Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne, Sam Oz Stone, Gillian Jacobs
Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson (short story, "Button, Button")
You Are The Experiment.
Push a red button on a little black box, get a million bucks cash. Just like that, all of Norma (Diaz) and Arthur Lewis's (Marsden) financial problems will be over. But there's a catch, according to the strange visitor (Lagella) who placed the box on the couple’s doorstep. Someone, somewhere – someone they don't know – will die. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a couple confronted by agonizing temptation yet unaware they're already part of an orchestrated an – for them and us – mind-blowing chain of events.
$7.571 million on 2635 screens.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 116 min.
Release Date: 2/23/2010
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Kelly
• “The Box: Grounded in Reality” Featurette
• “Richard Matheson: In His Own Words” Featurette
• “Visual Effects Revealed” Featurettes
• “Music Video Prequels”
• Digital Copy/Standard DVD
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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The Box [Blu-Ray] (2009)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 16, 2010)
Best known for the cult hit Donnie Darko, director Richard Kelly delivers a thriller with a twist via 2009’s The Box. Set in 1976, the doorbell awakens suburban couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden).
They find a mysterious box on their doorstep, and this sends them on a dark, improbable journey. A disfigured messenger named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) tells them that if they press a button on the box, it will kill a stranger. Why do this? Because he will reward them with $1 million. Norma and Arthur debate this, and the film follows the ramifications of their choice.
And much, much more. Box provides one major surprise: it resolves the “will they push it?” question after a little more than half an hour. That’s theoretically a good thing, as 116 minutes of “should we or shouldn’t we?” would be tough to stomach. That’s what I expected, as the couples’ ultimate decision felt like it’d be the film’s climax, but we still have 80 minutes of movie to go after the initial dilemma becomes resolved.
When I said “that’s theoretically a good thing”, I did so because those subsequent 80 minutes are such a drag. Not that the first 30-something minutes are particularly interesting either, especially because parts of them don’t make any sense. Who in their right mind would take Steward’s proposal seriously? How are Norma and Arthur going to account for their new fortune? Steward tells them it’s tax-free, but I still suspect they’d set off some bells at the IRS.
One major snag occurs when Arthur – literally a rocket scientist – opens the box and discovers it has no mechanical innards. He dismisses it as a hoax that couldn’t transmit a “death signal”. Dilemma over, right? Wrong – Arthur immediately jettisons his rational side and continues to buy into the notion that pressing the button kills someone.
Other inconsistencies abound during the opening 30 minutes, but they’re nothing compared to the mess that occurs during the rest of the film. When I reviewed Darko, I noted that it was a borderline incoherent mess, but it was a fascinating borderline incoherent mess. To some degree, Darko was a failure as a movie because it almost literally required footnotes to make sense; only after I listened to Kelly’s commentary did much of its nature reveal itself.
Viewers shouldn’t need outside information to comprehend a movie; external sources can add to one’s appreciation of a film, but they shouldn’t be essential, and they were for Darko. I forgave Kelly because Darko was just damned fascinating; even when it made little sense – and that was often – it provided an engrossing affair.
Alas, the same cannot be said for the muddled, meandering Box. Kelly adapted the film from a Richard Matheson short story, and Box often felt like a really padded take on a brief tale. The Matheson original ends not long after the decision whether or not to press the button; there’s a denouement/twist but that’s about it.
As I mentioned, that’s what I expected here, but Kelly decided to Darkofy the story to expand it to feature length. Essentially this means he adds elements that feel like a mash-up of Close Encounters and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Those movies made sense, which is more than I can say for the impenetrable Box. If you hop around the Internet, you’ll find plenty of theories about What It All Means, and some of them might actually be correct. I don’t doubt that Kelly does have an overall point of view/message that he wishes to convey; that was clearly the case with Darko, so I believe it’s true here as well.
How about you find a way to tell a coherent story, Richard? With The Box, he dips too far into the Darko well. Kelly tempted fate with Darko and was lucky it worked as well as it did. If he continues to follow the same “creepy/odd movie with abundant puzzling elements”, he’s going to weird himself out of a career. He got away with it for Darko, but it’s awfully hard to repeat that trick again.
Maybe I’m just too stupid to understand Kelly’s point, but I think the movie comes across like pretentious drivel. I suspect people will knock themselves out with interpretations meant to “prove” their own intelligence and insight. Maybe Kelly made an intentionally obscure, nonsensical movie just to stick it to these people and laugh at them as they go out of their way to explain something with no real point.
Or maybe he just can’t make a coherent film. He sure burdens this one with illogical/idiotic moments, and he even ventures into material that becomes offensive. I don’t want to say too much about a certain plot development, but the way it occurs, Kelly implies that it’s better to be dead than to be deaf and blind.
Seriously? Perhaps Kelly didn’t intend to send that message, but that’s almost literally what the flick tells us. This is tremendously insulting and crass. The film uses this element as an important plot twist, but it should’ve found a different way to set up the twist; the decision to depict deafness/blindness as a form of living hell is genuinely cruel.
