Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Cast Away
Some films gain the acclaim they deserve, whilst others slip away struggling to be noticed. Despite a winning director-actor combination, Cast Away failed to ignite the critical or commercial markets, despite being a masterful depiction of man’s isolation. Not to be confused with the 1986 Nicolas Roeg film starring Amanda Donahue and Oliver Reed, Cast Away was the most underrated film of early 2001. Garnering only two Academy Award nominations in what was a weak year (Best Actor – Tom Hanks and Best Sound) the film earned credibility for Hanks’ performance but was overshadowed by weaker films such as Gladiator or even The Perfect Storm.
Directed by the talented visual maestro Robert Zemeckis (he of Back To The Future trilogy, Contact, What Lies Beneath, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit to name but a few), Cast Away tells a story of one man – Chuck Noland (Hanks) who works for Fed-Ex as an efficiency supervisor. Noland’s job is to travel around the world monitoring different Fed-Ex sorting stations. Upon a routine flight, the plane hits turbulence during a thunderstorm and crashes (in what must surely be the greatest plane crash ever staged) deep within the heart of the Pacific Ocean. Noland awakes to find himself marooned on a desert island, and soon has to come to terms with the fact that he is stranded for good, and alone.
The concept is simple, and works because of it. Cast Away depicts a man forced to struggle with use of only the natural elements and manages to be both unpredictable and extremely moving. The use of the inanimate volleyball Wilson as Noland’s sole companion is testament to Hanks’ acting abilities. Indeed, it’s a struggle to decide if any other actor who could have pulled off a performance of such brilliance. Hanks effortlessly renders Russell Crowe’s Gladiator performance (considered the year’s best by the Oscars) inferior and puts himself through as much as De Niro’s majestic torture in Raging Bull. Indeed, by the film’s conclusion, Hanks looks so young and thin, due to the his character’s required weight loss, that you start to wonder if the special effects department has digitally extracted performances from his eighties films such as Bachelor Party or Big.
Considering the desert island origins of the film, it’s highly unusual and courageous that the cinematography doesn’t always pander to the Blue Lagoon look so often characterised in other lush desert island movies. Cast Away isn’t even given a scope widescreen ratio, as if the film is working against the notion that the island is some sort of hide-away paradise. At times, the imagery on screen refuses to pull any punches, and is a cauldron of grim, stark isolation on a nightmarish scale. Still, the cinematography by Don Burgess is sharp and colourful, even if the colours associated with it aren’t the usual golden-tinted ones.
The filmmakers have clearly subverted convention in Cast Away. There isn’t any form of narration on the part of its protagonist (ideal for a one character storyline) and there is no music score whilst Noland is on the island. Alan Silvestri only composed ten minutes worth of musical cues and these are never used on the island sequences, which not only heightens the isolationist notions of the film but is also very effective; music is not noted by its absence in Cast Away.
As a touch of indulgent humour that pays off, there are many cinematic references to earlier classics in Cast Away. The unopened package that Noland ‘worships’ has come to represent the perfect black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, almost as if it is a spiritual presence that will help Noland ‘evolve’ to a far greater place. There is also among others a reference to The Ten Commandments, in which Noland descends to the top of the cavernous hill inadvertently dressed as Moses.
To many, the ending of Cast Away will prove to be anti-climatic, with most filmgoers accustomed to conventional endings that close off films in a nice and slick fashion. Cast Away is at its most ambiguous state upon the film’s conclusion, and its difficult to see how Zemeckis and writer Broyles could have ended it differently. One man isolated on a desert island for four years is going to prove life-changing on an almost seismic level, and fortunately Cast Away conveys this.
Cast Away is an experience that you will never forget, and it will should be talked about longer than any other big release of 2001. It’s evenly paced, thoughtful and a perfect three-way collaboration between Hanks the actor, Broyles the writer and Zemeckis the director.
Academy Awards 2000
Academy Award Nominations 2000
Best Actor – Tom Hanks
Best Sound Recording – Tom Johnson, William B. Kaplan, Dennis S. Sands, Randy Thom
Incorrectly labelled as 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic on the box, Cast Away was in fact filmed and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the DVD is correctly presented at this ratio. The transfer is gorgeously anamorphic and is blemish free throughout. The film seems slightly gloomier than in the cinema but still is brightly coloured and extremely beautiful to gaze at.
Audio wise, Cast Away has one of the best sound mixes available on DVD, and in full DTS mode you will quiver with fear during the plane crash scene. On the island, you actually feel as if you are alongside Hanks, with the ominous sounds of the crashing waves and the blustery wind blowing in full DTS glory. Sound wise, Cast Away will be considered as a reference disk – one you will delight in showing your friends and family when trying to convince them the benefits of DVD video. With Cast Away, you won’t find the argument hard. Given that there is little score from Alan Silvestri sound plays an important part in the film and doesn’t fail in its performance. Also included is a 5.1 surround mix, which doesn’t really differ unless you are viewing the big sound events, or a 2.0 mix for those who haven’t upgraded their kit yet.
Menu: Both discs contain excellent animated menus. The first disc that houses the feature is backed with a calm island setting to the sound of waves crashing in. The second disc (extra features) is set within a cave, and a differet part of this cave is accessed according to each feature.
Packaging: Presented in a single amaray casing with an attached slot for the second disc, Cast Away is given an uninspiring cover artwork and a four-page booklet insert that contains chapter listings.
