Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
|What Lies Beneath: Special Edition (2000)
DreamWorks - He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home.
In this exciting supernatural thriller, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer play a seemingly happily married couple who uncover a terrible secret…a secret so disturbing it threatens to destroy them.
When Claire Spencer begins seeing ghostly images and hearing mysterious voices in their home, her husband Norman suspects it's just her imagination -- until the images turn real. Now, together they must uncover the truth, confront their worst fears and find "what lies beneath"…with twisting and terrifying results.
|Directed by Robert Zemeckis
|Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton, James Remar, Miranda Otto
|Budget: $100 million. Opening Weekend: $29.702 million (2813 screens). Gross: $155.37 million.
|Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English DD & DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 24 chapters; rated R; 130 min.; $26.99; street date 1/30/01.
|Insightful Commentary From Award-Winning Director Robert Zemeckis; HBO's Popular First Look Behind-The-Scenes Featurette; Production Notes And Detailed Cast & Filmmaker Bios; Suspenseful Theatrical Trailer.
|DVD | Score soundtrack - Alan Silvestri
Explanation needed, please: why does Robert Zemeckis reveal almost the whole story to each of his movies in their trailers? I’d love to hear his explanation. As was also the case with 1997’s Contact, the preview for 2000’s big-budget thriller What Lies Beneath tells us much more information than we - I - would like to know.
As such, the film felt like a dreary exploration of the inevitable. Granted, the story didn’t exactly resonate with inventiveness. The movie starts with the departure of college-bound Caitlin (Katharine Towne) from her home with mom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and stepdad Norman (Harrison Ford). “Empty Nest Syndrome” seems to sock Claire as she begins to here creepy noises and suspect a haunting in her home. As the film progresses, she finds out - da da dum! - what lies beneath!
Answer? Not much. I won’t discuss much of the plot, though the trailer tells us most of what we need to know. While this overly-informative ad certainly ruined much of the potential fun in WLB, it wasn’t the only reason the movie failed. The story lacked much inventiveness and most of the film’s scares can be seen a mile away. Zemeckis works within the genre’s constraints to a paralyzing degree. It didn’t feel as though he was having fun with our expectations. Instead, he simply appeared not to know anything else to do, so the movie insert chills in the expected locations.
WLB also featured many of the usual stupid actions that exist to ensure the protagonists stay in danger. As with the predictable thrills, these elements don’t seem to exist other than because Zemeckis can’t think of anything else to do. At least movies like Scream had the sense to mock these conventions; WLB is such a traditional film that it just works along the usual path because it can’t bother to think of anything better to do.
WLB seems to be Zemeckis’ homage to Hitchcock, but other than a few elements like the Psycho-esque use of a bathroom and Alan Silvestri’s Herrmann-clone score, nothing much in this clunker bears much resemblance to anything done by the master. Not all of Hitchcock’s flicks were classics, but I have yet to see any that are as drab and uninventive as WLB.
That’s not to say that the movie is a complete dud. At least it offers a strong lead performance by Pfeiffer. Although Ford is top-billed, he’s really more of a supporting character here, as Pfeiffer occupies the vast majority of the screentime. Her character has to run the gamut of emotions and she plays them with aplomb. It’s an excellent performance that deserves better than such tired material.
In the end, I clearly didn’t enjoy What Lies Beneath, but I remain unsure about how much of the fault stems from the lackluster story and bland execution or how much of the problem relates to that terribly revealing trailer. The promo really renders most of the movie’s suspense moot. Red herrings are exceedingly apparent as such, since I knew exactly where the story would go. As with Contact, only the film’s ultimate conclusion was ever in doubt; the vast majority of the flick’s revelations will already be known to anyone who saw the preview.
As such, if you never watched the trailer for What Lies Beneath, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy it more than I did. Unfortunately, I already knew most of the story before I saw the film, and though many movies can overcome predictability, WLB isn’t one of them. Except for an excellent performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, it’s a dud.
What Lies Beneath 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. Although not without some minor concerns, I found the DVD to feature a very satisfying and rich image.
Sharpness looked consistently excellent. At all times, I thought the film seemed crisp and well-defined with virtually no instances of softness, even when the shots become wide. Jagged edges presented no concerns, but I did detect some extremely minor moiré effects in objects such as blinds and car grilles. Print flaws were essentially non-existent. I saw a couple of specks of grit during the film, but that was it; at no point did I discern any more significant defects like scratches, grain, hairs, blotches, or tears.