Even without that tasteless element, The Box would’ve been a dud. It fails to tap tension from its inherent moral dilemma, and once that issue gets resolved, it meanders for 80 more minutes of pseudo-religious/sci-fi claptrap. All of this makes it a tedious, pretentious pile of nonsense.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-
The Box appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. I found few problems during this solid transfer.
Overall, sharpness seemed positive. I thought a few wide shots came across as slightly soft, but those weren’t substantial issues. Instead, the movie usually appeared concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Source flaws also remained absent.
To fit its somber tone, Box went with a restricted palette. In essence, chilly blues and yellow-browns dominated; it often looked like someone had smeared the lens with Gulden’s. Within those constraints, the colors seemed fine; they weren’t memorable, but they were appropriate. Blacks looked deep and dense, while shadows offered nice clarity and delineation. Only the minor softness made this a “B+” transfer; most of the time it fell into “A” territory.
Though it started slowly, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Box eventually warmed up to a reasonable degree. During the film’s first half, the soundfield didn’t have much to do. It offered some general environmental material and not much else; the track stayed subdued and lackluster.
Matters improved as the story progressed. The film featured more active audio such as various supernatural elements and lightning. These never quite turned the mix into truly engulfing affair, but they added life to the proceedings.
From start to finish, audio quality was fine. Speech came across as natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music appeared full and lively, while effects offered good range. Those elements seemed accurate and rich throughout the film. Nothing especially memorable occurred here, but the track was good enough for a “B”.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the film’s DVD version? I thought audio was similar; the Blu-ray was louder and a bit better integrated, but not to an enormous extent.
On the other hand, the visuals demonstrated substantial improvements. The DVD suffered from lots of mosquito noise, blockiness and other messy elements, but the Blu-ray lost all of these. It looked significantly tighter and clearer than the DVD.
The Blu-ray includes the same extras as the DVD plus a few new ones. I’ll note Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
We open with an audio commentary from writer/director Richard Kelly. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the original story and its adaptation, thematic/character elements, cast and performances, sets and locations, visual elements, real-life influences, music and deleted scenes, effects, and a few other areas.
During his Darko commentary, Kelly managed to help explain a lot of the movie’s more confusing elements. When presented with the same opportunity here, he does give us some good insights, but mostly he tends to simply narrate the flick. Along the way, we find a few production notes along with those occasional story tidbits, but the quality info tends to be rare. That makes this a mediocre commentary.
Some featurettes follow. The Box: Grounded in Reality goes for 10 minutes, 42 seconds and offers details from Kelly, his father Lane and mother Ennis. “Reality” glimpses the original short story and its adaptation to the big screen as well as Kelly’s real-life influences. Richard Kelly touches on this program’s details in his commentary, but it expands upon them in a nice manner, especially since we get to hear from his actual parents.
Next comes Richard Matheson: In His Own Words. The four-minute, 53-second piece includes comments from Kelly and writer Richard Matheson. The piece covers Matheson’s career as a writer as well as aspects of the short story that inspired The Box. Matheson gives us a few interesting notes, but the clip is too short to make much of an impact.
Under Visual Effects Revealed, we get three clips. We find “Arlington’s Face” (1:48), “The Water Coffins” (1:06) and “Transforming Richmond” (0:59). These show various aspects of the movie’s effects as we hear commentary from visual effects editor Dylan Highsmith.
For something unusual, we locate three Music Video Prequels. These run a total of nine minutes, 14 seconds and purport to “go behind the story with short surveillance montages that expand beyond the story into a secretive world where you are the experiment”. Um, okay. To me, they just appear to show some of the background footage briefly glimpsed in the final film – such as the Viking shots from Mars – and some other tidbits, but if the Blu-ray wants to tell me they’re more substantial than that, great! They seemed pretty forgettable to me, though.
An ad for Sherlock Holmes opens the disc. No trailer for Box appears here.
A second disc offers two elements. For one, it provides a standard DVD version of the film. Note that this doesn’t simply duplicate the DVD you can buy on its own; with only one soundtrack, no subtitles, and no extras, the DVD’s presentation is as barebones as can be. Still, it allows fans without Blu-ray capabilities a way to watch the movie until they do take the Blu plunge.
The second platter also includes a digital copy of The Box. This allows you to slap the flick on a computer or portable gizmo. Punch and pie!
Richard Kelly scored a memorable cult hit with Donnie Darko, but lightning fails to strike again with The Box. Too long, too silly and too idiotic, the movie mishandles an intriguing premise and turns into an incoherent piece of semi-intellectual blather. The Blu-ray provides solid visuals, reasonably good audio, and a decent roster of supplements. If you’re a die-hard Darko fanatic, you might get something out of The Box, and you should go for the Blu-ray over the DVD, partially because it includes a wider set of supplements. Nonetheless, I’d still recommend that most people avoid it.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE BOX