Audio Commentary With Robert Zemeckis & Crew: The commentary features director Robert Zemeckis, director of photography Don Burgess, visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Carey Villegas and Sound Designer Randy Thom. The commentary is primarily non scene-specific and all of the contributors have been recorded separately but edited together. Firstly, it’s a shame Hanks himself isn’t part of the commentary, as he is the primary figure of Cast Away. Also, director Zemeckis doesn’t feature much – his content seems to have been swamped by the vast array of anecdotes and guides to sound recording by Randy Thom, which in itself is extremely fascinating. After watching the commentary, you would consider yourself to be an expert on all of the terminology used in sound recording based on what you are told here, and it is remarkable listening to Thom’s account the difficulties involved in recording sound for a film of such a simple concept. As non scene-specific commentaries go, Cast Away is one of the better ones, it just would have had so much extra depth if Hanks was included too.
The Making of Cast Away: This thirty minute ‘making of’ is standard fare and doesn’t offer much if you’ve already seen the film and viewed the other featurettes, since it incorporates elements from all of these factors. It still is enjoyable, and at least it’s a reasonable length for a making of and not three minutes long like other filler-filled DVDs.
S.T.O.P – Surviving As A Cast Away: This twenty-seven minute long featurette contains interviews from the screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. and how Broyles, with the help of some stone age survival experts, put himself through a mini Cast Away adventure in order to research his script. The experts show they clearly know what they are talking about, and discuss relative theories and scientific facts about the mental and physical aspects of surviving alone on an island. The featurette is highly informative and is the sort of lateral information you’d only expect from a company such as Criterion.
The Island: A thirteen minute featurette detailing how the locations were chosen and how the crew overcame obvious difficulties and erected various departments such as sound, visual effects, grips etc. through the use of well constructed huts. What comes across through watching this featurette is how careful the crew were in respecting the locations, and perhaps Boyle, Hodges and MacDonald should have taken note on their spectacular misfire The Beach.
Wilson – The Life And Death Of A Hollywood Extra: Another thirteen minute featurette dealing with the concepts of Wilson, the volleyball turned companion for Noland on the island. Some interesting facts are revealed, such as the naming of Wilson was after the brand of volleyball that screenwriter William Broyles used when researching the film. This refutes claims on various websites that Wilson was named after Hanks’ off-screen wife, Rita Wilson.
Charlie Rose Show: Owners of the Rushmore Criterion Edition will note that there is a full Charlie Rose Show episode contained on the DVD. Tom Hanks in the sole interviewee and what is a bonus in the terms of DVD extras is the fact that it is the whole interview and Hanks’ other recent films are also discussed. The picture quality is too grim and some of the film clips (particularly Saving Private Ryan) contain very noticeable resolution shadows, even so, this is a quality extra feature and fascinating to watch. It’s a shame Rose interrupts far too and has a patronising tone, as Hanks must have had much more enlightening anecdotes to reveal.
Special Effects Vignettes: The Special Effects Vignettes are very compelling. Six effects sequences are elaborated upon – “The Plane Crash”, “The Island Revealed”, “Climbing The Mountain Top”, “The Wind Changes Direction On The Island”, “The Raft Goes Over A Big Wave” and “The Whales”. They feature commentary from Ken Ralston, visual effects supervisor and co-supervisor Carey Villegas. Both men are competent commentators when dealing with effects shots and you sympathise when you start to understand just how long each effects shot takes. Some effects shots are so mind-numbingly simply yet effectively clever you feel as if you want to make your own CGI effects shots. Some however, seem brain-taxingly difficult to achieve and it’s hard to understand why Cast Away wasn’t even nominated for the Visual Effects Oscar. The only problem with this feature section is that there isn’t enough of it.
Video And Stills Gallery: Comprising of a Behind-The-Scenes image gallery, three storyboard galleries of key scenes, conceptual artwork and Illustrations & Storyboards, This feature section is usually under-whelming on most DVDs but here it is a fascinating extra. The Behind-The-Scenes image gallery is approximately five minutes worth of stills from the making of Cast Away, set to music from the film. The music is a nice touch considering most DVDs that contain this extra are silent. The three scenes included in the storyboard gallery are “Losing Wilson”, “Raft Escape” and “Plane Crash”, and they start off with a storyboard to movie still comparison and segue directly into a storyboard to actual scene comparison. The storyboards are excellent comic-book style drawings and seem to match closely to Zemeckis’s final vision of the film. The Conceptual Artwork comprises of six different sequences in the film and depicts initial drafts of the storyboards for certain scenes and are again excellently drawn. The Illustrations & Storyboards are exactly that – designs of the raft and storyboard sequences concerning it. There is also a storyboard of the opening scene four years after the crash, where Noland is seen sporting long hair and a beard for the first time.
Trailers And TV Spots (2 Trailer, 9 TV-Spots): Even the trailers and TV Spots department are more extensive then you’d usually find on a DVD. There are 9 TV Spots, each titled differently to show which marketing segment they are trying to penetrate, such as “Action” or “Adventure”. Each are slightly different and are worth watching just to see the lengthy marketing process Fox engage themselves into for Cast Away. The two trailers are presented in 4:3 fullframe, which is surprising considering they were cinema trailers. On closer inspection however, it appears they may have been cropped for the cinema.
Hidden Easter Egg: There is an amusing hidden extra on the Cast Away DVD. Go to Videos And Stills Gallery and move to “Raft Escape” without selecting it. Then move LEFT and a winged logo (same as the sculpture shown at the beginning of the film) will appear. Select it and you’ll get a humourous anecdote from Robert Zemeckis with revelations about what is in that unopened Fed-Ex package.
A tremendous film that draws upon the every-man fear of isolation, Cast Away is given a fantastic two-disc package that complements the film splendidly in every department and is a worthy purchase for any contemporary collection.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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