Over the years there have been no end of movies all about aliens, and we’ve also seen a fair number of movies that have also been set in mental institutions. Up until recently these genres have been distinct, but with K-PAX we are presented with a subtle mix of these two genres, which works surprisingly well.
The film starts with Prot’s (Spacey) arrival at Grand Central Station in New York, where he tries to help a woman who has just been mugged. The police are quickly on the scene and assume that he is the mugger. His innocence is soon proved, and although he is more than willing to answer the questions the police ask him, his answers and a refusal to take off his sunglasses raise their suspicions. As a result Prot (pronounced to rhyme with goat) is taken to the nearest hospital (Belview) to be checked out. A month later Prot is transferred to the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan, and is assigned to Dr Mark Powell (Bridges) who is none to pleased to have another patient added to his already hectic schedule.
Prot claims to be from K-PAX a planet that is a thousand light years away from Earth, yet he appears to be a normal human being. During his first session with Powell, Prot explains how he came to be on Earth (just visiting) and how he got here (light travel). At the end of the session Powell is not convinced by Prot’s claims, but is intrigued by his story and decides to continue to help Prot in any way he can.
To lend substance to Prot’s story, it is soon discovered that he is able to detect ultra violet light (hence the sunglasses), and was totally unresponsive to the anti psychotic drugs he was given whilst at Belview. Powell also discovers that Prot claims to come from a newly discovered planet, and arranges for Prot to meet a group of renowned astrophysicists. When questioned, not only does Prot display an amazing knowledge of astrology and astrophysics, he is able to correct them on certain assumptions they had made.
But is Prot really a being from another planet, or is he just a very convincing delusional? Powell is determined to find out, but he soon finds out that time is running short as Prot informs him that he is due to ‘beam back’ to K-PAX within the next three weeks.
Charles Leavitt wrote the screenplay, which he adapted from the original novel by Gene Brewer, and has done a relatively good job. People who have read the book will spot several elements that are missing or changed, but personally I don’t feel that they are missed in the overall context of the film. The movie is also true to the spirit of the book and includes the majority of the main plot points (albeit slightly changed for a more dramatic impact).
What makes K-PAX an enjoyable movie is the interaction between the two main characters. Their first meeting has Powell playing the sceptic and trying to find out Prot’s real origins, while Prot is obviously annoyed at getting asked the same ‘stock’ questions over again. The change in their relationship is interesting to watch as Powell becomes more convinced by Prot's story and Prot in turn becomes more willing to talk about life on K-PAX, and how he sees life on Earth.
Kevin Spacey puts in another outstanding performance as the being from another planet. Spacey spends most of the movie wearing sunglasses, this could be seen as an impediment to most people, but Spacey manages to use the glasses as extra props to play with. Opposite Spacey we have Jeff Bridges in another wonderfully understated performance. Bridges, like Spacey, seems to have no problems playing even the most unlikely characters convincingly. While K-PAX may not be seen as the best movie in either of their careers, it certainly won’t be seen as the worst.
The picture is present in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and as you would expect from a new film there is no noticeable print damage. Unfortunately I found the picture quality a bit hit and miss. Colours are well represented and life like and there is nice definition between the light and dark sequences. The lighter scenes are certainly crystal clear; however some of the darker ones appear a bit fuzzy (mainly in the background). There are also a couple of instances of artifacting (but nothing too serious).
There is a choice of soundtracks on the disk, Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. As K-PAX is a mostly dialogue driven film there seemed to be little point to remix the soundtrack in DTS, however the DTS track is slightly superior to the DD5.1. On both soundtracks dialogue is clear and the musical score is not intrusive, however the DTS track does seem to make slightly more use of the surround speakers. The DTS track also seems to be the slightly clearer of the two and delivers slightly more bass in the score.
Alternate Ending: As the name suggests a different ending for the film can be found here. Personally I can see why they changed it to the current ending, as this one is overly sentimental.
Spotlight on Location: A bog standard making of documentary that lasts for around 12 minutes, with scenes from the film included. As the length indicates it does not go into any great depth but there are a couple of interesting pieces of information included. I would advise anyone who has not read the book to avoid this until after watching the movie as it does contain a bit of a spoiler.
Deleted Scenes: A total of 7 deleted scenes are included and all of them are anamorphic. It is easy to see why most of these scenes were deleted from the finished film, but a couple of them could have been kept in.
Commentary: The commentary only includes Iain Softley, and is quite patchy, in fact it took so long for the commentary to start that I thought I’d selected the wrong option from the menu. Softley only starts talking halfway through the title sequence, and this sets the pace for a commentary that is frequently filled with long pauses. Softley also includes lots of technical detail – great if you’re into that sort of thing, but not for me I’m afraid.
Story Board to Final Feature Comparison: This feature shows you the story boards that were used to plot the opening sequence of Prot’s arrival in New York.
Making of K-PAX Pictures by Jeff Bridges: This is a series of black and white photos taken by Bridges during the shooting of K-PAX. The photos change every few seconds and have handwritten notes at the bottom to tell you what you are looking at. If nothing else these pictures demonstrate the Bridges certainly has talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Theatrical Trailer: The original trailer used to promote the movie.
Production Notes: A series of static pages which include information about the film. Some of the information provided here is also included in the Spotlight on Location feature.
Cast & Filmmakers: The usual biographies for the main members of cast and Iain Softley. These are only a few pages long each, and do not go into any great detail, filmographies are also included.
Now Showing: A promotional tool for some other Universal DVD’s, there are 7 DVD promotional trailers included and 5 of these have a quick 30 seconds of behind the scenes footage.
Universal Showcase: A trailer for The Scorpion King?!
Worlds Apart: This section contains a photo gallery, patient files for Prot and several of the other patients (Ernie, Sal, Bess, Howie, Maria and Mrs Archer). There are also Recorded sessions with Dr Powell, which just appear to be the sessions in the film. Finally we have an interactive star chart which also lets you find K-PAX and a sign up form for the Universal DVD mailing list.
Atmosphere: This section tells you some more information about the story, the production and the filming. Although this goes into a bit more detail most of it is in the Spotlight on Location documentary and in the production notes on the disk.
Inhabitants: A more in depth biography for the main members of the cast and crew. These go into much more detail that the ones initially provided on the disk.
Imaging: Another set of stills from the movie and a few behind the scenes photos as well.
Transmission: Downloadable wallpaper and a screensaver.
K-PAX is not a bad film (but it’s by no means a great one either), the direction is fine and the cinematography is quite impressive, but it’s the performances from Spacey and Bridges that make the film worth watching. The DVD has reasonable picture quality and sound, however it does not really deserve the ‘Special Edition’ label on the box as I thought the extras could have been slightly better thought out. On a more positive note it’s nice to see that the ambiguous ending of the book has been kept in the film, which allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. Overall K-PAX is a film that is worth watching at least once; if only to see Spacey eating a whole banana (including peel).