Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Film Year: 2002
U.S. Rating: R
Canadian Rating: 14A
Length: 111 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: English, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Closed Captioned: Yes
Release Date: March 30, 2004
Film Rating /
We have a marketing hic-up here – a title actually got released as a Superbit Edition first before a standard version special edition. And what a special edition it is! If there has been a DVD release lately that has an abundant of informative behind the scenes content on it since The Lord of the Rings special editions, this is that release!
Panic Room: Special Edition comes to shelves March 30th as a THREE DISC special edition! Because David Fincher loves to document and archive almost every moment in the creation of his films, there was a bunch of material that could be used to put together an extensive making-of. I look at this release more as a ”How they make movies” information guide rather than as a film with special features. With the wealth of information spread out on these two discs, including the movie seems to come as a bonus!
What is the movie about anyway? Well, to keep it simple since many of you have probably picked up the previous Superbit release, the film is about Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) who is suffering from a painful divorced from a pharmaceuticals millionaire, moves from Connecticut to an Upper West Side Manhattan townhouse with her eleven year-old daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). During her first night’s sleep her home is invaded on by three men – hot-headed ringleader Junior (Jared Leto), the violent thug Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), and sympathetic accomplice Burnham (Forest Whitaker), The previous owner of the house had a hidden room known as the “panic room”, built as a hideaway for the event if any strangers broke into the house. Meg and Sarah dart for this room and won’t come out. But the intruders want to get in the panic room for more reasons than them and it becomes a game of cat and mouse until the bloody end.
The filmmakers claim there hasn’t been a live-action film that has been as extensively previs’ed as this one. The result is one that is paced very nicely and never offers a dull moment. Its suspense can keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the result of the action. I’m sure Fincher felt on edge a few times as well during the making of this film. The film wasn’t without its delays before its release. Both the cinematographer and special effects supervisor were replaced midway as well as two of the main cast members. Nichol Kidman was to play Foster’s role but had to leave a week or two into shooting because of medical reasons. The daughter was also replaced. Despite this, Fincher and his crew pulls off tough work and gives the audience another excellent film. He always seems to be putting out a string of good movies. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I recommend you do.
If you bought the previous version of Panic Room I am still going to tell you to buy this DVD. Why? Because the special features included on this release are a real knockout! Almost everything imaginable has been included in some form or another over these two discs. As an end user we tend to only see the finished product of many films. This disc clearly shows the people and the hard work put into making this film a reality. If you’ve ever been curious to see what goes on behind the camera, there is extensive coverage of this in fairly lengthy segments. Check out the special features section on this review. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Video Quality? /
The image quality of this 2.39:1 anamorphic picture is superb and looks to be from the same source as the Superbit Edition. In the dark lighting, shadow detail is phenomenal and the black level is nice and deep. Fincher’s desire and ability to get every scene looking right seems accurately reproduced on this disc. Since lighting is always minimal, this is a dim film so I recommend watching it in a dark environment to catch all of the information. Edge enhancement is not an issue, but compression artifacts are present upon close inspection. Compared to the previously released Superbit Edition with its compression averaging at about 8Mbps, this new version averages around 5.5Mbps. How different are the two? Just a little…by comparing several scenes, the Superbit has less compression artifacts around object edges and has a touch more detail in far away objects. One probably won’t notice this on a smaller screen, but on my 110” the differences are noticeable when looking for them.
Audio Quality? /
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (no DTS) sounds like it’s from the same source as the Superbit. This is also a standout soundtrack that is a reference for home theater demos. There is nothing I can complain about listening to this soundtrack – everything from clarity, dynamics, frequency balance, and spaciousness is perfect in every respect no matter what the environment in the film. The sounds inside the panic room sound as claustrophobic as can be, and the room ambience in the house, mixed with the rain outside always provides a wonderful listening experience. All channels are active in most scenes and the LFE even gets a good workout at times.
