MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, Tim Robbins
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Music Video
MGM Home Entertainment’s new special edition DVD accords more than enough faith in the film. In addition to a top notch transfer and a energetic soundtrack, the single disc offers a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Peter Howitt and film editor Zach Staenberg, seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by Howitt, a making-of documentary along with the theatrical trailer and an Everclear music video. Whew!
Ryan Phillippe stars as Milo Hoffman, a young computer programmer fresh out of Stanford University. Following the legendary lead of Hewlett-Packard, Milo and his buddies attempt to start a business (perhaps an empire) out of a garage. Like a bolt from the heavens, Milo fields a phone call from Gary, inviting him to his palatial mansion/compound. While his friends chide him for consorting with "the enemy of open source," Milo quickly finds himself an employee of N.U.R.V., the world’s largest computer company. Winston is recruiting the best computer minds in the land, giving them an Oz-like environment and picking their brains to complete Synapse, a revolutionary communications system that will link the world in cyber-harmony.
"Antitrust" has some potentially interesting comments to make about our current love affair with technology (hmm, I’m writing about a DVD on a laptop computer, plugged into the Internet…), the price of fame (always a safe element for a crisis of conscience story) and the individual against the conglomerate. No major story or plot innovations here, however; "Antitrust" is first and foremost a popcorn picture pumped up with paranoia, intrigue, double-crosses, right down to the cheerable hero and the hissable villain. I have nothing against melodramas but even the mellowest drama can tease with hints of irony and ambiguity.
Characters run strictly in the paint-by-the-numbers mode. Howard Franklin’s script gives Milo and his friends big chunks of computer jargon then tries to soften it with forced twenty-something patter (Teddy’s pontification about the battle between commerce and "open source" sounds way too soapboxy to be off the cuff.) Phillippe’s smart and sexy geek Milo fulfills the necessity of a handsome lead. Cook’s Lisa is the brooding, sullen pal who joins Milo on his crusade. As Milo’s girlfriend Alice, Clare Forlani juggles understanding and emotional distance when the plot calls for it. Swirling around all, however, is Tim Robbins as Winston. With the hair, glasses and cardigans, Robbins is an obvious surrogate for everybody’s favorite digital boogeyman. (I won’t invoke his name but it rhymes with "Nil Dates.") Plot points are telegraphed far too early, practically shouting at the audience: "Pay attention! Important story info here!" Technical rundowns, characters breezing through (Richard Roundtree’s Justice Department agent appears twice to no discernible effect) and audio-driven shocks contribute to the "junk food" feeling of the film. An hour after it ended, I wanted to watch another movie.
The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio creates an ever-present but not aggressive sound field. Practically every speaker was engaged during the entire presentation. I found the sound mix very thoughtful, with most of the directional sound effects contained to the front soundstage, like pans of cars driving by or characters talking from left front to right front. The surrounds were consistently engaged, mostly for Don Davis’ music score, ambient noises and the occasional aural "boo" jolt. The LFE channel engages sparingly but appropriately, preferring low-end rumble to highlight ominous music cues rather than artificially punctuating explosions. Kudos to MGM for providing 5.1 French and Spanish language tracks.
Director Peter Howitt and film editor Zach Staenberg tackle every scene in their <$commentary,commentary track>, providing wall-to-wall observations, reminiscences and anecdotes. Nothing is left to the imagination. They explain everything — the creation of the title sequence, how Tim Robbins gave them editing choices with his performance, how Winston’s house exteriors were mostly CGI, how they created the digital painting effects (apparently, such things exist in real life but nobody has ever seen one). They also explicate every scene for character and plot, as if the magician must not only reveal the illusion but the interpretation as well. While I applaud their diligence in covering all aspects of the production, Peter and Zach’s comments come across like Cliffs Notes, spoon-feeding plot and themes "with extreme prejudice."
Peter Howitt’s reflections all but make the deleted scenes section. Seven in all, the snippets range from scenes centered around the Milo – Lisa relationship to a rather well written exchange between Gary and Milo while playing a video game. I watched them first with the dialogue and then Peter’s commentary (the disc allows for isolating both audio options). He explains how the preview process affected the editing and sometimes laments how a director must sometimes let go of a favorite scene for the greater narrative good. Peter’s thoughts also illuminate the alternate opening and ending sequences (which I suppose brings to count to eight deleted scenes). He patiently explains the original concept, what changes occurred, and how the final cut differs in tone and execution. Fascinating stuff. See, I’m not completely tight when it comes to commentary.
Despite a predictable build-up, "Antitrust" ends with a rousing finish. Yet it could have been much more. Watching the film, I remembered a line from a Janeane Garofalo stand-up routine: "Beware of movies whose trailers start with ‘In a world…’" Check out the ad copy on the DVD package. Guess how it starts?