PictureOn Blu-ray The Box offers up a perfectly suitable 1080p High Definition presentation in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The Director chose to shoot the entire movie digitally, then process it in order to give it that 70s feel, and so the movie is strewn with intentionally soft-focus shots and sequences. There are far more effects on offer than the viewer is probably aware of, but the more glaringly obvious one are also the most out-of-place: both Frank Langella's Two-Face-esque disfigurement and the weird water-column effects seem like they would be better suited to The Dark Knight and The Abyss, respectively, and go some way to alienating the viewer. Visually, they may the presentation hard to judge: this may not be a very good film, technically (softness, weird effects, some grain) but it is a good representation of what the Director wanted his film to look like. With that in mind, the film may not stand up alongside Hollywood Blockbusters, and it may suffer from some of the same disadvantages that other low-to-medium-budget digitally-filmed offerings suffer from (blurred tracking for panning shots became extremely noticeable early on) this is probably the best rendition of the film as the Director wanted us to see it.
SoundOn the aural front, things are strangely low-key. For a movie that relies more on mood and insinuation than in-your-face shock-horror, the soundtrack simply is not invasive enough to get under your skin. Which is not to say that the film's score is not excellent - it is almost more than the movie deserves, a truly creepy, hauntingly repetitive affair that broods and builds in an almost classically Hitchcockian manner - but just that it does not get the presentation that it deserves. Still, it marks the highlight of this lacklustre DTS-HD Master Audio mix, which really does not do justice to the labelling, presenting the dialogue is an unobstructed but underwhelming fashion, giving the infrequent effects only the slightest of passing nods, and underplaying the tremendous score. Whilst it does not quite detract from your enjoyment of the film, the effect is much the same when you realise that a more potent score may have improved things a little bit.
The Commentary by Director Richard Kelly is a thoughtful, somewhat interesting listen as the man takes us through his creation, explaining characters' motivations, technical accomplishments and blink-and-you'll-miss them facets of the film. He talks a great deal about the fact that Norma and Arthur were based on his own parents - something which is discussed in even greater detail in the Featurette below - and tries to explain what he was attempting to accomplish with the movie. Ultimately, he answers many questions but still does not address the overall feeling that things just got a little messy towards the end, instead adopting the 'I threw that in to add to the mystery' approach of explanation.
The Box: Grounded in Reality
Deceptively titled, as clearly the story itself could not really be grounded in reality (unless they stripped out the whole extra-terrestrial angle and left it as a Government test, which would have been an interesting alternative), this Featurette is actually about the correlation between the husband and wife characters in the movie, and Director Richard Kelly's own parents. Kelly talks about how his father worked for NASA, how his teacher mother did indeed have a disfigured foot and the memories that he had from his '70s childhood. An interesting and personal offering, delving deeper into an aspect of the movie that certainly allowed for more convincing characterisation.
Richard Matheson: In His Own Words
This overly short interview with the elderly author Matheson, bookended by Richard Kelly and populated by stills photos and clips from the final film, has the acclaimed author talk about how he started in the industry, his most famous works and how he came up with the idea for 'The Box'. It's a very interesting offering, but running in at less than 5 minutes, you can't help but feel like there was so much more to gleam from this man, particularly since he was quite outspoken in his dislike of the original Twilight Zone interpretation of his Button, Button story, and in the fact that this film follows that episode much more closely than it does his short story.
Visual Effects Featurettes
We get three 'Visual Effects Revealed' segments looking at some pivotal effects sequences in the movie - Arlington's disfigured face, the Water Coffins and Transforming Richmond. Arguably the last is the most revealing and surprising, as the digitally shot movie was heavily processed to create the period look of '70s Richmond.
I'm not entirely sure why these three offerings are entitled Music Videos as, in the traditional sense of the phrase, they are anything but. These three 'Exhibits' are presented as a nice accompaniment to the main narrative, offering up more mysterious typewriter-driven excerpts and original Mars project footage to add to the mood of the piece. It's the closest thing to Deleted Footage from the movie, and whilst much of it is scored (with the same score as the film) that does not - in any way - make them anything approaching Music Videos. Worth checking out.
VerdictRichard 'Donnie Darko' Kelly's interpretation of Richard 'Twilight Zone' Matheson's immensely clever short story premise 'Button, Button' is a compelling, interesting movie which goes off the rails somewhat during the second act. With an unnecessarily (if typical of the Director) convoluted plot that throws in far too many strange occurrences and delivers no real answers, the film is ultimately unsatisfying. Had Kelly eschewed the M. Night Shyamalan-style of twist-over-substance in favour of keeping things simple, the excellent opening gambit, and interesting final dilemma, would probably have been enough to carry the entire movie. As is, he tries to throw too much into the mix, and ends up baffling and consequently alienating audience members, rather than just captivating them. On Region Free US Blu-ray the movie comes with perfectly suitable video, disappointingly underwhelming audio but a few nice extras which should add up to something which will likely still satisfy fans should they want to add this to their collection. Those who are intrigued by this glorified Twilight Zone episode should consider it an engaging rental: one which may leave you debating questions of the value of human life, and the weighing of one life against another, but will offer little else when its slightly drawn-out two hour runtime comes to a close. Indeed it may be difficult for any film to live up to the potential offered by such a great premise, and this film unfortunately does not break the tradition. A well-made, engaging, compelling - but ultimately disappointing - missed opportunity.
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