What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Remar
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Trailer Production Notes, Biographies

When "What Lies Beneath" was trailered in theaters, I didn’t care much for the film because the story seemed predictable and the trailer obviously gave away most of the film’s highlights and plot points. As a result of this, what I considered, poor trailer design I gladly passed on the movie, awaiting its release on DVD. Now that the DVD is here from Dreamworks Home Video, I finally had the chance to watch the actual film, and though I was correct in my assumption that the trailer gave away much too much of the actual plot, it turned out to be a very thrilling movie experience.

Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her husband Dr. Norman Spencer( Harrison Ford), a famed research scientist, live a peaceful live in Vermont. When their daughter leaves for College, Claire feels lonely in the big house and around the same strange events begin to happen. A strange, wraith-like apparition begins to haunt her.
At the same time, Claire observes her neighbors who just moved in the house next door. It appears the couple has problems and one night, Claire sees strange things going on next door, which lead her to believe that her neighbor killed his wife!
Before long, Claire suspect that the ghost she is seeing is that of her murdered neighbor and after consulting a psychiatrist, she decides to attempt contacting the specter. From there on she is in for a hellish ride that turns her world upside down – but it also brings her closer to the truth. A truth that actually involves her own husband!

The most striking aspect about "What Lies Beneath" is not really its story – which becomes quite predicable especially in its climactic third act – but the visual eloquence with which director Robert Zemeckis has brought this film to the screen. Unlike most modern-day styles, "What Lies Beneath" sometimes almost feels vintage. The camera is used deliberately to serve as a voyeuristic eye, to tease the viewer, to surprise and to shock. Long tracking shots, elaborately designed close-up shots and camera moves, as well as an image composition that is highly reminiscent of the atmospheric shots in noir films of the 50s, make up the majority of this movie, giving it a very unique signature in today’s convoluted market.

The story also offers a few interesting twists and the filmmakers managed to incorporate a narrative flow that feels natural yet at the same time frighteningly looming. Although parts of the film are highly predictable and key moments have been given away in the trailer, I still found myself intrigued and engaged in the overall experience. The acting is top notch and it was great to see Harrison Ford in part that is slightly different from his typical clean-cut image. Michelle Pfeiffer however takes over the screen whenever she is present with her beautiful performance that is taking the viewer on a tour-de-force into the realms of the supernatural in a way that is absolutely believable.

Once again Dreamworks Home Video is delivering a great looking DVD transfer, although I was surprised to find a few problematic areas in the video transfer, which is, quite literally, a novelty for a Dreamworks DVD release. The transfer itself is absolutely clean and without any speckles or other blemishes. With a good level of detail, the image is very natural looking with strong colors that always manage to capture the film’s carefully selected color schemes. Colors are very deep and well-defined, creating shadows that are deep but never lose their detail. However, some edge-enhancement is evident in selected shots, creating noticeable ringing artifacts around edges. The most problematic areas are in the multiple bathroom scenes where the mist is clouding the image. Here some ghosting artifacts are evident, which may be a result of restrictions in the encoding datarate. The intricacies and fine details of these layers of mist are sometimes lost and appear blurred. Apart from these minor points however, the transfer is of top-notch quality and no compression artifact such as <$pixelation,pixelation> are evident anywhere.

"What Lies Beneath" comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track as well as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DTS,DTS> track. No matter which track you choose, be prepared for an experience that will run chills down your spine – and I mean that in a good sense given the horror-thriller nature of the film. Extremely dynamic both tracks manage to capture the haunting audio of the film spectacularly with its incredible dynamic leaps and the finely multi-layered audio elements. Especially in the DTS track I found the quieter passages noticeably more defined, as textures and timbres of the subdued score are coming through nicely and rich. The Dolby Digital track still manages to create an impressive presentation but I found the DTS track superior in a number of instances. The bass extension of the audio is impressive creating big low ends for the film that help driving the narrative home. In a nutshell, this is an audio presentation just as you would hope for and it will make great use of your full home theater set-up.

The DVD contains an audio <$commentary,commentary track> by director Robert Zemeckis in which he reveals a great many details about the production of the film. Full of valuable information and interesting insights, the <$commentary,commentary track> is a great addition to the film and offer perspective beyond what you see on the screen. It becomes clear from this track why the film looks the way it looks and how deliberately Zemeckis designed the atmosphere and frights at any given moment. This is a great chance to get a glimpse at the mindset of a brilliant filmmaker.

A short featurette can also be found on the disc but it is your typical off-the-mill PR featurette that makes heavy use of the film’s actual footage and also incorporates practically the entire trailer. For what it’s worth, it’s a nice addition as it also contains a few interview snippets with cast and crew members. The movie’s trailer, production notes and biographies round out this release.

"What Lies Beneath" is easily one of the scariest PG-13 rated films I have seen. The flow, the horrors that are unseen, the atmosphere and the editing has been masterfully done and without ever becoming overtly explicit, "What Lies Beneath" manages to thrill and horrify at times. Add to that the beautiful visual style of the movie, the great presentation on this DVD and the extras, and you have a fantastic DVD release on your hands!