Cast Away appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While most of the flick looked good, the transfer suffered from a few avoidable problems.
Despite the presence of some persistent edge enhancement, sharpness usually seemed positive. The haloes most affected wide shots, as those could look a bit tentative. Nonetheless, I thought most of the movie demonstrated nice delineation and accuracy. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and only a few minor specks appeared.
Colors appeared rich and vibrant. For obvious reasons, Cast Away used a naturalistic palette, and the hues looked accurate and lush. The scenery on the island really seemed nice, as the greens, golds and blues were lovely and vivid. Sunset sequences were of particular note; they provided some of the movie’s most stunning imagery. Black levels consistently appeared deep and dense, but shadow detail occasionally showed problems, mostly due to the use of “day for night” photography. Those shots tended to be too thick and impenetrable. Nonetheless, the transfer fared well in most ways and merited a “B”.
Even better were the movie’s soundtracks. Cast Away includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES mixes. Although the DTS track might get the slight edge, I really could not discern any substantial differences between the two audio versions. The DTS mix may have provided marginally tighter bass, but otherwise, I thought the tracks sounded identical.
That was a good thing, because both mixes were excellent. Cast Away alternated between louder scenes - storms, the plane crash, etc. - and very gentle and quiet sequences, especially during the parts of the film where Noland got acclimated to the island. The atmosphere seemed to be quite involving and appropriate throughout the film, as all five channels provided realistic and engrossing sound. In the quiet scenes, the ambience was natural and encompassing; the effects cropped up slightly in logical locations and all blended together well.
However, it was during the louder sequences that the soundtracks earned their keep. When the plane encountered trouble, I nearly had a heart attack from the auditory slam that ensued, and the other scenes were also exceedingly well-presented; the sound came at me from all sides when necessary. The roar of the ocean and the rumble of thunder appeared strongly displayed, and all parts of this track worked quite well. The sound designers did a terrific job of making the movie seem natural but still powerful.
Audio quality was also terrific. Dialogue came across as warm and natural with no problems related to edginess or intelligibility; the looped lines were neatly integrated into the action and they did not stand out in any way. Music was the least significant factor in Cast Away since so much of the film progressed without a score. When we do hear music, it sounded clear and bright, with fine reproduction.
Because music and speech presented often-inconsequential aspects of the film, it was especially important that the effects appear excellent, and they did. It was clear that the sound designers really did their homework for this movie, and the various elements always seemed clean and realistic with no signs of distortion. The effects were distinct and well-defined, and they showed fine dynamics. Bass response often could be fantastic; this flick packed some serious low end at times. All of the various elements made the soundtracks to Cast Away consistently terrific.
Fox have released Cast Away as a two-disc special edition, and it includes a terrific mix of extras. Most of these appear on DVD Two, but we find a couple of pieces on the first disc. Most significant is an audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis, director of photography Don Burgess, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas, and sound designer Randy Thom. Ralston and Villegas were recorded together, but all other participants were taped individually. The results were edited into this one cohesive, semi-screen-specific piece.
I call the track “semi-screen-specific” because although the topics usually relate pretty closely to the parts of the film being shown at the time, they don’t hew with great strictness; the participants can veer off into other related subjects on occasion. In any case, I thought this was a terrific commentary. One look at the roles of the track’s participants should let you know this was a fairly technically-oriented piece, and normally I regard that as a bad thing; those kinds of programs can become tedious and drab. However, that was not the case during Cast Away, even though I heard little about the creative aspects of the film. Zemeckis provided virtually all of those elements as he discussed story changes and complications that affected the tale.
Though the other participants mainly stuck to their particular disciplines, I never felt that the commentary seemed dull or too technically involved. Instead, I heard a great deal of fascinating information about the manner in which each man worked on the film. Since Cast Away isn’t a typical effects flick, it was interesting to hear about the elements that Ralston and Villegas contributed, and Burgess also added some nice statements about his area.
Surprisingly, however, Thom emerged as the star of the show. He dominated the track and contributed the most compelling sections. Thom gave us Sound Design 101 as he went over the different challenges offered by this naturalistic film. I know more about the subject than the average Joe, but I still found a lot of new information throughout Thom’s comments. He lets us know how much work had to be put into the piece to make it appear so seamless, and he offers a fascinating point of view. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the track for CA as it provided a thoroughly entertaining and illuminating piece.
The only other extra on DVD One was the THX Optimode program. As also found on other DVDs like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Tora! Tora! Tora!, this is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.
As we move on to DVD Two, we find a series of video programs. First up is The Making of Cast Away, a very solid documentary. This show covered the creation of the film from its genesis with screenwriter William Broyles Jr. through aspects of the different location shoots; we go along to Russia, a soundstage, and both the 1999 and 2000 visits to Fiji. Along the way, we see some great material from the sets and hear comments from Zemeckis, Broyles, actors Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt, producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, location manager Mary Morgan, executive producer Joan Bradshaw, and some men who work in the “survival industry”.
