Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 2/4 DVD release of What Lies Beneath
Robert Zemeckis films (Cast Away and Forest Gump being perfect examples) always seem to do well when presented to critics – whether it’s because they’re all pretty much immaculate in terms of presentation, or whether it’s because modern film critics are a pretty unadventurous bunch is open to speculation. Zemeckis always seems to produce films that are technically very good, and yet regardless of the subject matter I always find them a little dry.
What Lies Beneath does nothing to allay my doubts. In my view it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill twisty turny thriller with a few jumps thrown in for good measure – it’s almost as if the film is the result of someone reading directly from a ‘making the perfect thriller’ recipe book while not deviating from the instructions by a micron. It has all the right elements, but it just doesn’t have any real character.
With her daughter Jody (Diana Scarwid) moving away to university and her husband Dr Norman Spencer (Ford) is busy working on an academic paper, Clare (Pfeiffer) finds herself with more time than she is used to. Feeling vulnerable, Clare takes an interest in her strange next-door neighbours, the Feur’s, who seem to be either making love or fighting as a matter of course. One night she witnesses Warren Feur (James Remar) carry what appears to be a large, body shaped, package out to his car. The next day Mary Feur (Miranda Otto) is nowhere to be seen.
Clare’s fears are compounded when she begins to get the impression that her house is haunted. Doors opening by themselves, computers turning on, strange waif-like women appearing and disappearing in reflections at random – all sure signs that something isn’t quite right! So off she goes on a crusade to discover what has actually happened. And, that’s the story for the first hour or so. Then we get the aforementioned twists and turns and the story heads off into more sinister territory.
One thing the film does well is make you jump. From the opening scenes right to the closing credits, What Lies Beneath isn’t a film for the weak of heart! That said that’s about all there is in its favour. The main cast put in adequate performances, although Ford in particular seems to be doing little more than reciting his lines most of the time. Pfeiffer fares a little better although it’s not her best performance by a long, long way.
What Lies Beneath is at best an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. At worst, it’s a poor Hitchcock rip-off that fails to spark the imagination. With little more than shocks to recommend it, anyone looking for a slice of filmmaking on a par with the original Psycho will be sorely disappointed – set your sights a little lower and I think you’ll find yourself enjoying the film for what it is.
This is a look at an early check-disc and therefore may not be entirely representative of the final disc. Going on what we’ve seen though this looks like this is the same disc that will be released in September 2001 in the UK.
It’s encoded for both Regions 2 and 4 – so this is the disc that will be released in the UK and Australia. The soundtrack options suggest that the rest of Europe may be getting its own release.
Unsurprisingly given the vintage of the film and the distributor responsible for its release, the Region 2 DVD is nothing short of flawless. We have a pin-sharp transfer without anything in the way of print damage. Colour rendition is exactly as it should be – and I wouldn’t expect anything less, contrast levels are good with plenty of shadow detail.
When compared to the Region 1 disc, there’s very little in it – other than the obvious NTSC – PAL differences (i.e. slightly more visible scan lines on the Region 1 disc), there really is nothing to chose between the two discs.
Our first technical black mark – the Region 1 Dreamworks disc features a DTS soundtrack that is not present on the Region 2/4 release. We end up with a bog-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack – and while this is certainly up there with the best it’s a shame we couldn’t get to experience the slightly better quality of the DTS track.
As far as the Dolby track is concerned we have something of demo quality. While surround action isn’t something that jumps out at you on this track, it’s used to superb effect to build up the tension to breaking point. What we have is good, but the fact that we’re missing one audio track does mean that the disc doesn’t really deserve full marks.
Why did they bother is the first question on my mind? The commentary is dry and uninspiring with very little to recommend it. Zemeckis in particular does nothing to make the commentary anything other than a chore to listen to.
The trailer is as always a spoiler filled monstrosity – DO NOT watch it until after you have watched the film. Finally, the ‘Constructing the perfect thriller’ documentary is little more than yet another publicity-fuelled backslapping exercise. The main reason to watch is for the fairly superficial interviews – although watching it once is more than enough and once again, there are a few spoilers so be warned.
The Region 1 disc is identical in terms of extra material. Neither release wins here.
Technically we have a disc that delivers – although it does falter on a couple of key points, most noticeably the lack of a DTS soundtrack. The film itself seems to have all the key areas covered, but still fails to live up to its potential – by no means is it a total failure, but neither is it particularly outstanding any respect.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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