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Gregory Hoblit
Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney
Writing Credits:
Steve Shagan, Ann Biderman

An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

Box Office:
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$9,871,222 on 1983 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Spanish Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 3/10/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Gregory Hoblit, Writer Ann Biderman, Producer Gary Lucchesi, Executive Producer Hawk Koch, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila
• ďFinal VerdictĒ Featurette
• ďStar WitnessĒ Featurette
• ďPsychology of GuiltĒ Featurette
• Trailer


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Primal Fear [Blu-Ray] (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2022)

Every once in a while, an actor makes a huge impression in his/her very first movie role. At the age of 26, Edward Norton accomplished that with his debut in 1996ís Primal Fear.

Norton literally came out of nowhere and turned heads with his work in the flick. It earned him an Oscar nomination and launched him on his career.

I like Norton a lot, but Iím not sure heís ever quite lived up to the promise he showed in Fear. The film introduces us to cocky, generally amoral defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere).

When a 19-year-old altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Norton) allegedly murders Archbishop Richard Rushman (Stanley Anderson), Vail decides to take the defendantís case. Does he do so out of a desire for justice? No Ė Vail simply sees this as a high-profile way to promote himself.

Matters complicate when Vail runs the actual defense. Though Stampler admits he was in the room at the time, he claims someone else killed Rushman and states he blacked out during the killing.

This sets a complicated defense into place as Vail attempts to keep Stampler from the gas chamber Ė and encounters plenty of twists along the way.

In the wake of John Grishamís success, the 1990s featured plenty of legal dramas very similar to Fear. Does this one differentiate itself from the rest?

Not really, though the film certainly boasts an excellent cast. Thatís not unique, as those Grisham adaptations came with large rosters of stars.

At the time, Fear couldnít claim a lot of big names, but in retrospect, it looks very good. In 1996, Gere was literally its only ďnameĒ, but that changed.

In addition to Norton, the film features Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Andre Braugher, Maura Tierney, Alfre Woodard and Frances McDormand, who would win an Oscar for the same yearís Fargo. Thatís a decidedly distinguished group of actors, and they bring more substance to Fear than the legal melodrama probably deserves.

Norton remains the movieís calling card. In fact, without his Oscar-nominated performance, I doubt Fear would maintain much status in the public consciousness.

Back when I saw Fear in 1996, I felt dazzled by Nortonís work. As I mentioned, he came out nowhere for this flick, as it was his first movie role, and he turned in an impressive turn.

26 years later, Nortonís performance doesnít look quite as stunning, largely because it lacks the surprise factor. In 1996, I went into Fear with no expectations and no clue who Edward Norton was. In 2022, I watch Fear with full awareness of his talents, so I see it in a different way.

Not that this diminishes Nortonís solid performance. We can still see why he made such a positive impression, as he ably handles all the roleís demands. Aaron is a complicated part, and Norton delivers the goods.

It stands as a testament to the quality of Nortonís work that I remembered his performance so well after nearly many years. Iíve watched thousands of movies since Fear hit the screens, and I barely recall most of them.

I was surprised to realize how well I remembered the elements of Nortonís performance. Despite all those years, he really stood out and stayed in my mind.

The other actors seem perfectly fine, though none of them make a similarly strong impression. Gere never breaks a sweat here, as this is the same sort of part heís done a million times.

By 1996, Gere had the arrogant slickster down pat. Heís perfectly fine here, but he doesnít do anything particularly memorable.

The same goes for the movie itself. As I mentioned, similar films were a dime a dozen in the 1990s, and they all essentially blend into one.

In terms of story, characters and the like, Fear does nothing to break the mold. The film offers enough twists and turns to keep us intrigued, but it never seems especially clever or original.

The generic nature of the title seeps into the rest of the production. Itís a more than competent piece of work, but it fails to stand out from the crowd.

Donít take that to mean that Primal Fear fails to entertain. Sure, it paints by numbers much of the time and lucks into a strong performance from a then unknown, but it keeps us occupied for its 130 minutes. Given how many really bad legal dramas came out in this oneís era, that turns into some kind of accomplishment.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Primal Fear appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a pretty average transfer.

Sharpness seemed acceptable for the most part. Some shots suffered from mild softness, but those never became overwhelming. The majority of the flick offered good delineation, though it rarely seemed particularly concise.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, while some light edge haloes appeared. Except for a couple of speckles, print flaws remained absent.