The 27-minute and 35-second program is a little brief to cover such a large production, but it provides a satisfying look at the subject. I enjoyed the coverage of Broyles’ research with the survival experts, and the snippets from the sets were quite a lot of fun. I appreciated the chronological approach to the topic as this kept the piece organized and coherent. While the show remained too short and superficial to be an outstanding documentary, it still was a compelling work that I liked.
Within the Featurettes area we get three more pieces. “S.T.O.P.: Surviving as a Castaway” focuses on the real-life aspects of what life would be like on a deserted island. In addition to comments from screenwriter Broyles and author James C. Simmons, we hear much more from the survival experts found in the “Making of” show. We get lots of background from “Stone Age Living Skills Specialist” David Holladay, prehistorian Steve Watts and Boulder Outdoor Survival School Director David Wescott during this 26-minute and 55-second program.
I really enjoyed this show. It contributed to my factual understanding of the situation and it also dealt more with Broyles’ real-life inspirations for the movie’s events. We learned a little about his research for the film during the “Making of” program but this piece offered a lot more detail about what happened. Ultimately the featurette provided a nice complement to the shorter show.
Next up is “The Island”, a 13 minute and 55 second examination of the property itself. Mainly hosted by location manager Mary Morgan, we find out how she choose the island and get a nice overview of the processes used to make it work. We see how the production integrated into the location and how they dealt with it. Again, this was a subject briefly touched upon during the “Making of” show, but “The Island” takes the topic to a deeper level.
The final featurette is the most unusual. “Wilson: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra” takes a 13 minute and 10 second look at everyone’s favorite blood-imprinted volleyball. Through lots of footage from the set and some interview snippets with crew members and Hanks, we get a basic history of how Wilson came to be and see many of the shots in which he was involved. As was the case with the prior two featurettes, some of this information appeared in the “Making of” show but this longer piece added depth to the subject and was a good program.
In the Special Effects Vignettes provides six different segments that show the creation of some of the movie’s elements. These run between 35 seconds and 3 minutes five seconds for a total of eight minutes and five seconds of material. All of these are accompanied by commentary from visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Carey Villegas. In essence, we watch six scenes as the effects layer into them. It’s a decent piece that gives us a nice look at the compositing of these segments.
Behind the Scenes Image Gallery provides four minutes and 45 seconds of shots. We see mostly stills from the set and publicity images, but there are also some examples of production art and storyboards. All of these elements are shown as a running video piece that was accompanied by parts of the film’s score.
Additional artwork appears as well. In the Storyboard Galleries we get art for three different scenes: “Losing Wilson”, “Raft Escape” and “Plane Crash”. Each screen includes three boards and shows a corresponding still from the film next to the appropriate board; the first set of boards includes three screens, while the second contributes five and the final one has 15 for a total of 69 storyboards.
“Raft Escape” and “Plane Crash” also give us film to storyboard comparisons once you proceed through the galleries. In these, the board takes up most of the screen while the movie appears as a small inset box in the lower right corner. Boards do not fascinate me, but I was happy to see these here. However, the execution was a little weak; we should have been able to increase the size of the boards when they appeared three per screen.
Next we move to Conceptual Artwork where we get six more topics: “Raft Illustrations”, “Raft Sequence”, “Day Rowing”, “Fishing”, “Night Whales” and “Day Whales”. Each of these includes between five and 30 still images for a total of 85 screens of drawings. “Illustrations and Storyboards” tosses in an extra 61 pieces of art across four topics (“Chuck’s Raft”, “Opening Sequence”, “Raft Assembly” and “Raft Launch”). Frankly, I have no idea why the different subjects of these areas are split up in this way - they all seem to closely interrelate - but the DVD gives us a nice selection of materials that are worth a look so I won’t complain too much about the odd execution.
The last video program on DVD Two may be the most significant. Charlie Rose Interviews Tom Hanks offers an entire episode of Rose’s show from just prior to the theatrical release of Cast Away. During this 47-minute and 25-second program, we hear a lot from Hanks about his work. He gives us some solid background about the making of the film, but since some of this information also appears elsewhere on the DVD, the show was mainly interesting due to the introspection he provides into Chuck Noland and some of the other characters he’s played. In particular, Hanks delves into aspects of his role in Saving Private Ryan and we learn quite a lot about Hanks’ processes. All in all, this was a valuable and compelling program that provided insight into one of today’s top actors.
Finally, this treasure trove ends with some publicity materials. We find two trailers and 10 TV spots. At the end of the day, there’s not much that the supplements omit. I suppose we could have found some deleted scenes; I don’t know that any exist, but I’d be surprised if there was no excess footage attached to the production. Otherwise, this was a tremendously complete package that provided a wealth of excellent information.
If there’s anything terribly negative to say about the DVD release of Cast Away, I can’t think of it. The movie itself was a surprisingly exciting, moving and compelling affair that benefited from a top-notch performance by Tom Hanks. Frankly, acting doesn’t get much better than the work Hanks offers here. The DVD combined pretty good picture with excellent sound and a bunch of interesting extras. From the fine audio commentary to the more than two hours of documentaries and interviews, this set provides a vast amount of strong data about the movie. This is a fine release for a solid film.