Open Water 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. Because Water was shot totally on digital video (DV) cameras, that made the picture tough to rate. While it seemed to represent the original footage accurately, the movie sometimes didn’t look very good by modern standards.
Sharpness caused some of the problems. Most close-ups and medium shots seemed nicely delineated and well defined. However, some medium and the majority of wide images came across as moderately soft and indistinct. Despite the flick’s lower-resolution origins, neither jagged edges nor moiré effects caused concerns. However, some fairly prominent haloes popped up occasionally and created moderate distractions. I couldn’t tell if these resulted from the original footage or they appeared via edge enhancement, but they made the same distractions nonetheless. No issues related to print flaws appeared, as the movie appeared to come straight from the original video and lacked defects. Occasional examples of video artifacting appeared at times, especially during low-light shots.
Due to a combination of the DV and the ocean-bound setting of the movie, colors looked fairly bland. Face it: ocean water doesn’t offer lots of opportunities for lively hues, though the neon colors on the diving outfits added life. Back on the island, the colors were stronger and demonstrated reasonably peppy tones, though the DV image still suffered from some murkiness. Blacks seemed acceptably deep and dense, but shadows varied. Some low-light shots were pretty concise and appropriately developed, but others were a bit thick and murky. Ultimately, Water appeared to accurately replicate the source material, warts and all.
Though the audio of Open Water also featured positives and negatives, it offered more consistent pleasures than the picture. The DVD came with both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks. Don’t expect to hear substantial differences between the two. To my ears, the pair sounded virtually identical.
My main complaint related to the quality of the speech. Especially in the first third of the movie, dialogue was often thin and reedy. Obviously the quality of the audio equipment used on the set wasn’t great, for speech recorded under those circumstances – whether during interior shots or on the tour boat – tended to be edgy and somewhat tough to understand. Surprisingly, I encountered no such problems for lines that came while Susan and Daniel floated at sea. I don’t know whether the crew used better equipment for those scenes or they looped this material later, but those shots – which dominated the movie – presented much more natural and distinctive dialogue.
Otherwise, audio quality was good. Some of the movie’s music featured excessive bass. The low-end wasn’t boomy or distorted, but it just seemed too prominent. This wasn’t consistent, though, and many elements sounded just fine. Effects were very well-defined. They offered good clarity and dimensionality to pack a strong punch.
While the soundfield didn’t go nuts throughout the whole movie, it kicked into action well when it mattered. Since the movie varied from many quiet scenes to the occasional frantic one, the latter made the strongest impact. The softer shots were moderately restricted. They added general ocean ambience, and that worked nicely; waves lapped around us in a convincing manner. When the track went more active, the spectrum opened up well and effects popped up within logical and appropriate spots. Overall, despite some iffy dialogue, the package impressed, especially given the film’s low-budget origins.
For this DVD release of Open Water, we get a mix of supplements. The disc includes two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau. The married couple chat together in this running, screen-specific discussion. They touch on their style of visual storytelling, working with real sharks, the genesis of the project and its origins, locations and problems with the low budget, continuity issues, Blanchard Ryan’s fear of sharks, editing and the tight script.
At its best, this commentary gives us a nice overview of the production and the relevant subjects. However, as is unfortunately so often the case, an abundance of praise for everything related to the film mars the discussion. We get so much happy talk that it becomes a real distraction. There’s still enough useful material here to make the commentary worth a listen, but prepare yourself for a lot of fluff as well.
The second audio commentary features actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific track. I’m tempted to simply cut and paste my notes about the prior commentary, for the actors’ chat strongly resembles it. They touch on virtually all of the same issues, albeit with a moderately different focus. Ryan and Travis give us a better feel for the actors’ perspective on matters, and that lends a first-hand feel absent from the earlier piece. That said, there’s simply not a lot of fresh material on display here, and the commentary becomes fairly redundant if you already listened to the first track.
Seven Deleted Scenes run between 26 seconds and two minutes, 18 seconds. All together, they fill nine minutes, 29 seconds. Don’t expect much gold here, as we mostly see bland shots of Susan and Daniel. Only one scene shows them at sea, so the majority give us minor and unnecessary exposition. At least we find out whether or not they’re married.
Billed as “A Filmmakers’ Guide to Gearing Up for a Marketable Movie”, The Indie Essentials lasts five minutes and two seconds. It includes comments from Lau, Kentis, Lions Gate Films Acquisitions VP Jason Constantine, Lions Gate Films President of Acquisitions Peter Block, and Lions Gate Films Theatrical Releasing President Tom Ortenberg. They talk about what attracts them to independent projects and offer a few tips to filmmakers who want to get noticed. It acts as a short and only moderately interesting overview.
For a look behind the scenes, we head to Calm Before the Storm: The Making of Open Water. This 15-minute and 48-second show presents notes from Kentis, Lau, Ryan, Travis, Ortenberg and shark wrangler Stuart Cove. They discuss the origins of the project, its low budget and the equipment used, casting and characters, the lengthy shoot and dealing with sharks, editing and test screenings, and the film’s reception and distribution. Inevitably, some of the information repeats from the commentaries, but plenty of new topics emerge. I especially like the parts related to the movie’s post-production and screenings, as these offer good details about the issues connected to that part of things.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we get bonus on-location footage with director Chris Kentis. This two-minute and 29-second snippet shows us just how close Kentis came to the sharks during the making of the film. (Answer: pretty damned close.)
Few will consider Open Water to be the definitive shark movie, but then again, it doesn’t aspire to that title. Instead, it attempts to create an unusual take on the genre, and it succeeds in that it provides something different and often engaging. The DVD offers adequate picture with good audio and a flawed but still decent set of supplements. Open Water has proven too polarizing for me to recommend a blind buy, but I’d advise that you at least give it a rental and see what you think.