The Frighteners appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie often looked quite good, but some issues negatively affected my overall impression.
For the most part, sharpness was positive. Unfortunately, noticeable edge haloes cropped up throughout the movie, and those tended to mean that wide shots looked a bit soft and tentative. I discerned no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws were minor. I saw a few specks but nothing much. I did get the impression that the transfer used more than a little digital noise reduction, and that left the image with a slightly smooth, waxy appearance. This didn’t reach Predator levels, but it meant the image came across as somewhat unnatural and “digital” at times.
I can’t say I anticipated a bright palette from a ghost story, but Frighteners managed to present a surprisingly broad color template. And it did so well, as the hues looked pretty dynamic and lively. Blacks came across as dark and tight, while shadows were smooth and concise. Though much of the image was fine, the digital flaws dropped my grade to “C+” level.
Although the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix of The Frighteners boasted quite a few standout moments, some auditory issues caused problems. Actually, my only true complaint related to bass response, but that area was such a distraction that it sometimes negated the positives.
Otherwise, audio quality was solid. Speech always sounded distinctive and natural, with no edginess or other concerns. Effects were accurate and firm. Were it not for the low-end thump that came with so many of those elements, they would have been very good. Music was dynamic and lively; at least the excessive bass didn’t translate to poor reproduction of the score.
Frighteners presented a fairly active soundfield. While it didn’t go nuts, the many ghost-related moments gave it room to expand. Those elements zipped and zoomed around the room to create a good sense of the settings. The mix remained more subdued during moments without spirits, but since so many of those occurred, the track came to life quite frequently. Add to that good stereo imaging for the music and this was a satisfying soundfield. The mix as a whole would have been a “B+” or an “A-“ with less oppressive bass, but the overwhelming low-end left it with a “B”.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 DVD release? Audio was a bit smoother, but both discs suffered from excessively loud bass response. That meant the lossless track didn’t offer a big improvement over the DVD’s mix; if the Blu-ray came with more natural bass, I’d feel more pleased with it.
Visuals showed decent improvements, though the image didn’t top the DVD as much as I’d like. That’s because it came with some of the same problems connected to edge enhancement and source flaws. However, the Blu-ray was cleaner and better defined; it wasn’t great, but it looked better than the DVD.
In terms of extras, this release adapts the 2006 DVD – which already adapted the 1998 laserdisc. New to the Blu-ray: we find both the movie’s 1996 theatrical version and its 1998 Director’s Cut on the same disc. The theatrical edition runs 1:49:52, while the Director’s Cut lasts 2:02:36. I already discussed my feelings about theatrical vs. Director’s Cut in the body of my review, so I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say I think the longer version is the more satisfying of the pair.
For the Director’s Cut, we find an introduction from director Peter Jackson. In this two-minute and 40-second clip, Jackson talks about the film’s influence on Lord of the Rings, its connection to the rest of his career, and changes made for the Director’s Cut. Jackson provides a nice little intro for the film.
We hear more from Jackson in his running, screen-specific audio commentary. At the start, the director expresses some anxiety about the prospect of chatting for two hours. He needn’t have worried, as he fills the time well.
Jackson covers all the expected issues. He talks about changes made for the “Director’s Cut”, working with the actors, locations and sets, visual effects, story and character points, the movie’s tone and original rating, various trivia and challenges along the way. Jackson proves amiable and informative as he gives us a good look at the production.
As I noted, this commentary repeats from the 1998 laserdisc. This fact may irritate some who want a new chat, but I have no complaints about it. For one, it enjoys historical value since it was Jackson’s first-ever commentary and it presents a point of view he could no longer offer. It’s interesting to hear Jackson between films and before he became rich and powerful. In addition, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Jackson covered the film well in 1998 – why try to re-do that?
(Note that the commentary only accompanies the Director’s Cut; there’s no commentary for the theatrical version.)
After this we get a 45-minute and 39-second collection of Storyboards. On the old LD, these simply acted as one chapter of the main documentary, but here they get their own section. After an intro from Jackson, we see all of the storyboards created for the film. These cover the first two-thirds or so of the flick; they end when Frank battles the Reaper in the cemetery. (As Jackson tells us, they didn’t have time to finish the boarding process.)
Jackson offers commentary along with the drawings, so we learn about changes made for the final product and the reasons for the variations. I like the fact we get all of the boards. While I’m not a big storyboard fan, it’s cool to be able to see every one they created. The inclusion of boards not filmed and Jackson’s commentary makes this a particularly valuable component, though, and means it becomes a very worthwhile element.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the set ends with The Making of The Frighteners. This documentary runs three hours, 45 minutes and 54 seconds, and opens with a one-minute, 57-second intro from Jackson, as he lets us know about the LD history of the documentary.
From there the show uses the standard format, as we get movie snippets, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We hear from Jackson, executive producer Robert Zemeckis, creature effects designer Richard Taylor, Weta systems administrator Jon Labrie, CG supervisor Matt Aitken, CG supervisor John Sheils, visual effects supervisor Wes Takahashi, CG supervisors Wayne Stables and Gray Horsfield, character animators Christian Rivers and Kyle Balda, composer Danny Elfman, technical director Stephen Regelous, digital effects producer Charlie McClellan, and actors Jim Fyfe, Trini Alvarado, Michael J. Fox, Chi McBride, John Astin, Jake Busey, Jeffrey Combs, and Dee Wallace Stone.
The show goes through the creation of the script and the development of the project, casting and characters, rehearsals, improvisation and additional changes to the screenplay. From there we move through New Zealand locations and making the area look like the US, practical and CG effects and issues related to those areas, ghost and Reaper design, acting challenges and Jackson’s cameo. The program continues with the actors’ stunts and injuries, deleted scenes and characters, miniatures, time pressures due to a release date change, the movie’s score and sound design, the film’s theatrical rating, and final thoughts.
Back in its day, LD fans regarded this as a groundbreaking documentary. Now that we’re in this day, it still looks pretty amazing. It certainly qualifies as one of the longest documentaries made to supplement a movie.
But size isn’t everything, so it becomes important that “Making” delivers the goods. That it does. We get a terrific feel for the production and receive a great deal of information about all the appropriate areas. We also see many fine shots from the set, elements that come to the spotlight during one 26-minute montage of those pieces. Even the bloopers are pretty good, such as when Fox forgets he’s not making another Back to the Future movie. Combined with the storyboards, this becomes an exhaustive but still very entertaining and engaging piece.
The Frighteners provides an erratic flick but a generally entertaining one. While it doesn’t compare to Jackson’s better-known efforts, it has more than enough good moments to make it enjoyable. The Blu-ray offers generally good but flawed picture and audio along with an excellent set of extras. I’m not happy with some of the Blu-ray’s problems, but it still gives us the best rendition of the film to date.
To rate this film, visit the Director's Cut review of THE FRIGHTENERS