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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Takashi Shimizu
Cast:
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, William Mapother, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland, Grace Zabriskie, Bill Pullman, Rosa Blasi, Ted Raimi
Writing Credits:
Takashi Shimizu (film Ju-On: The Grudge), Stephen Susco

Tagline:
It never forgives. It never forgets.

Synopsis:
From filmmaker Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Army of Darkness) and acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Shimizu comes a terrifying tale of horror in the tradition of The Ring and 28 Days Later. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as an American nurse who has come to work in Tokyo. Following a series of horrifying and mysterious deaths, she encounters the vengeful supernatural spirit that possesses its victims, claims their souls, then passes its curse to another person in a spreading chain of horror. Now, she must find a way to break thissupernatural spell or become the next victim of an ancient evil that never dies, but forever lives to kill.

Box Office:
Budget
$10 million.
Opening Weekend
$39.128 million on 3245 screens.
Domestic Gross
$110.175 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 5/17/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Takashi Shimizu, Producer Taka Ichise, and Actor Takako Fuji
• 15 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Two Original “Ju-On” Films
• Two Video Diaries
• “The Grudge House: An Insider’s Tour”
• “Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu”
• “Production Designer’s Notebook: The Sketches of Iwao Saito”
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


The Grudge: Unrated Extended Director's Cut (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 9, 2005)

It happens every fall: as Halloween approaches, studios churn out horror flicks to capitalize on the holiday and grab a few bucks before audiences figure out the movies stink. These films make some good money for a weekend and then quickly vanish.

Surprisingly, 2004’s The Grudge bucked that trend. It hit multiplexes a little more than a week before Halloween. As expected, it became the biggest moneymaker in its opening weekend. The shock came from the legs it showed, as Grudge stayed in theaters for a while and managed to rake in $110 million, which is a fine showing for a horror movie.

Apparently US audiences like Americanized remakes of Japanese horror, as Grudge comes on the heels of another hit, 2002’s The Ring. Due to intentionally disjointed, non-chronological storytelling, it becomes tough to write a synopsis of The Grudge and not reveal too much, but I’ll try. For the most part, the tale revolves around two parties. We meet college students Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Doug (Jason Behr), both of whom came to Japan to study. Karen also works in a care center, and that factor connects to the other main participants: the Williams family.

Another group of Americans testing the waters in Japan due to work, the Williams clan includes mother Emma (Grace Zabriskie), an older woman who suffers from lethargic dementia; that’s why she need to the help from the care center. We also meet her daughter Susan (KaDee Strickland), son Matthew (William Mapother), and daughter-in-law Jen (Clea DuVall). Susan lives in her own apartment, but the others all reside in a little house we watch them buy.

It’s that house that’s at the heart of The Grudge. Apparently something bad happened there, and those events taint everyone who enters the residence. The movie follows the mystery of what occurred and what will befall the various characters.

One of the strengths of The Grudge comes from its unusual chronological structure. It’s weird to think that only 10 years ago, the non-linear framework of Pulp Fiction befuddled many moviegoers; I still remember hearing people say “I thought he was dead!” when the John Travolta character reappeared. Audiences clearly have adapted to non-chronological tales, for The Grudge jumps about frequently and does nothing to smoothly transition for the viewer. Instead, we leap around willy-nilly.

This works surprisingly well. The format possesses the potential to become confusing but that never is issue. The technique might come across as a little disconcerting, but it all ties together well.

Unfortunately, a cheesy storytelling procedure mars The Grudge and makes the tale less effective. The Grudge starts with some title cards that reveal way too much of the backstory. The movie eventually gets around to providing this information through the narrative, a fact that feels redundant. It’s my guess that the movie studio insisted that the filmmakers present this material up front to ensure audiences don’t become as confused.

This works, as the movie indeed makes more sense when we come to it armed with this knowledge. Unfortunately, the information renders the material less powerful. Since we know the backstory, the mystery becomes moot. We may not be aware of the specifics, but we can figure out enough to put us about 1000 steps ahead of the participants. Very little of the tale maintains suspense since the outcome seems so inevitable. The movie does its best to remain vague and I was moderately curious to see how the disparate storylines would tie together, but I really hated the way those title cards told us so much.

Though The Grudge tells an odd and surreal tale, it lacks much in the way of actual scares or true eeriness. It feels like the filmmakers can’t quite decide if they want to make a quiet ghost story or a haunted house shocker. The movie integrates facets of both genres in an uneasy manner that dilutes the impact of both. We get a lot of abrupt shots in which characters pop out of nowhere for a cheap jolt, but otherwise the movie doesn’t make much of an impact.

Add to that an exceedingly tepid climax that wasn’t worth the wait and The Grudge goes down as a disappointment. I admire parts of it due to its unconventional structure, but some bad storytelling decisions mar those elements. Ultimately it presents a moderately interesting puzzle but it lacks the requisite scares and chills to make it work.

I wrote the comments above to discuss the theatrical version of The Grudge, but this DVD presents the “unrated extended director’s cut” of the film. I didn’t see the need to change my original remarks because the longer edition doesn’t alter my view of the flick.

What new parts appear in the director’s cut? We get a few more character moments, some extra chills, and slightly more graphic material. Don’t expect much from the latter, however, as the elements remain fairly tame; apparently they would have pushed the flick into “R” territory instead of the “PG-13” the theatrical Grudge got, but there’s nothing startling or terribly disturbing on display.

Does the director’s cut work better than the theatrical version? I don’t think so. The ending packs a marginally stronger punch, but the extra few minutes of footage make an already slow movie progress at an even more sluggish pace. Both versions are moderately interesting in some ways, but neither ever becomes frightening.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Grudge appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although consistently watchable, the transfer seemed erratic and fairly lackluster.