Colors seemed ordinary. A few interiors with red lighting tended to be somewhat heavy, but otherwise the hues offered adequate clarity. They didnít excel but they seemed adequate.

Blacks were fairly dark and deep, while shadows displayed nice definition. While I thought this wasnít a transfer with notable problems, it failed to become much better than mediocre.

I felt the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Primal Fear worked pretty well. Without an action orientation, the mix didnít boast a lot of showy sequences, but it contributed a nice sense of environment.

The early scenes that followed Rushmanís murder offered the most information, as they included various vehicles that swarmed the spectrum. Otherwise, the track provided good stereo music and a clear feeling for the settings.

Across the board, audio quality satisfied. Speech was natural and crisp, without edginess or other concerns. Music showed nice range and definition, and effects followed suit.

Those elements appeared accurate and vivid. I didnít think the track was active enough for a grade above a ďBĒ, but I still felt it worked well for the material.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the filmís DVD version? The lossless audio boasted a bit more range and impact than the lossy DVD track, but the limitations of the source meant the Dolby TrueHD mix didnít dazzle.

I strongly suspect the Blu-ray used the same transfer created for the DVD. This meant format-related improvements in terms of colors, blacks and delineation.

It also restricted potential improvements. While the Blu-ray became the more appealing rendition of the film, it didnít impress.

The Blu-ray repeats the DVDís extras, and we open with an audio commentary from director Gregory Hoblit, writer Ann Biderman, producer Gary Lucchesi, executive producer Hawk Koch, and casting director Deborah Aquila.

All five sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They examine cast and performances, sets and locations, visual design and cinematography, the script and the adaptation of the source novel, editing, and how the various participants came onto the project.

While we learn a fair amount about the flick, the commentary tends to be rather up and down. It starts slowly, and it sputters occasionally as it progresses.

Also, it suffers from an awful lot of praise for the various actors. We expect some of this since the cast includes so many actors who were then little known at best, but it still feels self-congratulatory. Still, we do get a lot of good facts, so despite the inconsistencies, the commentary deserves a listen.

One correction: during the commentary, one participant claims that Fear musters a crummy 38 percent ďfreshĒ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Thatís way off base, as itís actually at a solid 77 percent.

Iím not sure why the filmmakers want to tell us that the movie was panned in its day, but it wasnít. It earned good reviews all those years ago.

In addition to the movieís trailer, three featurettes follow. Primal Fear: The Final Verdict goes for 17 minutes, 59 seconds and features remarks from Hoblit, Lucchesi, Koch, Biderman, editor David Rosenbloom, and actors Edward Norton and Laura Linney.

ďVerdictĒ examines the source novel and its adaptation, cast and performances, deleted scenes, the filmís ending and its legacy. Perhaps inevitably, a lot of the content provided here already appears in the commentary.

However, the new participants manage to add additional perspectives that add to the information. Itís especially good to see Norton and Linney.

The redundant material makes this featurette less enthralling, but it includes some nice material. Itís too bad the disc doesnít include any of the deleted footage, though.

Next comes the 17-minute, 56-second Primal Fear: Star Witness. It includes notes from Hoblit, Aquila, Norton, Lucchesi, and Koch.

The program concentrates on casting the Aaron character. As with the prior featurette, much of ďWitnessĒ repeats from the commentary.

Here Nortonís participation makes a big difference, though, as itís fun to learn about the casting process from his perspective. I especially like his Sherry Lansing story, so those elements make ďWitnessĒ worth a look.

Finally, Psychology of Guilt goes for 13 minutes, 35 seconds and gives us comments from Justice Roger W. Boren, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, and forensic psychologist Dr. Dan Sussman. They discuss the insanity defense as well as issues related to multiple personalities.

This becomes the most involving of the featurettes, as it provides a very interesting look at the way the law works with defendants with alleged psychological disorders. Itís a fine show.

Primal Fear launched Edward Nortonís career in a big way, and that fact remains its main claim to fame. Without Norton and the filmís excellent cast, Fear feels like little more than an ordinary legal potboiler. It entertains but it fails to become exceptional. The Blu-ray provides mediocre visuals, good audio and a mix of interesting supplements. Fear deserves a look for Nortonís Oscar-nominated performance, but donít expect a particularly stellar film.

To rate this film visit the prior review of PRIMAL FEAR

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