Silent Hill Review
In an attempt to put an end to the terrifying nightmares experienced by her stepdaughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), Rose (Radha Mitchell) drives off in the dead of night, driving towards the very town in which Sharon's nightmares take place, the ominous Silent Hill. Upon arriving, they find the place to be a virtual ghost town, hidden beneath a blanket of ash that falls from the sky like snow, and populated by a variety of raving lunatics and hideously deformed, murderous demons. Things take a turn for the worst when Sharon vanishes without a trace. Rose resolves to brave the dangers of hellish town and rescue her daughter from the waking nightmare in which she now finds herself trapped...
It would not be too much of a stretch to describe Silent Hill as the best video game to film adaptation so far. Pickings have been woefully slim for this seemingly cursed sub-genre, in which adaptations tend to be described not in terms of how good they are but rather how bad they could have been, and the abominations of Uwe Boll and his ilk have destroyed more or less all credibility for this section of the industry. That's not be say that there haven't been any enjoyable offerings - on the contrary, even the worst ones can at least claim to be so bad they're good - but Silent Hill is definitely in a different league: a mature, adult and genuinely unsettling horror film that, despite some rather clichéd and nonsensical plot elements, treats its audience - both fans of the game and newcomers - with respect, and works as an engaging movie in its own right rather than a mere brand name.
This is, in a nutshell, everything that Resident Evil should have been. Paul W.S. Anderson's 2002 attempt to bring the survival horror franchise to the big screen may have been effective enough as an undemanding action movie, but even its staunchest defenders would agree that, as an adaptation, it is an extremely unfaithful one, conveying none of the tone and atmosphere of the games on which it purported to have been based. Anderson's defence, and a perfectly valid one at that, was that simply translating the game verbatim to the silver screen would have been boring, as there would have been no surprise, but, with Silent Hill, Christophe Gans does just that, even retaining Akira Yamaoka's musical themes from the game series, and yet manages to craft a film that is continually engaging in spite of its two-hour running time.
The biggest change between game and film is the decision of Gans and his screenwriter, Roger Avary, to make the protagonist female rather than male. In fact, barring the appearance of Sean Bean as the heroine's husband, and a handful of unimportant male bit players, all the characters in the film are women, something that the studio executives apparently had great difficulty accepting. Bean's character was added at their behest in a rewrite, and his scenes, which are by far the least engaging in the film, constitute its only real flaw. This all-girl configuration also characterised Neil Marshall's 2005 horror film The Descent, in this viewer's opinion one of the finest entries in the genre in the last decade, and it proves to be oddly effective, perhaps because it allows the films in question to avoid the usual horror pitfalls of relegating female characters to predictable victim roles. There are women of all sorts in Silent Hill: strong women, weak women, good women, evil women, and all of them are interesting to some degree. Former Neighbours star Radha Mitchell makes for an excellent heroine, someone the audience can both relate to and root for, while Alice Krige, clearly borrowing to some extent from Piper Laurie in Carrie, proves to be a chilling religious zealot.
What is most impressive about the film, however, is not the performances but the palpable air of dread with which Gans imbues every scene. The exteriors of Silent Hill are chillingly quiet and deathly beautiful, while the various monsters, most of which look like they stepped out of the game itself, are imaginative and genuinely imposing, despite the occasional ropey bit of CGI. Indeed, the entire film is beautifully shot, with Gans contrasting the sparseness of the ash-covered town with the claustrophobia of the various enclosed spaces in which Rose finds herself trapped. The perversely imaginative design sense of Carol Spier, David Cronenberg's production designer of choice, is readily evident at all times. Most importantly, the audience, and the world in which the film takes place, are treated with respect at all times, with the creative team never feeling the need to wink to the viewers or in any way cheapen the proceeding simply because the source material is "just" a game (Tomb Raider this is not).
I can't say enough good things about Silent Hill. As a video game adaptation, it must be nothing short of a miracle, given that virtually every previous attempt to bring a game franchise to the big screen has been either average or abysmal. As a stand-alone product, however, it is no less impressive: a dark, disturbing and uniquely-styled horror film with a great cast and fiendishly imaginative visuals to spare. Highly recommended.
Note: the video portion of this review was written by DVD Times' video hardware specialist, David Mackenzie.
The Blu-ray Disc of Silent Hill surpassed nearly all of my expectations, mainly due to the average reviews it has received elsewhere. I can't in the slightest understand these, because barring one or two shots that appear to have been filtered to ease the strain being put on the aged MPEG-2 system, I found that this is one of the best examples of an HD video disc I've seen – and that's counting some of the high quality output we've seen already on HD DVD. Most of the time, there's an astonishing amount of detail present, often every bit as good as the spectacular HD DVD of King Kong. After hearing horror stories about this title, to say I was extremely impressed is an understatement.
As mentioned, this is an MPEG2 title, so compression artefacts are indeed visible in some scenes. One scene near the start of the film is set in a grassy field on a breezy day, and there is macro-blocking visible around the moving scenery. Similarly, one very impressive special effects shot near the end of the film (that I won't spoil for anyone) has a lot happening on the screen, and once again proves a little too much for MPEG2 to handle (at least at this disc capacity). The good far outweighs the bad, though, and even when there are visible compression problems, the fact that there is normally so much detail means that they are tolerable. I'd rather have a very detailed transfer with some compression problems than a blurred one with none. Of course, the best of both worlds could have been achieved by using either VC-1 or AVC.
There is also a miniscule (and I do mean miniscule) amount of edge enhancement visible on some scenes, but the resulting halos are neither thick nor high contrast.
As with all of Sony's Blu-ray releases, Silent Hill comes with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track. Unfortunately, because I'm using a Playstation 3 for playback, which lacks analogue audio outputs, it's impossible for me to listen to the uncompressed track in full 5.1 surround. As a result, I had to fall back on the "backup" Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 Kbps) track, which is excellent, albeit not in the top tier of audio mixes. The use of surrounds is actually fairly restrained barring a few key sequences, such as the one in which Rose must navigate her way through a crowd of blind nurse demons, where it is creative and adds a great deal to the atmosphere. Dialogue is clear at all times, barring a handful of moments in which the sound effects purposefully drown them out, while some excellent use is made of bass - for example the loud gunfire of Cybil's firearm.
(Personally, I wish Sony would follow the example set by Fox and Studio Canal and offer a DTS HD Master Audio track instead of uncompressed PCM. Quite apart from the fact that DTS HD MA requires less space and gives comparable results, it also allows access to a 1.5 Mbps "legacy" audio stream, which would, in most cases, provide improved clarity over a 640 Kbps Dolby track.)
Optional subtitles in English, and English for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), are provided.
Due to the lack of space afforded by the single-layer 25 GB disc, and the inefficiency of the MPEG2 codec, Sony has removed all of the extras that were present on the standard definition DVD release of the film. They have, however, included bonus high definition trailers, of varying quality, for Basic Instinct 2, Underworld: Evolution and Resident Evil: Apocalypse.
All things considered, Sony has delivered a stellar audio-visual presentation for Silent Hill's high definition debut, but the complete lack of bonus materials makes it difficult not to feel a bit short-changed. Still, if all you're after is the best home theatre presentation of the film, this release will not disappoint.
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