Colors generally looked quite vivid and bold. The hues seemed nicely saturated, with no signs of bleeding, noise or smearing, and their tones fit the scenes; sometimes they could be cold and icy, whereas others looked more natural and warm. One note about the colors: Harrison Ford has the reddest face I’ve ever seen! Every time he appeared on screen I thought something was wrong with my TV. I’d look at the other elements and think, “But everybody else looks normal.” Ford just is a ruddy man, I guess.
Black levels also appeared deep and rich, but I thought shadow detail occasionally seemed slightly heavy. Some low-light scenes were a little too dark for my liking, and I also found shots in the bathroom to look a bit too murky. Nonetheless, the image seemed very strong throughout the majority of the movie.
Also solid were the soundtracks of What Lies Beneath, though the audio mix didn’t impress me as much as the picture. WLB offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, and I couldn’t detect much difference between the two. As usual, the DTS mix boasted somewhat tighter low end and it seemed a little better integrated, but these differences were minor and didn’t have much of an impact on me. On the other side, I thought the dialogue heard in the DD version seemed slightly clearer and more distinct. As a whole, however, the two mixes appeared very similar.
The track presented a fairly well-defined forward soundstage, with more limited audio from the surrounds. Music dominated the front and offered nicely broad and vivid accompaniment. Effects provided less scintillating and involving audio; various elements popped up from the side speakers, but they didn’t seem especially exciting. They blended together acceptably well, though I thought transitions between channels could be somewhat awkward. Surround usage appeared to stick virtually completely with the score, which was decently bolstered by the rears. Effects provided pretty much no discernible audio from the surrounds; these speakers seemed reserved for the music.
Audio quality was largely positive though not spectacular. Dialogue always sounded clear and intelligible, but at times speech was somewhat sharp and lacked warmth. The lines didn’t seem edgy, as such, but they came across as excessively trebly. Effects were crisp and clean; they seemed accurate and displayed no distortion. Music fared the best, as Silvestri’s score sounded bright and natural. Low end worked especially well, as the track boasted some nicely deep bass at times. Ultimately, the lack of involvement from the track seemed disappointing, as the film’s scares might have worked better with a more creative audio mix. However, most parts of the sound seemed acceptable.
What Lies Beneath packs in a few supplements, beginning with an audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis plus producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke. I’ve previously heard a couple of other Zemeckis tracks for films like Contact and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the latter on laserdisc, not DVD) and this one matches up fairly closely with those. The three men prove chatty enough, and though the conversation never delves deeply into the various topics, they manage to cover some interesting notes and details about the production. The best aspects look at their attempts to stay within the genre but not rely totally on clichés; whether or not they succeeded is up to the viewer to decide, but I enjoyed their comments on the topic. It’s not a great track but it kept me consistently interested and I thought it merited a listen.
Next is a mildly engaging featurette called “Building the Perfect Thriller”. This 15-minute program is deceptively titled, however, as it doesn’t devote much time to WLB. Instead, it offers a superficial but engaging look at Zemeckis’ career. We find some snippets of the films he made as both a kid and a student, and we get a quick overview of the movies he’s directed. Accompanying these are sound bites from a variety of cohorts such as Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster and Michael J. Fox. In addition, we get a smattering of information about WLB itself, but that film feels like an afterthought in this program. “Building” lacks depth, but it’s compelling enough to deserve your attention.
"Cast and Filmmakers" provides a slew of mini-biographies. We get listings for seven actors and a whopping 13 crew. These entries aren't tremendously detailed, but they're generally solid, and nobody tops DreamWorks when it comes to the quantity of biographies. Lastly, we get that terrible theatrical trailer plus "Production Notes", which include some surprisingly detailed and lengthy text about the making of the film. A lot of the material was already covered in the audio commentary, but it's still a nice little piece nonetheless. We also find different production notes in the DVD's booklet; these don't simply duplicate the disc-based text but they instead add new information.
Budgeted at roughly $100 million, What Lies Beneath was a terrible waste of both money and talent. It features an Academy Award-winning director plus two big stars and plenty of additional professionals but squanders all of this on a bland script and a dull tale. Michelle Pfeiffer’s fiery and vivid performance redeems part of the movie, but as a whole it’s a lackluster and tiresome affair. The DVD provides very good picture with good but unspectacular picture and sound. What Lies Beneath left me cold, and you should probably leave it on the shelves.