Panic Room (Special Edition DVD) review by Mike Long

"DVD Double Dipping" has become a reality for the modern consumer, and despite that fact that this practice upsets many DVD fans, it is something that the studios will most likely continue doing. And when a second release offers more for the viewer, there should be little to complain about. The new 3-disc DVD release of David Fincher's Panic Room will certainly separate the movie-fans from the tech-heads, as it will make many viewers question which they value more, the movie or the extras.

Jodie Foster stars in Panic Room as Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who is seeking a house in Manhattan for herself and her daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They find a monstrous 4-story house which not only has the convenience of an elevator, but also a panic room -- a reinforced room where one could safely hide if intruders entered the house. On their first night in the new house, three burglars, Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), break into the house seeking a fortune which is supposedly hidden in a safe. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse, as Meg and Sarah seek refuge in the panic room, and the thieves work to find their treasure.

Panic Room is a very interesting film, in the sense that it's both complicated and simplistic at the same time. The story from screenwriter David Koepp is very straight-forward and contains just the right amounts of twists and turns. It's deep enough to suck you in, but not overwhelming or convoluted. This story is a springboard for director David Fincher's vision. The man behind Se7en brings his love of dark photography into the film, and fuses it with an incredible eye for detail, as the camera prowls the house allows letting the audience know where all of the characters are. Even at 112-minutes, the movie feels very lean and well-paced, as Fincher and Koepp keep things moving and while we always know what's going on, the movie never lets itself get too bogged down in the details. The small cast are all good, and every performance is memorable. But, despite the technical perfection of Panic Room, the film is somewhat hollow and while it succeeds as a suspense film, it doesn't really stay with the viewer the way that other films in this genre can. Panic Room is a very entertaining film that shows how a uncluttered story and a talented director can create a true movie-going experience.

Panic Room comes to DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. Columbia had previously released a SuperBit DVD of the film in September, 2002, which contained no extra features. This new 3-disc set certainly remedies that. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is very good, and is almost identical to the SuperBit version, save for the fact that there is slightly more grain here. (Any grain is most likely the result of Fincher's decision to shoot the film with very little lighting.) Even with the dark look of the film, the image is never too dark and the occasional colors look fine. There is some visible video noise when horizontal lines are present, but otherwise the transfer looks good. This DVD contains a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. This tracks sounds identical to the DTS track on the SuperBit release. It boasts a deep, rich mix which offers clear dialogue and a great reproduction of Howard Shore's score. The film is filled with rumble bass noises, which sound great here, and the surround sound effects add suspense to the chase scenes.

The sheer amount of extras on this 3-disc set is almost overwhelming. But, be warned, the supplemental features offered here are very, very technical in nature. In short, they show the viewer nearly every step in the actual planning and shooting of Panic Room. These extras will certainly excite and impress anyone who has an interest in how films are made, and, if one had the resources, one could go out and re-make Panic Room after watching this set -- that's how in-depth it is. But, those who don't really care about the hands-on elements of making movies may find much of this very boring. And, if you're looking for depths of detail on the background of the story, or lots of interviews with the stars, you've come to the wrong place. Although director David Fincher provides an audio commentary, his presence is sorely lacking elsewhere on the extras -- but he can be seen in all of the behind-the-scenes video footage.

The extras are spread across the 3 discs. Disc 1 contains three separate audio commentaries. The first features director David Fincher. Given Fincher's reputation, this is a very intimate talk, as he talks about the shooting of the film, of course, but he also second-guesses himself and comes across as a perfectionist who is still a human being. He balances the time talking about the filming while also discussing his actors and the set. The second has actors Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam, who were all recorded separately. This commentary is OK, but it's always distracting when the speakers aren't together and we are only hearing what the editors chose for us to hear. Foster does the bulk of the talking here, and gives some interesting details about her character and the experience of working with Fincher. The third and final chat features screenwriter David Koepp and Oscar winning screenwriting legend William Goldman. This is a truly entertaining commentary as Goldman keeps thing going by asking a series of questions which keeps things moving. Koepp not only discusses the story, but also, responding to Goldman's questions, talks about the entire film. Disc 1 also contains the theatrical trailer for Panic Room, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and is 16 x 9.

Disc 2 and Disc 3 deliver the detailed accounts of Panic Room's filming. Disc 2 contains two sections, Pre-Production and Production. Pre-production opens with the Prep section. "The Testing Phase" (16 minutes) features director of photography Conrad W. Hall and special effects supervisor Joe Viskocil discussing the lighting tests which were done on the set and the preparation which went into designing the special effects such as the propane explosion. "Safe-Cracking School" (13 minutes) is simply behind-the-scenes video footage of a safe expert explaining how to open a safe. There is no commentary or other explanation of what we're seeing. The Pre-visualization section starts with "Creating the Previs" (10 minutes). The "previs" is a computer animated animatic which depicts each scene of the film. In this segment, we watch Fincher view the previs and make comments. This leads into the "Previs Demo" (4 minutes) which compares the previs with the finished film. This can be viewed with or without commentary. "Habitrail Film" (1 minute) shows an animated side-view of the house. "Multi-Angle Featurette" gives the viewer the chance to watch a scene where they can compare the previs to storyboards to the finished film. There are also 4 audio choices here, including two audio commentaries from storyboard artist Peter Ramsey and CGI animator Colin Green. The Production section is dominated by "Shooting Panic Room", a very technical 53-minute making-of featurette. The highlight of this feature is a time-lapse section which shows the construction of the set, which took 15 weeks in real-time. There is a very brief segment of a scene which was shot with Nicole Kidman, who had to pull out of the film due to a knee injury. There are some comments from the cast, but the bulk of this segment is behind-the-scenes video footage from the set which examines how many of the complicated shots were done. "Make-up Effects" (9 minutes) is a amusing interview with Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., who discuss the "difficulty" of working with David Fincher and act out some very funny scenes.

Disc 3 opens with "Sequence Breakdowns", in which the viewer can read the script, and then view the storyboards, dailies, test footage and behind-the-scenes footage for four different scenes. The "Visual Effects" section is incredibly in-depth as Kevin Haug, visual effects supervisor and Leslie McMinn, visual effects coordinator, discuss how the elaborate shots and special effects were done by examining 19 specific sequences. The "Scoring" section offers multi-angle viewing of scoring session as conducted by Howard Shore for 4 scenes. With "Sound Design" (15 minutes), sound designer Ren Klyce demonstrates the layers of sound that go into a scene and shows how certain sounds can be isolated. "Digital Intermediate" (11 minutes) has post-production supervisor Peter Mavromates explain how computerized color correction helps to guarantee the director's desired look for the film. Finally, we have an all text explanation of the Super-35 filming process.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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