Rose Red

Rose Red (2001)
Trimark Home Video
Extras: Commentary Track, Storyboards, Trailers, Featurettes, Still Gallery

The great thing about television mini-series is that it gives the creators ample time to tell the story. The bad thing about television mini-series is that it gives the creators ample time to tell the story. Some times, too much is way too much.

The title "Rose Red" refers to an immense gothic mansion, which rests in downtown Seattle. The house has a colorful history, as it was built by a wealthy oil tycoon John Rimbauer for his wife Ellen (Julia Campbell), who became obsessed with making the house larger and larger. Over the years, rumors began to spread about mysterious occurrences with Rose Red, and several women disappeared with the house. After Ellen Rimbauer herself disappeared, along with a local woman who was touring the house, Rose Red was closed and the strange events seemed to stop.

Now, psychology professor Dr. Joyce Reardon has decided to assemble a group of psychics to explore Rose Red, in hopes of finding incontrovertible evidence of paranormal activity. Despite the fact that department head Professor Miller (David Dukes) discourages this outing and threatens to strip Reardon of her tenure, she embarks on the venture anyway. Joining Dr. Reardon are Steve Rimbauer (Matt Keeslar), the sole heir to Rose Red; Cathy Kramer (Judith Ivey), a shy religious woman; Emery Waterman (Matt Ross), a whiny "mama’s boy"; Nick Hardaway (Julian Sands), a slick British man; and Victor Kandinsky (Kevin Tighe), a kindly older man. But the most important member of Reardon’s group is Annie Wheaton (Kimberly J. Brown), a 15-year old autistic girl, who is also a very powerful psychic. (The film actually opens with Annie causing stones to rain down upon a neighbor’s house.) Annie is accompanied by her sister Rachel (Melanie Lynskey). Once the group arrives at the mansion, it becomes apparent that the house is not a "dead cell" as Reardon calls it. They begin to hear strange noises, have disturbing visions, and one-by-one, the group begins to vanish. The house is definitely alive and it appears to be drawing its power from Annie. Can the determined Reardon keep her wits about her and save the group?

According to director Craig Baxley’s comments in the <$commentary,audio commentary> for "Rose Red", the film is "loosely based" on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel "The Haunting of Hill House", which has been filmed twice before as "The Haunting" (1963 & 1999). That statement aside, "Rose Red" borrows liberally from Jackson’s novel, creating an unwelcome air of familiarity. (Anyone who’s read Jackson’s book will recognize the "rain of stone" scene, as well as the fact that the ghosts invite Annie to "come home".) The story is very reminiscent of other haunted house films and really offers nothing new. This is very surprising, as King has made a living out of taking old, familiar stories and adding his own special twist to them. Here, we get nothing original. Another problem is the inconsistency of the film. The ghost’s abilities vary from scene to scene, so we never know how powerful they really are. Also, two characters die, but we’re never told exactly what happened.

The film’s pace is far too leisurely in the beginning, as "Rose Red" takes its time setting up the history of the mansion and its ominous reputation. By the time the group gets there and the hauntings actually begin, the viewer can’t help but feel disappointed after such a large build-up. Shockingly, given the amount of time spent setting up the story, we really never get to know the characters (something King is usually very good at). In contrast, the third act feels quite rushed and the movie ends with many questions left unanswered. I don’t mean that in a "I can’t have any loose threads in my movies!" kind of way. I mean that plot elements that are brought up earlier in the film are simply never resolved. (Although, as David Dukes died during filming, it is excusable that his storyline seems to end suddenly.) "Rose Red" does have some creepy moments and fans of the author will recognize some definite "Kingisms" here, but overall, "Rose Red" is a huge disappointment.

Despite the shortcomings of the film, Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment has built a fine DVD for "Stephen King’s Rose Red". The movie is spread out over two discs, with the first and second nights (chapters) housed on Disc One, while part three and the special features are found on Disc Two. The film is presented in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio. The image is very sharp and clear, rivaling digital broadcast quality. There is very little grain to be seen here and the only time any video distortion is present is when the shot contains the horizontal lines of the mansion’s roof. The colors are very good and the dark atmosphere of Rose Red is handled well here, as the blacks are true. This transfer looks very good.

Things are even better on the audio side. This DVD offers a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> audio track, and to be blunt, it rocks. The dialogue is sharp and clear, with no distortion. The surround sound is very impressive, as many of the scenes include ghostly voices emanating from each speaker. The stereo separation and on-screen action-to-speaker placement are very good. As with many modern chillers, "Rose Red" has a throbbing bass-line to represent suspense, and this DVD does a great job of reproducing this LFE signal. Overall, with the ghosts circling the room, and the floor shaking, the audio track helps to offer some atmosphere to an otherwise anemic film.

The bonus features are kicked off with an <$commentary,audio commentary>, which includes Craig Baxley, director; Craig Stearns, production designer; Mark Carliner, executive producer; and Stuart Robertson, Visual FX supervisor. Yes, this group talk for the entire four hours plus. Unfortunately, their talk is very technical and becomes very dry at times. As is to expected, there are some silent patches. This commentary does generate a lot of information concerning the making of "Rose Red", but one can’t help but wish that King had been there.

Disc Two includes two featurettes. "The Making of ’Rose Red’" is a 50-minute segment which offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew. King explains the origins of the story and there is a great deal of time spent exploring the film’s wonderful production design. The second featurette, "Unlocking ’Rose Red’: The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer", is much more entertaining. This "Unsolved Mysteries/In Search Of" clone, which originally aired on ABC, plays as if the characters and situations presented in "Rose Red" were real. It examines the history of the house, and details Dr. Reardon’s expedition, but the actors playing these characters are different from those seen in the film (thus, keeping it "real"). This all ties in to the novel released at the time that the mini-series originally aired, which was marketed as Ellen Rimbauer’s actual diary, but was simply a Stephen King book. This segment is fun and creative, and as it is only 22-minutes long, does a far better job than the mini-series at telling the story. The extras are rounded out with a storyboard gallery, a still gallery, and two trailers — one for the show and one for the DVD release.

Stephen King stated that he wanted "Rose Red" to be the "ultimate haunted house film". It doesn’t even come close. Too long, too boring, too convoluted, and too familiar, "Rose Red" will certainly disappoint King’s fans and casual viewers alike. If one must watch this mini-series, this DVD is the way to go, as it offers a superior video and audio transfer.