As an aside, how does this Dolby Digital version compare to the DTS version on the Superbit? This is the first time that I can honestly say “I don’t know.” They both sound very different from each other in the extreme high and low frequencies. Without having a lossless version present, or better yet, the original printmaster to compare it to, I have no idea what encoding is more accurate. Keeping volume levels between each decoding matched, there is more bass present in the Dolby Digital version, specifically in the main channels. When inside the panic room, my left and right subs were giving off the low-rumble sound of the air circulation system that seemed to be specific to the LFE channel on the DTS version. Or its possible that low frequency information in front left/right was given a boost on the Dolby encoding. The dialogue of Forest Whitaker seems to have a slight boominess on the Dolby version and sounded smoother when switching to DTS, but this is usually a commonality between all of my DD/DTS comparisons.
High frequencies also seemed to be treated differently too. I’ll use the sound of the CRT monitors in the panic room as an example. The DTS encoding of the high frequencies used for the CRT monitors sounded linear as if it were one continuous sound. The Dolby encoding sounded not only a little louder and more diffuse in those high frequencies, but also sounded ‘rippled’ as they made the noise. I heard short bursts of the highest frequencies during Dolby decoding that I did not hear on the DTS decoding. Since these are frequency extremes, I imagine that these lossy encoding technologies are showing their colour, for a lack of a better term. Whatever limitations or altering effects these surround encodings do to the original source, it is clear that without some lossless audio format available we won’t ever have a lossy audio codec that is truly transparent to the original.
Special Features? /
The special features are spread out over the three discs. All discs include anamorphic menus and are laid out like the blueprints of the house. Your feature selections are located in rooms of the house with text mirroring that of the floating fonts used for the main title sequence of the film. All features are a mix of 4:3 from a video camera (which is blurry at the extreme edges) and 2.39:1 and are not widescreen enhanced. The decision not to enhance this probably comes from the feature of “fact text” that appears in that black area when viewing dailies. There are also Spanish subtitles available on some of the features too.
The menus contain submenus, so I’ll try to explain this as clearly as possible. There is a lot of info here, so bear with me.
There isn’t much present on here like the other two discs. We get what can be fit on the disc: three commentary tracks. There is a cast commentary with Jodie Foster, Dwight Yoakam, and Forest Whitaker. David Fincher participates in the Director’s Commentary, and writer David Koepp is joined with William Goldman in the writer’s commentary. Flipping through the commentaries reveals the standard conversations of events on screen and behind the scenes information.
There are two featurettes under Prep. The Testing Phase (16.29) is narrated by Conrad W. Hall, the cinematographer for this film. Through test footage we are shown how lighting, the wardrobe selection, and paints are matched, all take after take. The discussion of how Kodak Vision 320T 5277 stock was chosen based on the dim lighting in the film. We also get to see various test of blowing up the propane tank (thankfully not full of propane to avoid a BLEVE…these guys aren’t even wearing goggles…who’s the health and safety advisor on these sets??). Safe Cracking School (12.50) shows us the on-set conversation of how to drill into a safe lock by a professional – you might learn a thing or two.
There are four featurettes included here. This film has extensive Pre-Vis work that can be seen under Creating the Previs (10.17). Director David Fincher shows us the ‘moving storyboard’ with S. Quinn, the Pre-vis coordinator. The computer graphics are shown to us in one big window while the comparison to the final film is located in a window at the bottom. This is shown more extensively in the second featurette Previs Demo (3.29) and you can select commentary on or watch it with it off. The Habitrail Film (0.59) is another little pre-vis demo as we watch the animated scene of Foster and Stewart running through their house when the intruders first arrive. All of the actor’s paths are all determined in this previs demo.
Lastly, there is an interactive feature with the Multi-Angle Featurette. Using the multi-angle and audio buttons on your remote, you can choose up to two angles and four different audio tracks for almost 40 minutes of the film. This is a really cool feature. Each “angle” has two images on the screen. The first angle lets us toggle between the storyboards and the film as it appeared during editing, and the second angle lets us compare the animated previs with the finished film. The audio selections are between the raw sound on the set, commentary by storyboard artist Peter Ramsey, the final audio mix (in 2 channel), and PLF founder and animator Colin Green. PLF (Pixel Liberation Front…sounds like a political pixel revolution to me) is the animation company used for previs and helped with Fincher on Fight Club.
Shooting Panic Room (52.36) is narrated by pop-up text on screen and the cinematographer. This feature gets in depth with scouting locations and the construction of the whole New York street and house on a soundstage in California. Due to the many complex camera shots in the film, it was necessary to build a house from scratch to accommodate this movement. A real house in New York would never have been feasible. The construction took nearly 15 weeks but the result was nothing short of amazing. This feature is put together very well and features interviews with cast, script supervisor and special effects coordinator. There is also a small feature on Makeup Effects (8.57) with makeup effects artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.. They discuss all those cool things like severed fingers, broken collar bones, and broken legs. At least these guys have a sense of humour with morbid props.
There are four screens of featurettes totaling to about 75 minutes in visual effects explanations and examples. They feature visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug and visual effects coordinator Leslie McMillan. By means of comparing before and after shots with CG, the raw dailies used, and behind the scenes footage, these featurettes cover every visual effect sequence done by BUF in this film! These in-depth examinations of Panic Room’s effects sequences are very informative and is a must see for any film buff! Titled to best represent how these effects appeared in the film, here is a list of what you can expect to see under this menu:
-Main Titles (10.59) (very cool)
-Through Bedroom Door (1.08)
-The Skylight (1.30)
-The Big Shot (17.31) (live action vs. CG plate)
-Through the Railing (1.52)
-Giant Dust (1.41)
-Through the Wall and Floor (2.52)
-The Hose (5.55)
-Propane Gas (1.29)
-The Explosion (3.47)
-The Flashlight (5.33)
-Slow Motion (3.41)
-X-Ray Floor (3.16)
-Safe Shavings/Digital Squibs (0.51)
-CGI Gun and Cell Phone (2.19)
-Arm on Fire (1.49)
-CGI Propane Tank (3.06)
-Fluttering Bonds and CGI Leaves (4.23)
As said on the disc, this supplement is a multi-angle look at scoring sessions conducted by Howard Shore. Each cue contains 1-4 angles of orchestra footage with Howard almost always in the picture. The fourth angle in each cue is a composite of orchestra footage and the scenes from the film being scored.
You can switch two angles on the Main Titles (2.11), two with Sealing the House (2.53), four on The Phone Call (3.32), and two with Altman (4.21).
If there was one area on this disc that did bring a little disappointment to me it would be this feature. For a little over fifteen minutes we hear a conversation on sound design with Ron Klyce and David Prior. He shows a little on adding different channels to make a final mix, but there really isn’t anything too special shown here.
This 11 minute feature discusses the importance of colour timing in films to continue the creative process in photography using digital equipment. Cinematographer Conrad W. Hall and Post-Production Supervisor Peter Mavromates express this process as not being for every film (mainly because of the high cost), but how it gives an “insane amount of control” for every film frame.
SUPER 35 TECHNICAL EXPLANATIONS
With the arrow buttons on your remote, you can read invaluable information amount the history of film types to the use of Super 35 today. This is a great read, I found myself reading it twice because it was so interesting. It’s always good to get a refresher on film. You can jump to sections within its main menu to take you to text on spherical formats, anamorphic, matting, widescreen on TV, Super 35, 3-Perf, and common [height] lines.
This section allows you to explore in-depth the creation of specific sequences in the film. You can read the scene from the script, view to storyboards and the video tests, watch footage from the set as the sequence was being filmed, or watch the footage as it appeared in the dailies. If you select the script or storyboards you may have to let it go through its cycle. On my Toshiba player I was unable to skip or return to the main menu to get out of it. No need to worry, you’d only have to wait to about a minute for each one. There are four sequences to choose from and between the B-Rolls, dailies, and tests, each have a different running time. You can choose from The Phone Jack (totaling about 20 minutes), The End of Junior (about 15 minutes), Hammer Time (about 15 minutes), and [b]Burnham Surrounded (about 10 minutes).
Is that it? Yup, that’s it! If I calculated correctly this is about 5 and a half hours of material not including listening to all of the commentaries. Now that’s a long sitting! But it’s all worth it – every bit of it.
If you own the Superbit Edition of the film and you are wondering what you are missing owning just that release, I hope you can realize that you are missing an abundant of information! Not only is it a great movie that has a great transfer and works as great home theater demo material, the features are top-notch and I’m happy Columbia TriStar gave the green light on this release. With so much material to plow through over the week (as I just couldn’t do it in one sitting), I felt the panic set in for me as the time grew closer the release date of this DVD. How appropriate. Sure enough I made it and it ranks as one of my favorite DVD releases in a long time. Absolutely recommended!