Sharpness varied a bit. Most of the movie came across as reasonably defined and concise. However, exceptions occurred, as the film occasionally looked somewhat soft and tentative. No jagged edges occurred, but blinds caused some shimmering and I also noticed moderate edge enhancement at times. Grain was heavier than usual, and a few examples of specks popped up during the film.

With an extremely subdued palette at work, not many colors cropped up in Grudge. A few exterior daylight scenes exhibited natural, warm tones. However, most of the flick took place indoors and created a grayish cast. The colors we saw looked fine; we just didn’t get many of them. Blacks tended to be slightly inky, but remained acceptably dense for the most part. Shadows also were mildly heavy and not quite as cleanly delineated as I’d like. No serious problems marred the image, but it showed enough small concerns to get a “B-“.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Grudge demonstrated greater consistency. With a story such as this, I expected audio heavy on atmospherics, and that’s what I got. Mostly the mix stayed with creepy creaks and spooky music, as it usually didn’t get into much beyond that. However, this was more than appropriate for the flick, and when the track needed to kick into higher gear, it did so well. Elements were nicely placed around the soundfield, and the surrounds added good material at times. For example, a few scenes used ominous footsteps that padded across the rear. The track didn’t often become terribly active, but it was a smooth soundfield.

Audio quality also fared well. Speech consistently remained natural and crisp, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. The mostly subdued score was clear and concise. It mustered good depth when necessary and always came across as well-rendered. Effects followed suit. They mostly stayed quiet but they added strong punch at times. Across the board, bass response was deep and firm. This wasn’t a showy enough mix to merit “A”-level consideration, but it suited the material.

As with my remarks about the movie itself, I copied my picture and audio comments from my review of the original Grudge. I saw and heard nothing that was different from what I experienced with the prior DVD. Picture and sound quality appeared virtually identical for both discs.

None of the extras on the “unrated extended director’s cut” of The Grudge also appeared on the original DVD. These features begin with an audio commentary from director Takashi Shimizu, producer Taka Ichise, and actor Takako Fuji. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. Note that they speak Japanese through the piece; we can watch it with English subtitles.

Through this jovial commentary, you’ll learn about subjects such as locations and sets, changes from the original Japanese version and alterations made for the director’s cuts, working with the actors, story issues, visual design, and various challenges. Despite the darkness of the movies, the participants joke around a lot and make this a surprisingly fun piece. It doesn’t provide a surfeit of information, but it gives us enough to remain likable and entertaining.

15 Deleted Scenes run between 61 seconds and five minutes, 14 seconds for a total of 33 minutes and eight seconds. Some of these are redundant or tedious, but a surprising number of them work pretty well. Doug gets more screen time, so he’s not so much of a cipher, and a few decent scares appear as well. Maybe the shots wouldn’t mesh with the rest of the flick, but I think they should have kept at least four or five of these clips.

We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from director Shimizu and the others. They tell us some details about the segments, let us know what was and wasn’t in the Japanese version, and occasionally relate why they snipped the bits. Usually they cut the sequences for time, but a couple of alternate reasons appear for some pieces. The commentary has some decent information, but a lot of the time the participants just narrate the shots, so it’s not terribly valuable.

Five short pieces appear in the “Featurettes” domain. The Grudge House: An Insider’s Tour runs three minutes and 57 seconds. This piece leads us through the house set and shows us its various dimensions. It occasionally superimposes movie footage to show us the action that happened in each particular spot. This doesn’t serve much of a purpose and it comes across as a pretty pointless extra.

The three-minute and 12-second Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu offers what you’d expect. We see close-ups of some drawings created for the film’s climax. Why doesn’t this program use the usual storyboard to film comparison format? I don’t know, but that’d be a more productive use of our time.

Similar material shows up in Production Designer’s Notebook: The Sketches of Iwao Saito. This two-minute and 25-second featurette shows the concept art created for many of the film’s sets. I’d prefer a standard stillframe gallery, but the shots work fine as they give us a good look at the detailed planning sketches.

Two video diaries appear next. We get one from Sarah Michelle Gellar (nine minutes, one second) and another from KaDee Strickland (13:29). Gellar gives us a look at events on the set, while Strickland leads us around Tokyo. Too much of Gellar’s is cutesy as she wonders where the tardy director is, but it provides some decent glimpses of the shoot. Strickland gives us a moderately fun look at the city. She tosses in her two cents as she wanders around various spots, and it’s fairly enjoyable to see.

Next comes two of director Shimizu’s original Ju-On films. We get “4444444444” (two minutes, 57 seconds) and “In a Corner” (3:22). “Corner” is the better of the two, though it goes nowhere. “4444444444” is just idiotic.

The DVD offers some ads in the Previews area. We get promos for Boogeyman, DEBS, Steamboy, Darkness Falls and the extended cut of Underworld

The Grudge aspires to be more than just the usual schlock, but it doesn’t usually succeed. The movie is quirkier and more stylish than most, but it relies on too many stock scares and never pays off in a satisfying manner. The DVD presents somewhat mediocre picture with effective sound and some decent extras.

I wasn’t wild about the theatrical cut of The Grudge, and nothing about this longer version made me like it more. In fact, the extra footage slows down an already sluggish story. As such, it’s not something I’d recommend to new viewers. However, if you’re a big fan of the flick, this DVD might be worth a look. The extended edition of the film isn’t anything special, but at least it tosses out a bunch of new extras. If that’s worth the film’s price is something you’ll have to decide. I’d guess “no”, but diehards might want it anyway.

To rate this film, visit the orignal review of THE GRUDGE