Hostel 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. A mix of good and not-so-hot, this was a decent transfer but not anything better than that.
Some of the concerns related to sharpness. I noticed a bit of edge enhancement through the movie, and that occasionally left us with a less than crisp impression. Much of the film seemed well-defined, but the flick took on iffy clarity more often than I’d expect. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but a smattering of source flaws appeared. Occasional specks and marks popped up onscreen. While not heavy, these were more frequent than I’d anticipate for a brand-new flick.
I didn’t expect a lively palette from a dark horror film, and Hostel usually left us with subdued tones. The movie adopted a gray sensibility much of the time. Brighter hues appeared during the first act and they looked fine; just don’t expect much after that. Blacks were a little weak but generally appeared acceptably dense. This tended to make low-light shots a little murky, but they weren’t bad. Overall, this transfer was good enough for a “B-“; I didn’t think it ever excelled, though.
On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Hostel offered a satisfying affair. Much of the mix stayed with general ambience, but it kicked into gear when required. The atmosphere helped set the creepy mood and establish tension. When the action hit, the various speakers worked to put the viewer in the middle of events and did so well. All sorts of scary noises like chainsaws and screams emanated from all around to help make things involving.
Audio quality seemed fine. Speech was consistently accurate and concise, with no edginess on display. Music sounded clean and clear, though I thought the score and songs could have boasted more prominent low-end. Effects offered the right mix of definition and punch. They showed nice bass and represented the various elements well. This track worked nicely for the movie.
When we move to the extras, we discover a whopping four separate audio commentaries. The first features director Eli Roth along with executive producers Quentin Tarantino, Boaz Yakin, and Scott Spiegel. They all sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. That’s a lot of movie-making power in one room, and they mix well to create a lively piece.
The commentary looks at the story’s genesis and development, the relationships among the four men and what all of them did for the flick, casting and performances, locations and shooting in Prague, effects, cut/changed sequences, and influences. I like the parts that reveal how the executive producers worked on the film, and plenty of good stories appear along the way. These include funny bits like why Roth became known as “Gorilka” and the “rigors” of casting hot nude women. I could live without all the praise that appears here, but the track is so enthusiastic and engaging that I can easily forgive those minor flaws.
For the second commentary, we get notes from Roth, actors Barbara Nedeljakova and Eythor Judjonsson, editor George Folsey Jr., and web author Harry Knowles. This piece takes separate chats between Roth and the others and edits it into one track. Roth starts with Folsey and then takes a phone conversation with Knowles. From there Roth talks with Nedeljakova in the studio and concludes with a phone call to Gudjonsson.
Folsey and Roth discuss the editor’s filmmaking heritage and what drew him to Hostel, the film’s particular challenges and issues, other movies he’s made and some general thoughts and editing and movies. With Knowles, we learn how he and Roth met, the development of the story, how the flick fits in the horror genre today, and ruminations on the possible reality of a situation like the one posited in Hostel. With the two actors, we hear how they got into the film, various challenges related to acting in it, their reactions to Hostel, and their careers outside of the flick.
Without question, Folsey’s part of the commentary proves the most useful. He offers many good editing and filmmaking notes as he discusses his career. A few interesting tidbits pop up during Knowles’ segment – he has a girlfriend? – but the most butt-kissing also occurs there as he and Roth proclaim their affection for each man’s work. It’s good to hear
A newcomer to English, Nedeljakova clearly struggles with the language, and this makes her segment slow going. Roth prods her for information but the actor just doesn’t have much to say. Gudjonsson proves more ebullient but he doesn’t exactly spill lots of interesting beans. He tosses out a couple of decent comments but no real gold. Though this commentary has its moments, it’s likely the weakest of the DVD’s four tracks.
Next comes a track with Roth, producer Chris Briggs, and documentarian Gabriel Roth. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. At the start, Eli Roth declares he’ll wear his “producer’s hat” for this one and it’ll offer a more technical look at the film. This means the guys cover locations and specifics of shooting in Prague, set details, actors and extras, sound design, costumes, effects and props, and how real-life experiences influenced aspects of the movie.
The participants mix easily and make this a nicely chatty and loose discussion. Inevitably, some information repeats from the prior tracks – do we really need more comments about the makeup used to make the hot actresses look like junkies? – but quite a lot of fresh material appears. The participants keep things light and turn this into a likable piece.
Lastly, we discover a commentary from Roth all on his own for another running, screen-specific piece. At the start of this piece, Roth gives us a detailed discussion of his options after the success of Cabin Fever and how he decided upon Hostel. The last portion of the commentary includes his attack on the testing process and why he hates it. Between those poles, we get the same kind of production coverage heard on the prior three tracks. He digs into the usual stuff like sets and locations, performances, visual issues and all that jazz.
Don’t interpret this to mean that Roth simply reiterates comments heard elsewhere. To be sure, more than a little repetition occurs – yes, we hear about the babes’ junkie makeup for a fourth time – but Roth peppers the chat with a surprising amount of fresh material. Despite the moderate redundancy, this is probably the best of the four commentaries as it covers the broadest view of the production. If you only care to screen one of the tracks, pick this one.
Next we find a Multi-Angle feature called “Kill the Car!” This two-minute and 26-second segment offers three viewing options. We see Czech kids beat the crap out of a car in one of the movie’s ending scenes. It’s bizarrely interesting to see.
Under the banner of Hostel Dissected, we get a three-part series of featurettes. Taken together via the “View All” option, these run a total of 55 minutes and 16 seconds. They offer a “fly on the wall” look at things, so it concentrates on the set. Any comments from participants come during the shoot and often appear as production discussions. We hear from Roth, Briggs, Gudjonsson, Folsey, Nedeljakova, production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone, 1st assistant director Mark Taylor, director of photography Milan Chadima, prop master Milan Babik, co-producer Daniel S. Frisch, production accountant/”rock legend” Mark Bakunas, producer Mike Fleiss, Czech casting director Ivan Vorlicek, makeup effects artist Kevin Wasner, second unit director Roman Janecka, production assistant Milda Havlas, sound man Tomas Belohradsky, makeup effects designer Howard Berger, line producer Philip Waley, and actors Jay Hernandez, Jennifer Lim, Jana Kaderabkova, Derek Richardson, Lubomir Silhavecky, Paula Wild, Rick Hoffman and Takashi Miike.
“Dissected” looks at set design, casting, location scouting, props, makeup and effects, the original ending, and the premiere. We also see many elements of the shoot that fall into the “general” category; these come without the discussion of the other parts. Much of the documentary falls into that category. The sequences didn’t explore particular aspects of the production, but they showed the movie’s filming.
And that was fine with me, as we got a nice feel for the creation of Hostel. While it lacked hard data in regard to specific elements, we already learn a lot about these in the commentaries. “Dissected” allows us to feel like we’re part of the shoot, and it does so in a fun, lively way. It also tosses in some very nice female full frontal nudity, so I have to give this one a very positive appraisal.
At the start of the disc, we get a collection of ads. These include clips for the 2006 remake of When a Stranger Calls, Silent Hill, and Underworld: Evolution. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for The Cave, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Boogeyman, Ring Around the Rosie and the 2005 version of The Fog.
Hostel has already built a decent cult following of folks who dig its graphic, unrelenting misery. I don’t count myself as one of them. I think the film too heavily accentuates grossness without much else of merit. The DVD offers decent picture along with very good sound and a very strong set of extras. Fans should be pleased with this release, but I can’t recommend the unpleasant flick to others.