BUY FROM AMAZON: Standard Def • Blu-Ray • Book
STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
• The Making of…
• The Mathematical Criminals of Oxford
• The Oxford Murders Interviews
• The Oxford Murders at Abbey Road
• The Oxford Murders: Waiting for Alex
• The Oxford Murders: Professor Kalman
• The Oxford Murders: Set Design
• The Oxford Murders: Kalman’s Makeup
• HDNet: A Look at The Oxford Murders
• Behind the Scenes of The Oxford Murders
A famous Logic professor at Oxford and his numbers-worshipping, would-be pupil become entangled in a series of muddlers that seemed to be driven by a sick pattern. The two form a partnership of sorts to try and outthink a serial killer with a penchant for symbolism and mathematical theory.
Humans: Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling
Director: Alex de la Iglesia (director)
Writer: Jorge Guerricaechevarria (yep) with a screenplay by Alex de la Iglesia based on the novel by Guillermo Martinez
Director Of Photography: Kiko de la Rica
The Oxford Murders tells the story of Martin, played by Elijah wood, who arrives at Oxford with the intention of studying under the famed logic professor Arthur Seldon, played by John Hurt. When the old woman who runs the boarding house Martin is staying in gets wacked, Martin discovers that she was Seldon’s friend and the two become erstwhile partners- an academically left-brained Sherlock and Watson pair. Friction develops because the two are philosophically at odds –Seldon is a believer in the philosophy that the world is without absolute truth, while Martin sees order and truth in mathematics– and because Martin is driven to keep up with the professor as much out of ego as any concern for the serial killer running loose. While he digs into the mystery to the best of his ability, Martin also starts digging into a local spanish nurse. The gorgeous Leonor Watling has a past with Professor Seldon as well, and also manages to make Elijah Wood look 12 years old next to her mature, delightful parts.
The Oxford Murders is a throughly DTV feeling film, with a fairly flat performance by Elijah Wood and a turn from John Hurt that is hammy even by his scene-chewing standards. This isn’t helped by a script that crams stilted sentences into their mouths, in between monologue after monologue after monologue explaining some mathematical concept or another clumsily shoehorned into the film as character development or as a piece of the murderer’s plot. None of that is helped by a murder scheme that possess as much originality and actual thrills as an episode of Scooby-Doo.
Apparently one of the first serious films by the typically dark-comedy directing Alex de la Iglesia (who I’ve heard compared to Guillermo del Toro in more than one place), it is completely unashamed to throw at you the most standard, boring mystery structure you could think of. The by-the-numbers climax, and post-climax twist are there, all built up to with the process-of-elimination suspicion levied towards each character that you’d expect. Nothing in this film will shock you, and if you are a fan of philosophy and mathematical concepts, you’ll likely be more frustrated by the anecdotal delivery of each idea with the depth of a wikipedia overview. In fact, this whole movie feels like a collected bundle of wiki-summaries of interesting math concepts, ticking through them like it wants to be Seven by way of Pi. Like the Da Vinci code and other pandering works, there is a fetishizing of things like the fibonacci sequence and golden ratio, which have been latched onto and overblown by Hollywood as dramatic reflections of perfect mathematics expressed by nature (even though nature almost never exactly replicates them- these ideas are only single concepts among a whole world of other patterns and logarithmic spirals). It’s all made dramatic very easily and lends itself to big chewy philosophy monologues for John Hurt to wrap his gravel around, but it amounts to an especially talky episode of Numbers.
The film is almost pretty, but Sex and Lucia cinematographer Kiko de la Rica goes a little overboard with the washed out palette and BLOWN THE FUCK OUT highlights- ultimately the movie just looks kind of anemic. The film is well shot though, with some interesting use of camera, but I don’t know if de la Iglesia ever demonstrates a powerful sense of style of storytelling that puts him on the level of a del Toro. He’s more known for his humor, which is detectable, but it mostly falls flat and sometimes becomes outright painful, as when Martin and Lorna try to have a cute/sexy moment in bed with food…
…that and way too many moments of the couple getting hot and heavy and then someone falling and laughing endearingly.
While the film is slicker and better looking than your average DTV film, but it never escapes that cheap tone. This could be forgiven if the mathematic backdrop was used particularly interestingly, or if the mystery was especially intriguing, but that’s just not the case,
The film looks and sounds fine on the DVD, though as I mentioned above it has some possibly overdone visual choices. It’s nice that there is a level of sophistication in the cinematography though, certainly enough to critique. The sound design is fairly standard, and it is mixed fairly well. This is a good thing because there is a frequent return to orchestral rehearsals in the film.
There are actually a ton of small features, though many were apparently made for spanish audiences and simply sub-titled for this english DVD. There are a few meaty pieces, but a number of them, like the art design featurette, are simply clips of the film with sketches mixed in over it. It’s still more than you’d expect from the DVD though.