The Haunted Mansion appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not exceptional, the picture mainly seemed very positive.
Almost all the scenes came across as accurately depicted. A little softness popped up in some wider shots, mainly due to a bit of light edge enhancement. Otherwise I felt the image remained nicely detailed and crisp. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and the source material lacked any signs of defects.
Despite the film’s gloomy setting, it presented a surprisingly warm palette. The colors looked rich and lush, as regal reds and golds made the tones quite distinctive. Blacks also came across as deep and firm, and most low-light shots seemed acceptably detailed, though the dark-skinned actors occasionally got a bit lost in the mix. Still, most of the movie looked solid and merited a “B+”.
Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Haunted Mansion demonstrated a surprising lack of ambition at times, it kicked to life well enough to merit a “B+”. The soundfield came across as rather subdued during its first act or so. During many portions, it stayed with a sense of general ambience and favored the forward speakers.
However, once the ghostly action started to dominate, the mix popped to action fairly well. Probably the first good sequence came when Madam Leota terrorized Jim. Subsequent ghostly interactions also brought the mix to a nice level of interactivity. It remained somewhat more subdued than I expected, but mostly the soundfield appeared satisfying.
Audio quality demonstrated no concerns. Speech was distinctive and concise, with no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music seemed bright and dynamic, with nice low-end material. Effects fared best. They came across as tight and lively, and they also packed a good punch. Bass response was consistently firm and warm. Overall, the track lacked the ambition to reach “A” level, but it still seemed solid.
For this DVD, we get a mix of supplements. We launch with two audio commentaries. The first comes from producer Don Hahn, visual effects supervisor Jay Redd, and writer David Berenbaum, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. The piece presents a nice wry sense of humor that makes it fun to hear. They go into a number of topics related to the film. We learn about casting, production design, changes from the script to the screen and other writing issues, sets and locations, and various aspects of the visual effects. The latter aspects probably dominate the track, as we learn a lot of good notes about the technical elements. Too much praise pops up, but this remains a pretty lively and entertaining discussion.
On the second commentary, we hear from director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mona May, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific track. They repeat some information from the prior commentary but they still manage to add a fair amount of new material. Not surprisingly, May’s remarks largely focus on the costumes. We get many details about their design and creation. Minkoff tends toward more general notes, and that’s where we get the most repetition; quite a few of the same elements pop up both places, especially related to trivia. Still, he gives us useful information about the atmosphere on the set, the cast, and other things, so this ends up as a fairly worthwhile track.
Odd footnote: the DVD package mentions the Hahn/Redd/Berenbaum commentary but not the Minkoff/May track. It seems weird they’d fail to note such a significant feature of the set on the back, though it does receive mention in the booklet.
Next we find a 12-minute and 35-second featurette called The Haunted Mansion - Secrets Revealed. This includes shots from the set and the attraction plus interviews with Don Hahn, Jay Redd, Rob Minkoff, Mona May, production designer John Myhre, special make-up effect creator Rick Baker, visual effects producer Lynda Thompson, actors Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Tilly, and extra Steban Demari. We learn about Baker’s “Zombie School” and creature design, training those extras, visual effects, and production design. The remarks from the participants seem decent, but we already hear a lot of this in the commentaries. The behind the scenes shots prove to be very valuable, though, as we get a short but concise and effective examination of the different elements. We learn a lot quickly and efficiently in this solid little featurette.
More of the same shows up in Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts in the Graveyard. This 11-minute and five-second featurette takes us to the set and behind the scenes to examine the elements that comprise the sequence in question. In addition to the background shots, we hear from Redd, Thompson, Baker, Minkoff, May, steady cam operator Kirk Gardner, second unit director Thor Freudenthal, chief second unit lighting technician John Priebe, and second unit liaison Lolly Howe. Obviously this maintains a technical orientation as it details various techniques used to bring the sequence to life (or death, in this case). We learn a lot about camerawork, visual effects, costumes, and make-up work. Although some repetition from other sources occurs – particularly when May talks about her choices – it remains another tight and informative program.
For a view of the set, we head to Disney’s DVD Virtual Ride: The Haunted Mansion. This requires you to make some directional choices which will lead you around the movie’s main location. This sounds like fun but instead seems fairly slow and tedious. I thought it would take us through the attraction, and it doesn’t offer as much interactivity as one might think.
The DVD includes one deleted scene. Entitled “Emma and Ezra”, the two-minute and 20-second clip extends the scene in which the mansion staffmembers let the kids know about the curse. It’s a pretty bland sequence that adds nothing to the movie; it just spells out information that gets enough exposition elsewhere.
More unused footage shows up in the Outtakes Reel. This lasts five minutes and 22 seconds as it presents the standard package of goofs and giggles. Despite Murphy’s reputation, we don’t find many funny improvs, as this seems like a dull collection.
Next we get a music video for Raven’s “Superstition”. She remakes the Stevie Wonder classic in a tremendously rinky-dink and uncompelling manner. The video intercuts movie shots with mansion-based singing and dancing. It’s a flat video.
The disc includes the usual complement of ads at the start of the disc. When you pop the platter in your player, you’ll find promos for Aladdin, The Incredibles, and Ghosts of the Abyss. In addition, the Sneak Peeks domain features all of those trailers as well as additional ads for Ella Enchanted, the Haunted Mansion video game, the Witch book series, the TV series My Wife and Kids, and the “Tower of Terror” theme park attraction.
We also get the THX Optimizer. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer 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 Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
For those with DVD-ROM drives, the fun continues. The case touts the following features: “Morphing Ghost Host Maker”, “The History of the Haunted Mansion Attraction”, “Photo Galleries”, “Desktop Themes/Wallpaper/Screen Savers”, and “Enhanced Virtual Mansion Tour”. Unfortunately, my DVD-ROM drive balked at running this portion of the set, so I can’t comment on any of these features.
After the surprisingly entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean, hopes ran high for The Haunted Mansion. Unfortunately, the actual product fell far short of even the most modest expectations, as the movie seemed dull and lifeless. The DVD presented very good picture and sound plus a reasonably nice roster of extras. If you’re one of the people who saw and liked Mansion theatrically, you’ll dig this DVD. Others should skip it.