The Bone Collector

The Bone Collector (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rooker
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

Since "The Silence Of The Lambs" hit bookshelves in 1988 and was turned into an incredibly successful and acclaimed movie in 1991, there have been a great number of films dealing with comparable subject matters. Serial killers in urban environments killing seemingly random people, mutilating them, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police making one incident more gruesome than the other. Some of these stories truly stand out – Phillip Margolin's "Gone, But not Forgotten" springs to mind immediately, as does David Fincher's film version of "Se7en," of course. In 1999 Universal made a movie called "The Bone Collector," based on a novel by Jeffrey Deaver, going down the same dark route or morbid serial killer fiction. Now the film is available in high definition from Universal Home Entertainment as part of their HD-DVD line-up.

Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) is a forensics legend. Having worked countless crime scenes and with a number of books to his credits, he is the authority in the field but while investigating a crime scene in a subway tunnel he is crushed by a piece of falling debris, leaving him quadriplegic.

Getting increasingly depressed with his state as he can no longer do the work he was good at, Rhyme is losing hope and makes plans to take his own life. However, when his former colleagues ask his advice on a crime scene one day, Rhyme is immediately impressed by the work of Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), first on the crime scene, and her way of securing and photographing the forensic evidence. Based on the evidence she found, Rhyme is able to isolate clues that hint to a follow up murder. As the police force struggles to find and prevent that upcoming murder Rhymes insists on having Amelia be on the front line of the case. And again, she is able to trace down forensic clues that others would have easily overlooked.

Quickly it becomes evident that this serial killer is leaving these clues purposely, turning the case into a deadly gambit. From his bed, Rhyme uses Amelia's abilities and talent to hunt the killer in New York and once again he begins to bloom as he can once again do what he does best. Solve crimes and hopefully save people's lives in the wake of it.

"The Bone Collector" offers us the all too familiar tale of the police pursuing a killer, but throws in a few quirks, such as the fact that the hero is a quadriplegic and never moves from his bed. This not only offers a new perspective on the investigative process, but at the same time offers us insight into the life of someone who can only move their head and one finger. This sets up the relationship between Lincoln and Amelia. We've all seen the stereotypical trick in films where someone defuses a bomb or lands a plane while being guided via radio by an expert. But in "The Bone Collector", the entire film is set up on this premise that Amelia will be Lincoln's eyes, ears, and legs as they work the case together. I admire writers who can take a small idea and expand it and give it new meaning.

Director Phillip Noyce ("Dead Calm", "Patriot Games") turns the deficit of having an actor who can't move into a plus, by creating many interesting camera angles whenever Lincoln is in a scene. As Lincoln is locked into his location, most of the actors in the scenes with him stay stationary as well (as it would be in real life when talking to someone who can't move). To keep these scenes from becoming too static, Noyce keeps the camera moving and also gives the viewer an idea of what the world looks like from Lincoln's point-of-view.

From the audio commentary, which is discussed in more detail below, we learn from Noyce that a great deal of CGI was used to create the illusion of being in New York, as the film was shot mostly in Montreal. The majority of these effects are seamless, and it really gives one an idea of how a big budget and creativity can let CGI do more than create imaginary creatures. By matting in CGI shots through windows, or laying them onto car windows, the illusion of being in New York is created. It's amazing to learn that a car that appears to be speeding over a bridge is actually sitting still on a set in Canada.

Denzel Washington gives a superb performance as Lincoln Rhyme. Washington overcomes the hurdle of being stuck in a bed by giving the performance using only his facial expressions and his voice. He conveys happiness, fear, anger, and frustration through simple facial gestures and the tone of his voice.
"The Bone Collector" was Angelina Jolie's first really big budget Hollywood movie and the film that launched her superstar career. We all know how far she's come since and in this movie she did a valiant effort, pulling off a tough cop. Queen Latifah, who plays Lincoln's full-time caregiver, is also doing a great job in her part, creating a performance that is very genuine and heartfelt.
Despite the fact that he will always be "Al Bundy," Ed O'Neill does a marvelous job as a policeman who is in desperate need of assistance on this case. As usual, Michael Rooker is very convincing as the heavy.

Despite these good points, "The Bone Collector" is not without its flaws, most of which lie in the story itself. While the detective angle may be unique, the story of the killer is not. From the beginning, we are not shown the killer's face, so we immediately know that it will be a character that we know. However, we aren't given many clues as to who it could be. Unlike most mysteries where the audience is at least given the illusion that they are one step ahead of the characters in the film, in "The Bone Collector" we actually know less than they do, and this makes it difficult to become invested in the film. And when the killer is revealed, it leaves more questions than answers, making the showdown a bit frustrating and detached.

While "The Bone Collector" attempts to mimic the forensic accuracy of "Red Dragon", it gets too bogged down in the scientific investigation. The detectives discuss antique paper and rusty bolts, and while this is interesting in the beginning, it soon becomes tedious and the viewer wishes for the film to move forward. Also, at times, the pacing slows down too much. When Amelia investigates the second murder, it seems to take forever for her to find the body. Instead of creating suspense, it merely creates boredom. While at first glance, the weak points in "The Bone Collector" don't amount to much, but when compared to films like "The Silence of the Lambs" or "Se7en", it just can't measure up.

The high definition transfer on this HD-DVD restores the movie's original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio in a presentation that is absolutely clean and clear. Compared to the DVD version, this transfer definitely benefits from the increased color space of the format as many scenes are extremely dark. There, the transfer manages to render an image that never loses detail or definition and is never taken over by noise or grain. The result is a picture with solid visual depth and strong colors that perfectly reproduces the movie's film print in all its nuances. The level of detail is very good throughout and makes for a solid – though unspectacular – high definition presentation of the film.

Very aggressive and dynamic, the soundtracks provided on this HD-DVD certainly add to the movie's overall experience. The release contains 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus tracks in English and French, as well as a 5.1 channel DTS track. These tracks all offer up a remarkable dynamic range – which actually becomes their downfall because the track is extremely unbalanced. Dialogues are way too low in volume while the sound effects are way too loud. This is an audio presentation where you can never find a good middle ground volume and will find yourself fumbling for the remote control constantly. The DVD had the same problems and therefore it is a bit disappointing that Universal did not properly re-balance these audio tracks for home theater viewing the way other studio do on a regular basis.

The HD-DVD version carriers over some of the extras from the DVD release, including the commentary track by director Phillip Noyce. Noyce does a great job of talking non-stop throughout the entire film, so there are no gaps of silence. (And after a while, his voice begins to eerily sound like Hitchcock's!) Noyce does a great job of explaining how the CGI effects shots were done and the decision making process behind how the film was shot. He balances these technical explanations by touching on the origins of the plot and how he worked with the actors. The only flaw in his commentary is that he will get caught up in a subject and fail to discuss the immediate on-screen action, but that is only a small quibble.

The "Spotlight on Location" featurette has also been included in its original 480p standard definition format. This 15-minute plus segment is made up of behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews. Also included is the movie's trailer.

"The Bone Collector" makes a fearless effort of be different, but it ultimately can't live up to the movies by which it was inspired. The film offers some interesting characters and is nicely shot, but the plot ultimately becomes too top-heavy and slow for its own good. The HD-DVD version of "The Bone Collector" offers some improvement over the DVD version but is not exactly a showcase disc that will make want to switch to high def at any cost. Serial killer film completists should definitely check this movie out, but I don't know if I would necessarily add it to my collection.