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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Ain't nothing like some claustrophobia

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Oct/Nov 2002, v.33/5

Panic Room cover Panic Room
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto
The Interview cover The Interview
Director: Craig Monahan
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Tony Martin, Aaron Jeffery and Paul Sonkkila
Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: A, Extras: C Movie: A, Picture: B, Sound: B, Extras: A
What kind of person could write the screenplays for the black comedy Death Becomes Her, the thrillers Jurassic Park and Mission Impossible, and the hit comic-book adaptation Spider Man? His name is David Koepp and he also wrote Panic Room, the first of our claustrophobic movies. Claustrophobic because around half the photography is in one room, almost all the rest in the house containing that room.

Mother Jodie Foster and daughter Kristen Stewart are stuck in a 'panic' room while a bunch of baddies roam the house. Problem is, the bad guys want in to get at the safe. This wouldn't be a problem because the room is impregnable, except that young Kristen is diabetic and her need for insulin is drawing close. This film is somewhat of a departure for director David Fincher because, unlike his previous movies, it doesn't close with a shocking twist. Nor does it need to, since neither does it keep you particularly puzzled about precisely what's going on. Instead it relies on the tension of the situation, excellent pacing and solid characters. The trademark Fincher inventiveness with the camera remains evident though.

My main DVD player is a venerable (in DVD player standards, anyway) Sony DVP-S725D. It shares with its co-branded players the virtue of providing a wealth of information about the disc that's playing, including the layer change. On this disc, the Sony dutifully reports a layer change at 53:36. But it ain't there, or so it seems. Certainly there was no gap in the playback.

Don't expect many extras. The audio of the feature is featured in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Even though the DTS trailer uses full strength 1,509kb/s encoding, the feature itself gets by with the half-rate 754kb/s, and is actually a little quieter than the Dolby version (the latter has a +4dB normalisation). The picture quality is good within the constraints of unrelievedly dark settings. Pay particular attention to the design of opening titles. Who would have thought that something new could be managed in 2002?

Around half of The Interview is filmed in an interview room: a place in a police station in which a suspect may be interrogated. Almost all the rest of the movie is filmed in the police station containing the interview room. Like Panic Room, the essence of this movie is a confrontation. Unlike it, the main protagonists are within the same room.

Hugo Weaving is the bad guy ... maybe. Tony Martin represents the forces of law and order, but maybe he's a bad guy as well. Whichever, this film is a masterpiece of timing, twists, acting and direction. Except for the first couple of minutes, there's nothing in the way of action. It's all dialogue and facial expression. And it's engrossing. The support characters are excellent and the tone is assisted by a moody, naturalistic lighting and a beautiful theme, mostly carried on piano, by Australian composer David Hirschfelder (Shine, Elizabeth).

This DVD carries no fewer than 41 titles! But there are not 41 separate sets of content. The key to understanding this is that such divisions on a DVD as Titles and Chapters are merely pointers to content held somewhere, anywhere, on the disc. Thus Title 13 is more than 24 minutes long, contains 21 chapters and plays all the cast and crew interviews. Title 38, though, at one minute and 19 seconds has just one chapter but is a section of the same content: the interview with technical advisor and co-writer Gordon Davie.

The audio is presented in a decent stereo, Dolby Digital encoded. No attempt at surround encoding has been made for the feature (although the trailer has a surround storm which is absent from the movie). The picture quality is a shame. There is no excuse, really, for presenting a widescreen movie in non-anamorphic format. Add to this the high contrast between foreground and background and a strongly geometrical props and there is from time to time an excessive amount of aliasing.

Extras are good, especially the commentary and the 'deleted' ending, which was only ever intended to impress investors!

Running time: 107 minutes
Aspect: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s and DTS 5.1, 754kb/s
Subtitles: English, Dutch, Hindi, English for the hearing impaired
Features: Trailer, Filmographies
Running time: 100 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 non-anamorphic
Sound track: English, Commentary: both Dolby Digital 2.0, 192kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Trailer, Biographies, Interviews, Pre-production featurettes (16:50), Cast and crew interviews (24:21), Excerpts from reviews, Awards, Deleted scenes (7:01)

© 2002-2006, Stephen Dawson