Forces Of Nature

Forces Of Nature (1999)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Steve Zahn, Maura Tierney
Extras: Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

One of the drawbacks of being a hot, rising star in Hollywood (and I’m not speaking from experience here) is that you are offered a lot of roles and one must pick and choose wisely. Some actors can put together a string of hits, while others go from a stunning debut to less-appealing work. For actor Ben Affleck there was a great deal of pressure to perform following the success of "Good Will Hunting". The newly released "Forces Of Nature" pairs Affleck with Sandra Bullock in a film which may or may not have been a good move for Ben.

In "Forces Of Nature", Affleck plays Ben Holmes (don’t you love it when actors have the same first name as their characters?), a writer from New York. Ben is a conservative, straight-up kind of guy. Ben is engaged to Bridget (Maura Tierney) and they are to be married in Bridget’s hometown of Savannah. When Ben’s grandfather suffers a heart attack, Ben sends Bridget on to Savannah, planning to fly down the next day with Alan (Steve Zahn), the best man.

Upon arriving at the airport, Alan realizes that he’s left the ring at home and Ben boards the plane alone. Once on the plane, Ben is seated next to Sarah (Sandra Bullock), an obviously free-spirited woman who is amused by Ben’s stuffiness. Before the plane can leave the ground, one of the engines explodes and Ben knocks Sarah out with his laptop computer! Now, Ben and Sarah must work together to find a way to Savannah. Ben has to get to his wedding and Sarah is going to make a real estate deal. Meanwhile, a hurricane is heading for Savannah. It’s now a race against time as Ben and Sarah try alternate modes of travel (rental car, train, etc.) in order to get to Savannah on time.

The best thing about "Forces Of Nature" is its look. I predict that director Bronwen Hughes is a true talent to watch out for in the future. The film’s look matches its theme. The film is very dark, reflecting both the weather and Ben’s dilemma. Hughes shoots the majority of the film using what I would guess was a 8:1 lighting ratio. To give you an idea of the look of the film, I would have to compare it to the way John Carpenter shoots most of his movies, although Carpenter has been known to shoot at 16:1. For most of the film, the backgrounds are dark, and during close-ups, half of the person’s face will be in silhouette.

Hughes also uses many unique set-ups and angles to give the film an artsy feel. Most shots have the camera at an angle, or above the character, or someplace equally unique. She also uses special effects to create her look. During a hailstorm, we see Affleck and Bullock running through the hail, but the hail pellets are slowed down so that we can see each individual drop. Also, there is a scene at the end where Affleck gives a speech and the weather patterns around him are mimicking what he is saying. It’s not rare these days for a film to go for a unique look, but it’s rare that I sit up and take notice of a director who actually is creating something new and different.

While the film has a great look and some stunning shots, "Forces Of Nature" suffers in the story department. The plot is basically "Planes, Trains, And Automobiles" meets every "opposites attract" movie. The problem is that the film is never funny or interesting. I had trouble from the beginning with two major factors. The first is that even though Ben Affleck is a great actor, I think that he is naturally too laid-back to play a stuffy, conservative person. It just never rings true. The second big problem is that we are supposed to believe that Ben is going to be tempted to leave Bridget for Sarah. Unlike other films of this nature where we would be routing for the man to go with the woman he should be with, we are given no reason for Ben to even be attracted to Sarah. I was glad when Sarah got knocked out. Bridget is presented as a nice, sweet, smart person and Sarah is a loud mouth with emotional problems. Hmm… let me think, who I would choose.

Screenwriter Marc Lawrence is trying to do something different here, but it never really clicks, I’m afraid. It’s hard for an audience to get into a film when the characters don’t seem authentic. Of course, once Ben and Sarah hit the road, all of the stereotypical problems and mis-cues begin to occur and I began to wonder when the story would catch up with the unique look of the film.

Going back to my problems with Affleck’s character, it would seem that Ben feels the same way. Throughout the entire movie, Affleck appears to be sleepwalking, delivering his line with little aplomb and showing none of the spark that we’ve seen in "Chasing Amy" or "Shakespeare In Love". As for Bullock, she’s downright annoying as the "oh, I’m cute and crazy" Sarah. When Sarah finally reveals her true emotional issues, the audience is so sick of her that they are beyond caring. But, there are some bright spots in the film. Steve Zahn is hilarious as Alan and has the best lines in the film. Unfortunately, he’s only on-screen a total of about ten minutes. The highlight of the film is Vic (Jack Kehler), a man who gives Ben and Sarah a ride in his rental car and goes into a hysterical tirade about his ex-wife.

"Forces Of Nature" is being released on DVD by Dreamworks Home Video. The film is presented in its <$PS,letterboxed> format of 1.85:1, although interestingly the title sequence is framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The DVD is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs and does a great job of presenting the film’s unique look, which I described earlier. At first, I thought that my brightness was turned down too low, then I became accustomed to the film’s dark look. Let’s face it, most romantic-comedies don’t look like "The Fog!"

I was actually able to guess the ending of the film based solely on the way the film was shot. How often does that happen? Anyway, the picture is very clear and the framing is accurate. Because the DVD is able to show true blacks, the film’s dark look works especially well on DVD. The source print is free of scratches and there is little-to-no grain on the image.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack is very well suited for the film. From the planes flying overhead at the airport, to the hurricane, "Forces Of Nature" makes excellent use of the surround sound feature, giving the film’s dull spots some much needed life.

The disc also contains a theatrical trailer, four deleted scenes, and a featurette that a little over three and a half minutes that contains only scant behind the scenes footage. There are also production notes on the disc that describe how the script made it to the screen – including a typo – and talent biographies that are a little more thorough than usual and contained a few things about the actors that I didn’t know.

While most films look good on DVD, it’s sad when a movie that looks and sounds great fails to deliver in the story department. "Forces Of Nature" will probably disappoint those of you who are looking for a fun romantic comedy. It will definitely disappoint you if you’re looking for another classic performance by Affleck. But if you’re looking for a movie with a great look that takes full advantage of the DVD format, then I say check out "Forces Of Nature". Unfortunately, it didn’t blow me away.