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Panic Room

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: R (Violence and Language)

Running Time: 112 minutes

Starring: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart

Written by: David Koepp

Directed by: David Fincher

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $27.96

Features: Theatrical Teaser, Filmographies

Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: September 17th, 2002

 

 

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) have recently purchased a New York brownstone. While it may seem like your typical house, there's one particular quirk which makes it different. One room in there, the "Panic Room," is a technologicaly advancd safety room of sorts. With a separate phone line, video monitors to look upon rooms in the house, a steel door... it seems it's the perfect place to hide from crinimals if something happens to go wrong.

While Meg has no interest in the room, she jumps at the chance to use it when (naturally) something goes wrong the first night. Three burglars, Junior, Raoul and Burnham break in looking for a hidden stash of cash. The place where it happens to be hidden? The Panic Room. But the trio didn't quite anticipate people to be living in the house.

Soon it's a game of cat and mouse, as the Atlmans must outsmart their new foes and vice-versa. But to add into the thrilling elements is a sickness Sarah must cope with, what each "team" does to one another (plus the consequences of their actions) and how key the Panic Room itself is in all of this to every single person involved. Except for one gripe I had toward the film, it's a well structed thriller with strong characters with fine emotion, cool action and excellent use of logic.

Sony's first major hit of the crucial 2002 year, "Panic Room" is one of the finest thrillers I've seen in years. I saw the film in theaters, and I have to say it is only of the few films I have ever seen in my lifetime where I was on the edge of my seat, excited and wondering what would happen next. I guess I'm not the type who gets freaked out so easily and I've seen enough films and read enough stories to know what tricks filmmakers and writers tend to use in cat and mouse, thriller situations, but the collaboration between David Fincher and David Koepp is a pure success. The director and writer have crafted a central thrill piece in a highly original, wonderfully suspensful and creative manner.

David Fincher has quickly risen to the ranks to be one of Hollywood's most visionary and commercially successful directors, thanks to such cult and critical favorites like "Se7en" and "Fight Club" (well, maybe not so much critical favorite with the latter). He's also become of my favorite new filmmakers, and I think he was the right guy to direct "Panic Room" (after writer David Koepp decided not to do it). Fincher continues to prove that he is truly a strong storyteller.

The style in how he directs "Panic Room" is one that should be studied on a careful scale. Since a majority of the film takes place in the new Altman household, a lot of the shots give off a cold, isolated feel. Fincher wildly captures the fear between Meg and Sarah in their new home against the crooks, tapping not only into their fears of getting hurt (in multiple ways, especially with Sarah), but also some sense of confusion, and how they're more or less in a place they are not familiar with. Moving into a new house takes some time for people to get used to, and I do think those first nights people feel rather insecure (I know when I moved into new places that's how I felt). Fincher captures so many high running emotions in a grand style.

The way he and directors of photography Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji (I believe Khondji dropped out during filming since the production was moving a tad bit slow) slides in through and out of keyholes, keep the camera focuses at precise angles and then drop down the stairs into some new shot in a flexible, flawless motion will enthrall audiences subconciously and make technical buffs dazzle in their own wonder. What I love so much about David Fincher is that he knows how to shoot a film, and does it in such a unique style that doesn't really quite compare to everyone else's. The editing is also clear cut in the film, too.

David Koepp is a screenwriter I'm not really a giant fan of, but I must admit I really enjoyed what he cooked up with this movie, a lot of his story are things to marvel at. It probably ranks as his best screenplay he's done yet. I think it's a really neat idea to come up with first off, but how he plays everything out, sets up the characters, gives nice insights into certain motivations and the like, it really does result in a pretty spectacular thriller that goes above and beyond the ranks of what it should be. The tension is rather high in this movie, and one would probably think this could be a one-trick film. The good news is that it's not.

Thankfully, Koepp avoids many traps and always keeps things going with something new and unpredictable. All the main characters in the movie have a good touch of depth to them, making the story a bit more beleviable and adding good touches of realism. One cannot deny how well this film is scripted and how well thought out everything turns out to be. It really is that good, especially when paired up with Fincher's directing. Things in the film start off pretty quickly, and you're not given much time to breathe. Things keep going and going and rising and rising.

My only gripe with it is one obvious thing that I didn't exactly think of occurs at the end, which Koepp uses smartly for the grand finale but still brings it up. That sorta annoyed me. If his anatognists thought of it, it would really change - and probably defeat - everything that went on in the movie. Though maybe it works in a different context; about the mouse outsmarting the cat.

On the acting sense, the movie is kept to a mere few characters. I'd almost say it's like a play, but on a greater scale and with a pure action sense. Nicole Kidman, originally set to play the role of Meg Altman, passed on the project after her leg injury set down what she could do physically (though she has a cool cameo in the film). No matter though, Jodie Foster is truly an excellent replacement. We all know what an accomplished actress Foster is, but her role in the film is characterized by brain and brawn. Not only is she tough, but she really knows how to use the physical aspect of the role to her advantage all while capturing the personal fears of Meg. It's a well done role, and she plays well against off everyone.

Newcomer Kristen Stewart as Meg's daughter is also quite nice, showing off her own troubles and quick-wits in the character. Jared Leto, who I think is a somewhat underrated actor, is amazingly tense and downright psychotic while Dwight Yoakam makes another fine villanous entry into the film. Yoakam is a really good actor, and his turn here is very deviant and very interesting.

Still, when it comes down to everyone, I think Forest Whitaker takes the cake. Whitaker always has a presence to him, and he's arguably the most complex character in the movie. He's a person who is quite humane who is not out to harm people, knowing the difference between good and bad. Still, he acts upon pure instinct. While he wants to do bad for his own crinimal purposes, he doesn't want to harm anyone and perhaps do more good in that sense so one gets hurt and he gets what he wants. It's interesting to see the two sides counteract one another.

Fans of the movie should look closely at this DVD edition though to decide if it's what they need for their own purposes or home theater systems. In the end, it really does give new meaning to the term "Superbit." And I think that's a somewhat bad thing.

 

Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, the results for "Panic Room" are near perfection. Fincher always shoots rather wide (I believe 2.40:1 is his preferred aspect ratio), and with a film like "Panic Room," I would hate to imagine what it'd look like being panned and scanned (a result would probably be the lost of beauty in so many of the carefully laid out shots). The film is darkly lit, and it's nice to see that the transfer does not struggle in the dark settings at all. The transfer keeps up with what it has very well. The print is quite clean, I only noticed a piece of dirt or blemish here and there. That made me happy.

At times, the image looks a bit grainy and there are decent portions of shimmering and noise, plus some very slight edge enhancment. Fleshtones looks mighty strong, while color saturation is bold and doesn't bleed over. Be it the coldness and steely look of the Panic Room itself, or the murkiness inside the house... the picture is perfectly captured here. Detail is finely drawn out to give a certain realism, hard feel to the look of the movie. Overall, this is a great transfer that isn't perfect, but captures the film's amazing visual style the way it was meant to be seen. While I've seen better in "Superbit" quality, this one does rank pretty high for how it looks.

 

This is the first problem I have with this "Superbit" release. It's not a Superbit Deluxe (maximum presentation on one disc with no extras, second disc with supplements), but supposedly a regular Superbit release. Superbit releases are supposed to be only a single transfer of the film and two audio tracks: a 5.1 DTS track and 5.1 Dolby Digital track. While those included, Columbia/TriStar home entertainment has also decided to include two additional audio tracks for the movie: a French Dolby Surround track and an English Dolby Surround track. So basically, you're getting double the sound options when you really shouldn't. Two additional tracks, even if they're merely Dolby Surround tracks still do take up space. Annoying, but the real question... why?

Back on topic here though, "Panic Room" is definently a movie I'd consider with a lot of great surround effects and would be worthy of a Superbit release (especially in comparison to some previous titles for the line). While the film is an amazing visual experience, I would say a lot of the noises, effects and all sorts of sounds are also key in conveying the thrills the film offers. There are some dialogue exchanges in the movie that can be surely riveting, but further more, there's a lot of excellent action that uses sound, plus some quiet moments that happen to creep up on you.

Be it gunshots, footsteps, destruction of objects, break-ins, the dreariness of the world outside the brownstone house, rain drops, creaks of the staircase, doors opening, echos in the Panic Room itself and the climatic finale filled with a good chunk of violence and action, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks offer a 360 degree whirlwind that I found myself sucked into in a pretty immense fashion. There's really a lot of action in the film, and the tracks do a good job of showing off that kind of stuff. The surrounds are finely tuned and mixed in a creative manner, with fantastic use of the subwoofer and surrounds that are not only pretty major, but also in a subtle fashion. Some scenes made me jump. It's definetly good to get you on the edge of your seat a bit more.

Everything else is good too. Howard Shore's fitting, somewhat haunting score is also mixed well, plus dialogue is quite clear and very crisp. In both tracks, everything is balanced as it should so nothing overpowers something else. In comparison with the Dolby Digital and DTS, my slight edge went to the DTS. Both give off a very creepy ambiance and suck you into the atmosphere of the Altman house, but I liked the more subtle use of the surrounds. The Dolby Digital is more straight forward in a sense, but I really liked how the DTS crawled upon myself while listening. Still, each 5.1 track is excellent and certainly won't disappoint anyone who listens to them, especially since each feature strong dynamic range and fidelity too. And if you need them, English subtitles, French subtitles and English closed captions are included.

 

Second problem. Again, it's not a Superbit Deluxe release, but for some reason "Panic Room" has extra features. Okay, so they're not much... the two minute Theatrical Teaser in non-anamorphic widescreen and English Dolby Surround (why not include the full trailer too as long as you're putting one trailer on as an extra?), plus a few Filmographies for the main actors, director David Fincher and writer David Koepp. They probably don't add up to much, but you know what? It's still space and it's a quite hypocritical, especially when the damn thing isn't supposed to include any extras whatsoever. I guess you could always say "Oh, just imagine the film was longer and this is that space" or something, but it's really not the same. Yes, it's nothing major... but extras are extras. I say if you're going to do something, you stick with it and you don't stray from your original formula. Oddly, this release is a hypocrisy and defeats the purpose of what "Superbit" means. But no, there's more to it...

Superbit releases are supposed to have static menus too so all that extra space that usually goes toward more extensive menu designs can be used for the audio and video. Not here! The menus are fully animated, and are actually very nifty. They represent the Panic room itself, resulting in what is a clever design. Still... it goes against what the Superbit philosophy is. So you have extra audio options, you have supplements and you have interactive menus? Feh. Annoying. There's also no Superbit insert included in the very nifty and sleek packaging... maybe Columbia/TriStar know that they're breaking the rules? It seems "Panic Room" is labeled "Superbit" just for the hell of it.

A lot of you probably know David Fincher is really big into supplements, and a special edition of this movie is due out within a few months as I write this. So once again, it's up to you - the consumer. If you want an awesome presentation of the film, you have it right here. Otherwise, if you love those supplements, you're better off to wait for dessert. I'm personally looking forward to what the next edition of the film will have on it... should be great.

 

"Panic Room" is a terrific thrill ride with a good story, pretty intense acting and wonderful directing that just plain entertains. As a whole, it's a film that is strong and well developed, so well in fact that it does stand a bit beyond the entertainment factor. While this DVD release more or less defeats the purpose of what Columbia/TriStar's Superbit line stands for, there's no denying that you get a solid transfer and very strong Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks. Still, I find it somewhat obnoxious to find extra audio tracks, a tiny amount of supplements and highly energized menus on what is supposed to be a straightforward release for the sake of presentation. Let's hope this isn't some marketing ploy, and that future standard editions of films that come out aren't labeled "Superbit."