Had I seen The Mill and the Cross in time, it would have easily made my list of favorite theatrical experiences of 2011 (probably as my number one). I can't overstate how much it's a film that was made to be seen in the theater, one of the handful of rare works, like Jacques Tati's Playtime, that loses so much when viewed on a small screen that it very nearly becomes something altogether different.
Majewski's film continuously skates delicately on a line dividing sublimity from the synthetic (indeed, the friend I saw it with thought it crossed over a few times), and when I watched the film a second time at home, I noticed that television tilted the images a fraction too far in the wrong direction. (The experience of watching it this way only a handful of days after I'd seen it in the theater was such a letdown that I couldn't even finish watching it.) The film was a little less vibrant and the CGI looked off -- the foreground and background were noticeably two separate layers in a way that felt accidental. There is something similarly fake looking about the film when seen in the theater (on one level this can't be helped; the perspective in Bruegel's original painting is off), but the difference is that the images in the theater -- whether because of their size, quality, or both -- look strange and layered in a purposefully unrealistic way. Everything works together to create a world that's utterly real and unreal at the same time, and Bruegel's painting is fully embraced as part of the artifice. During home viewing everything felt a little too much like green screen run amok, and I had a hard time getting absorbed into the film, which is a problem, especially when the film's conceit revolves around being absorbed into a painting. (Of course my reaction might have something to do with the fact that television was my second viewing. And it's possible that the experience would be significantly improved by HD.)
I haven't found any good writing on The Mill and the Cross, probably because it's more of a visual spectacle (in the best sense of the word) than it is anything else, something that must be undergone. Roger Ebert said it best when he opened his review with, "Here is a film before which words fall silent." Funny, though, that he then went on to write a review...
Many of the beautifully lit interior shots eclipse the exteriors:
The following images, taken from the film's website, show the sharpness and vibrancy lacking in the captures above: