Casper: Special Edition
Film Length: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English (Captioned), French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1; Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1
While I am not sure that Casper has much appeal for persons my age (29), I can certainly see how children and adolescents might gravitate towards “the friendly ghost”. Without question, Casper is a sweet, vulnerable character (effectively voiced by Malachi Pearson) that children can sympathize with, and the film’s storyline is far too simplistic to cause confusion in younger viewers. Similarly, adolescents would likely identify with Casper developing his first crush, and his attempts to find acceptance amongst people that do not understand him. Sounds a lot like junior high school, doesn’t it? Oh, how I remember those days (sigh)!
As the film begins, a rather diabolical woman named Carrigan (Cathy Moriarty) discovers that her very wealthy father has largely cut her out of his will, leaving her nothing but a dilapidated mansion in Friendship, Maine. Carrigan is outraged, but only until her personal assistant Dibs (Eric Idle) finds a hidden message indicating that some sort of treasure may be tucked away in the recesses of the mansion. Naturally, they make a beeline for Maine to see if the mysterious message has any truth to it, and what goodies they might be able to dig up.
Once Carrigan and Dibs arrive in Friendship, they find that the manor is haunted, and try some interesting methods to exorcise the unwanted guests so they can retrieve the treasure unimpeded. Keep on the lookout for a couple of really cool cameos in this sequence! After experiencing several failures, Carrigan retains the services of a ghost therapist named Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) to rid Whipstaff of its ethereal inhabitants.
When Dr. Harvey reaches Whipstaff Manor, Casper becomes enthralled by Kat (Christina Ricci), the good doctor’s daughter, and the two soon become friends. Unfortunately, Casper’s unruly uncles, the “Ghostly Trio” of Fatso, Stinkie, and Stretch do not take too kindly to the living, breathing inhabitants of the manor, and try desperately to scare them off. While Casper’s uncles are busy hounding the living, Kat endeavors to help her new friend Casper find a way back from the afterlife. Now I know these paragraphs make it sound like there is some sort of plot here, but the movie never seems to be able to pull everything together. Instead, it relies mostly on its juvenile humor and Industrial Light and Magic’s (ILM) eye-candy to reel in the audience.
Despite my personal opinion about the film, I believe that Casper will probably be an enjoyable experience for children and younger adolescents. To be sure, Casper does remain true to its comic book roots, perhaps too much so, so viewing it through the eyes of an adult, I had a couple of issues with the story (or lack thereof). For one, the thinly written script really does not feature much in the way of character development, and the adults all turn in performances that are too over-the-top for my taste. The other thing that bothered me was the ineffectiveness of the film’s many sight gags. I suppose that much of this material was included to cater to Casper’s target audience, but it was more tiresome than funny, although I expect that youngsters would enjoy this slapstick silliness.
Surprisingly, it is Christina Ricci who anchors the film, turning in a remarkable performance as Kat. Ultimately, though, the script could only stretch the relationship between Kat and the departed spirit of a young boy so far before the thread keeping this mess together started unraveling. Aside from Christina Ricci’s mature-beyond-her-years performance, the film is given a little more life through the wonderful animation and effects work by the wizards at ILM, as well as the film’s set designers and craftspeople. In particular, Whipstaff Manor is a spectacular set, graced by brilliant construction, set decoration, and artwork. Unfortunately, these qualities only add to Casper’s visual appeal, but do not enhance the story.
The best way to describe my feelings about Casper is that it still looks good, and sounds great, but the film has a very sterile feel to it, and comes across almost as lifeless as its CGI stars. I must admit that I had never seen this film before, but given the level of talent involved in putting this film together, I was both surprised and disappointed at the end result. I suppose I would recommend Casper to people with children, since it is a fairly benign film, or to fans of the Casper character, but there is just not enough of a story to sustain the interest of most adults.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Casper “the friendly ghost’s” feature film debuts on DVD in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) format, and the results are pretty impressive. Casper is also available separately in full-frame (4:3), but in addition to losing out on most of the picture, the full-frame disc also comes without DTS! Anyway, on this widescreen version, colors are faithfully rendered, although bright reds bleed slightly. Shadow detail is also better than average, which is crucial in a film with so many dimly lit environments. In addition, the image is very clean, with faint specks here and there, and some of visible film grain, but nothing too bothersome.
