Alexander Larman has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Unbreakable.
After his 1999 smash hit ‘The Sixth Sense’, M Night Shyamalan was unlikely to move to a completely different style of filmmaking for his follow up, and so it comes as little surprise that ‘Unbreakable’ is another slow paced exploration of the supernatural starring Bruce Willis. The key difference this time is that the focus is on comic book heroes, rather than ghosts, although the tone of the film remains sombre and downbeat, almost to the point of somnolence.
The basic plot is a comparatively simple one; Willis, as security guard David Dunn, is the sole survivor of a horrific train crash, escaping without a single scratch. He is then contacted by mysterious comic book dealer Elijah, or ‘Mr Glass’ (Samuel L Jackson), who informs Dunn that he believes him to be an invincible superhero. At first sceptical, Dunn slowly realises that he does indeed have powers that others do not. The scene is thus set for a restrained, low key battle between good and evil, rather than a Joel Schumacher-esque orgy of fights and explosions. Villains here are earthbound killers and rapists, rather than baroque madmen who wish to take over the world. I suppose that an analogy could be made between this and an acoustic album by a rock star; while many of the same notes are hit, the execution is much quieter and relaxed.
While many disliked this style of approach in ‘Unbreakable’, there are more than enough moments of suspense and thrills to satisfy most audiences, even if Shyamalan’s pre-release description of it as an ‘action film’ is somewhat misleading, given that there is remarkably little conventional action. Willis and Jackson are excellent in multi-faceted roles, although Robin Wright Penn is more or less wasted as Dunn’s wife, much as Olivia Williams was in The Sixth Sense. If, at the end, the final revelation comes as something more or less expected, the journey there is consistently interesting. It has been suggested by Willis that the film is the first part of a trilogy, and it would certainly be interesting to see Shyamalan tackle a more conventional blockbuster in the same style as he demonstrates here.
The picture is an exceptionally nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The film is filmed in dark, muted colours for the most part, in order to reflect Shyamalan’s vision of the comic book world, and the transfer does complete justice to this. Chapter 15 is an especially impressive section, dealing as it does with Willis’ visit to the railway station; Shyamalan here uses different speeds of film stock, which transfer superbly to the transfer, managing to avoid blurring or shimmering of any sort. While not exactly a test disc, it is one of the better pictures I’ve seen on a DVD for a while. There are no noticeable instances of grain or edge enhancement at any point, and no transfer problems either.
With a choice of DTS and 5.1, the sound, like the picture, is excellent, as far as it goes. Good occasional use is made of surround effects, as in the opening train ride sequence in chapter 2, where it really seems as if trains are moving past you, and DVD helps to pick up on the subtler sound effects in scenes (such as, for instance, the occasional quiet use of train sounds in domestic scenes, in order to bring about a sense of the extraordinary.) Unsurprisingly, dialogue and score are audible at all times, as well as exceptionally clear; however, you would expect nothing less from a film this recent. It’s not really a test disc per se, although the use of sound design is noted as being one of the film’s key features on the documentary, so this DVD is probably the best way to experience it.
The first DVD in Buena Vista’s new ‘Vista series’, the extras are, at first glance, a pleasing, if hardly groundbreaking bunch. Concentrated on the 2nd disc, there is a 15 minute making-of documentary, which is fine as far as it goes, but feels as if it has been edited down for length. It was produced by Mark Rance, who was responsible for Magnolia’s excellent video diary, and I couldn’t help wishing something like that was on here. The other documentary, on comic book heroes, is longer at 20 minutes, but is slightly obscure for those not completely acquainted with comics, as well as having little to actually do with the film.
The main supplement is 8 deleted scenes, all with quite lengthy introductions from Shyamalan. I often find that deleted scenes are as good as scenes in the finished film, and these are no exception, with one scene of Mr Glass as a child on a fairground ride especially harrowing, as well as upping the action quotient quite considerably. All are presented in anamorphic 5.1. The other extra is a multi-angle, mixed sound demonstration of the first scene in which Dunn uses his ‘powers’. As with many other scene to storyboard comparisons, it’s nothing outstanding (and the fact that you can’t change sound from your remote is an irritation). Still, it’s a relatively nice addition. The last extra is an amusing extract from a childhood ‘action’ film of Shyamalan’s, entitled ‘Night’s first fight scene.’
This is all well and good, but I can’t help feel irritated at what isn’t here. The absence of a commentary is a disappointment, as Shyamalan seems more than willing to talk about the film in his introductions, but, even more surprisingly, there are no trailers, TV spots or any kind of advertising material at all. Given the wildly diverse ways that the film was marketed, from all-out blockbuster to meditative mood piece, it might have been nice to have had some evidence of this. For a studio to launch a new type of special edition DVDs with something as low-key as this might well suit the style of film, but is still rather a let down.
The film is extremely worth watching, if only to see how far Bruce Willis has progressed as an actor since the days of horrors like Blind Date and Sunrise, as well as to watch the career of Shyamalan develop. The audio/video quality is exemplary, as can only be expected, but the film’s extras do leave something to be desired, as well as hardly needing a second disc to put them on. Still, it’s worth owning the DVD for the excellent film alone.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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