Frequency Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Frequency

Time travel and its associated effects is a subject well known to fans of many popular TV series. Ever since Star Trek touched on the repurcussions of altering the past in the classic episode ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, many others have tried to dramatise just what might happen if we could go back and change decisions that we made earlier in life.

Frequency is a surprisingly intelligent look at what could happen, brought to the big screen. Unusually high solar activity opens up a communications channel over ham radio between John Sullivan (Caviezel) in 1999 and his father Frank Sullivan (Quaid) in 1969. Neither father or son really believe this is happening and that they are the target of someone’s practical joke – however when John tells Frank that he is to die in a fire, history is irrevocably altered. Despite his reservations, when he’s trapped in the subsequent fire Frank heeds his future son’s advice and escapes with his life.

This sets of a chain of events which would have never happened if Frank had died. A seemingly unrelated serial killer who would have stopped at three murders, now ends up murdering ten women – one of whom is Julia Sullivan, Frank’s wife and John’s mother. The film then changes pace into a more conventional murder mystery – one that just happens to take place in two completely different decades. John, being a police officer enlists his father’s help in solving the crime and between them the track down and confront the killer…

The premise of the film throws open so many interesting concepts – unfortunately, many of them are staple ingredients in television sci-fi and have been over-used as plot devices. However, despite this Frequency manages to be refreshing and as a murder mystery is given a whole new element to explore.

Both principal actors give a good performance. Caviezel is convincing as the son who’s life has all but fallen apart as a result of his father’s death. Quaid isn’t quite as strong, but is still believable as the father who discovers things about the future that will affect his life drastically.

It’s quite surprising that the film didn’t do better when it was shown theatrically. All the elements are there and other than a slightly sugary sweet ending, there’s a hell of a lot to think about. It may be that it’s not hard-core enough for science fiction afficionados and that the sci-fi aspects put off the casual cinema goer. We’ll never know, but maybe the film has found its footing on DVD?

As a DVD, this is quite an impressive package – as it should be given the New Line Platinum Series banner across the front of the box. As always, New Line have pulled out all the stops in bringing the film to DVD and for that we should be grateful.

Starting, as always, with the picture quality we have something that is pretty much reference quality. The colour palette varies quite dramatically, and the transfer has made the most of this with sharp definition and good contrast. There are numerous bright outdoor scenes and there’s no problem with the brightness swamping the shadows, and in the darker scenes everything remains well defined with no indication of digital artifacting and only very minor print blemishes getting in the way of a perfect score.

For the record, the picture is framed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in particular is very good. The soundstage is wide with good use made of all five speakers. There isn’t a lot in the way of surround activity, but the surround channels are put to good use with the score which complements the on-screen events extremely well. The centre channel is clear with most dialogue restricted to here and the subwoofer gives out good bass at all the right times.

The extra material is up to New Line’s usual high standards. Starting with the deleted scenes, they look pretty much spot-on. They were obviously cut at a late stage as they had gone through post-production and look easily as good as the main feature. There are four to choose from – the first extends John’s conversation with his childhood friend Gordo, the second is a cameo by producer Toby Emmerich, the third is a ‘dance’ scene between Frank and Julia and the final one is a confrontation between Frank and the murderer. While there’s nothing really wrong with any of the four scenes, they would have added little to the film if they had remained in place. For the most part they were removed for pacing reasons.

All four deleted scenes are anamorphic with stereo sound.

The documentary looks at the scientific aspects considered when the film was written. It’s split into five ‘chapters’ – Solar Science, Ham Radios, Time Travel & Theoretical Physics, Fighting Fires and Creating Natural Phenomena for Film. As a whole it’s well presented and does a good job mapping real science to the film’s events. There are interviews with the crew and members of the scientific establishment. The documentary is filmed at a ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic.

There are two commentary tracks – one by director Gregory Hoblit and one by Toby and Noah Emmerich. Hoblit’s commentary is quite interesting and covers the visual effects, the ideas behind the film, technical difficulties and the usual on-set anecdotes. He certainly sounds fairly articulate and understands many of the concepts behind his film.

The second track by the two Emmerich’s is once again pretty good. This one is more along the ‘this is what happened here’, ‘there’s so and so’ lines – there’s still a lot to be learnt from listening to the track, but it’s something you’re more likely to dip in and out of as opposed to listen to all the way through. The isolate score also doubles as a commentary with Michael Kamen in the hot-seat during the silences.

The ‘animated solar galleries’ are in fact a collection of four versions of the openning sequence in various stages of completion. We get the rough 3D animation, animation with lighting, complex animation and the final result. This section makes use of multiple angles so you can easily switch between stages.

In addition to this there’s the theatrical trailer – as always, watch this AFTER you watch the film as ut does give a few bits and bobs away. We have some DVD-ROM material too, but I currently don’t have access to a DVD-ROM due to a technical hitch so that’ll have to wait a bit.

All in all this is a very impressive package – especially considering the fairly low profile of the film. New Line once again have done a great job and still rate among the cream of Region 1 DVD producers – it’s just a shame that most of their titles are owned by Entertainment in Video in the UK!

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Frequency Review | The Digital Fix