On the down side, the image does look slightly soft at times, and I noticed some compression artifacting on a couple of occasions, but again, neither of these deficiencies was terribly distracting. Edge enhancement is also very minimal, and does not detract from the visual experience at all. In my judgment, Casper has received a respectable transfer from the folks at Universal, with only a couple of minor flaws holding it back from being great. For what it is worth, I sort of expected the transfer to be less than spectacular, given the wealth of audio information and special features there are on the disc.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
As is the case with some of their other recent releases, Universal has provided a mind-boggling number of audio options on the Casper: Special Edition DVD. There are no less than four 5.1 tracks, including Dolby 5.1 in English, Spanish, and French, and an English language DTS 5.1 track! I am not so sure this is a good thing though, as cramming the extras, and this amount of audio information onto one disc probably diminishes the picture quality a bit. That is just my .02 though, so let’s get down to business…
If you have read some of my other reviews, you probably already knew I would pick the DTS track for this review. Again, please be aware of the fact that the DTS track is available on the widescreen version only! In a word, this audio track is awesome!!! The surround channels are employed heavily, bass response is fantastic, and dialogue is crisp and clear. The only drawback I noted, and this could fall into the category of personal preference, is that the rear channels do not embellish James Horner’s score as much as I think they should have. A minor complaint to be sure, against what is a riveting, energetic mix that almost made me feel like I was in Whipstaff Manor. Very well done!
**Feature Length Commentary:
The feature-length commentary track by Brad Silberling is extremely detailed, containing a great deal of information on all things Casper. I found Mr. Silberling eay to listen to, as he is chatty, humorous, and seems to be a pretty cool guy. More importantly, he provides plenty of the behind-the-scenes information and anecdotes that are expected from good commentary tracks. The only problem for me was that I did not find Casper to be a very exciting film, so I became bored with these details after a while. That does not mean you will though, so take that for what it is worth.
I suppose that if you are a fan of Casper, Silberling offers up too much detail on the character’s return to the big screen after a 50-year hiatus to pass up. Indeed, he cautions at the very beginning of the commentary that he is going to “subject the listener to 100 minutes of his rambling”. Despite his “rambling”, I did find some of Silberling’s comments quite amusing and interesting. Here are some of the highlights:
--- Silberling talking about how Steven Spielberg pitched the film to him after the first director abruptly departed.
--- Silberling revealing how one of the Hollywood’s most famous leading men was “tricked” into doing a cameo by Steven Spielberg.
--- Commentary about the screenwriters’ attempt to modernize the Casper character.
--- Silberling confessing to inserting a lot of homages to previous films into Casper.
--- The studio was somewhat resistant to bringing Bill Pullman on board.
I will stop there, because I do not want to spoil the experience for those who want to hear what Brad Silberling has to say about Casper, but there were some other interesting topics addressed. Just be sure to listen closely to hear some of the odd jobs that Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest filmmakers ever, was relegated to doing on Casper!
All in all, this commentary track does not feature much in the way of surprises, but the sheer amount of detail Silberling gets into on the casting, special effects, and post production processes should make this commentary a worthwhile experience for Casper fans. Since I did not find Casper particularly appealing, however, Silberling’s comments just did not resonate with me the way they might with those who do enjoy the film.
** Deleted Scene #91:
This “deleted scene” features an approximately four minute introduction by Brad Silberling and Bill Pullman, including some behind-the-scenes footage. This is followed by a comparison of “deleted scene #91” against animator Phil Nibbelink’s original animation of the scene, both of which crowd the screen at the same time. You also have the option of listening to Mr. Silberling comment on the comparison between these two scenes. Apparently, this sequence was cut because it would have cost about $3 million to complete. Ouch!
**“Revealing Casper” Featurette:
This nearly 50-minute documentary exhaustively covers the creation of Casper. Commentators include Brad Silberling, Steven Spielberg, Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Malachi Pearson, and several members of ILM, among others, all of whom seem to have enjoyed working in this project. Interestingly, it appears that some of the footage appears new, and some appears to have been created a while ago. Although I have never seen it, I am aware that there is a laserdisc edition of Casper, so I assume that some of the footage in this documentary was created for the laserdisc release. Perhaps someone on this forum has the laserdisc and could confirm this theory.
