribute is the closing credits.
Performances range from “run of the mill” to “phoning it in,” as the script barely allows the actors a chance to get in tune with their characters. Emotions run from one extreme to the next and there is an annoying and completely unnecessary use of an off-screen narrator that mimics the tone of a safety message on a theme park ride. Although the most egregious waste of time was to actually have a cameo character played by Max von Sydow (THE EXORCIST) and never address the significance and obvious connection his character has with Ed Stoppards’ protagonist.
For all its flaws, BRANDED is not a film you will soon forget and not all for bad reasons either. There are some interesting and original designs used for the digital effects that depict how the brands manifest themselves as supernatural creatures, although the production value is amateurish at best to go along with the directing and writing. If you were to draw a parallel for science fiction of the modern era to the top brands of the world, then films like THE MATRIX, STAR WARS and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE would equate to the likes of Versace, Apple and Movado. Unfortunately for BRANDED, the only packaging that would be an appropriate simile is a generic box labeled “Movie.”
Video: 2.40:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: The video quality has an odd quality of being relatively sharp with bright eye popping colors, but still manages to give off a dreary tone, which fits the subject matter of the film perfectly. There is some noticeable noise and banding, but for the most part the picture is pretty good throughout the film in day shots. Night scenes are not rendered well at all with plenty of picture noise and very weak black levels.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The sound of this isn’t asked to do much more than provide clear dialogue for most of the film. There are a few action sequences were the music comes through with a nice bold tone.
Audio Commentary: Directors Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn discuss the film in a much too literal method. Commenting pretty much on on-screen action only and giving the viewer very little behind-the-scenes information on the production process or relationships with the actors.
Trailers: Two different trailers for the film.