In any event, “Revealing Casper” comprehensively covers the creation of Casper’s special effects, the casting process, drafting the script, and even the way Silberling became attached to the film. I did not find this featurette as tedious as the commentary, particularly because I could see the development of the ghosts, the construction of the set, and so forth. I just could not develop the same appreciation for a lot of the subjects covered in this documentary when Silberling was talking about them on the commentary track. As such, I whole-heartedly recommend this featurette, which gets my vote for best extra on the disc, even to non-fans. Unless you worked on this film, it is unlikely that you will not know anything more about its creation than this documentary shows.
NOTE: Since a member of the forum inquired about subtitles for the special features on Scarface: Anniversary Edition I decided to check here. Lo and behold, there are English, French, and Spanish subtitles for the documentary! Bravo Universal! Hopefully, more studios will do this, so that hearing impaired viewers can get as much enjoyment out of the bonus features on DVDs as those of us lucky enough to be able to hear do.
**Episode From the Original Casper Animated Series:
An amusing episode from the original Harvey animated series, entitled “A Penguin for Your Thoughts” has been graciously included by Universal. During this short from 1956, which is shown in full-frame (4:3), Casper encounters a baby penguin, and tries to help him reach his home at the South Pole. As you might imagine, plenty of mischief ensues along the way. I have fond memories of watching this series when I was a child, and it was nice to see an episode again after about 20 years.
Some interactive games for the kiddies have been included, such as a spelling game and a hunt through the menus for five of Casper’s hidden treasures. Supposedly, if you find all five treasures, you get a prize, but I could only find four before I gave up.
There are two sections of “Casper’s Playhouse”:
--- Casper’s Spooky Safety Tips:
Offers tips on staying safe while trick-or-treating, making creative yet safe Halloween costumes, and so forth.
--- Casper’s Scary Kitchen:
A batch of special recipes for caramel apples, cookies, and other Halloween treats.
**“Casper’s Haunted House of Halloween Fun” – DVD-ROM Features:
NOTE: Many of these extras are not unique to this section, which I suppose is somewhat disappointing. Specifically, the extras offered in “Casper’s Playhouse” are also available in this DVD-ROM section.
Geared towards children and parents, these features offer interactive Halloween activities including: tips for throwing an effective Halloween party, making Halloween masks, and staying safe while trick-or-treating. I popped the disc into my PC and breezed through a couple of these items really quickly, and I must say that the interface looks pretty cool and weblinks are included, as you might expect. However, since my daughter is still a little too young for me to get any use out of the included material, and this is a home theater site, I will refrain from going into too much detail, and just provide a brief rundown of some of these family-friendly features so everyone will at least know what is available:
--- Casper’s Haunted Arcade and Funhouse:
Includes sample photos of pumpkin carvings to serve as inspirations for Jack-O-Lanterns; Pictures of ghosts, bats, and other icons associated with Halloween, for kids to make paper chains; A guide for making paper spider webs; An interactive mask designer that allows users to create Halloween masks that can be printed and then cut out for wearing; Instructions for creating souvenir picture frames to retain your Halloween memories; and finally, some interactive memory games.
--- Casper’s Ghostly Invitation Generator:
Allows users to generate and print out invitations for their Halloween party.
--- Casper’s Candy Consumption Calendar Creator:
Gives users the opportunity to print out a calendar that rations Halloween candy out an a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Essentially, it will tell you how fast your child’s teeth will rot!
**Biographies/Filmographies for the Cast (and Ghosts):
Brief bios / filmographies are provided for:
Cast: Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Eric Idle, and Cathy Moriarty
Ghosts: Casper, Fatso, Stinkie, and Stretch
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Casper is yet another example of a decent film receiving a nice DVD treatment from Universal. In particular, the involving, spacious DTS soundtrack, solid transfer, and myriad of worthwhile extras should leave fans of Casper, and most children, with a big grin on their faces. However, I do not think that many adults without children will find Casper to be an entertaining enough film to warrant a purchase despite the quality of this “special edition” presentation.
September 23rd, 2003