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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Haunted Mansion

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#1 of 20 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted April 16 2004 - 03:22 PM

Posted Image

RunTime:88 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 OAR (separate 4x3 encoded P/S available so beware)
Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD Spanish, 5.1 DD French
Subtitles:English, Spanish
SpecialFeatures:Making-of Featurette, Music Video, Feature Commentary, Deleted Scene, Bloopers, Haunted Mansion virtual-tour, Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts in the Graveyard, DVD-ROM Content
ReleaseDate:April 20, 2004

The Movie...

I had managed to miss Haunted Mansion during its theatrical debut, but one of the distinct pleasures of reviewing DVD titles for Disney is having the opportunity to watch films that I might otherwise never taken the time to see. In the case of Haunted Mansion, spending time reviewing this title was a pleasure.

The Haunted Mansion is a fun-filled movie that’s mainly geared toward a younger crowd of kids/pre-teens. However, as an adult I found it easy to enjoy. The premise of the film was to make a movie based on the Huanted Mansion “ride” at the Disney theme parks and basic story follows Eddie Murphy (a real estate agent) and his family as they wind up at the center of ghost-ridden tale of woe. Ok, so the movie isn’t exactly bone-chillingly scary. But maybe that’s a good thing as this is definitely a little-kids-friendly DVD you can pull off the shelf during a slumber party and not have to worry about anyone’s parents calling to complain. Haunted Mansion is safe for the young while still palatable for the older crowd owing to the believable characters of Murphy’s family, acceptable writing (a few groaners, but not too many), and well executed special effects. Something for everybody, just don’t expect to jump out of your seat like you did the first time you watched Alien.

Murphy never ceases to impress me as an actor. The man is astoundingly talented but he’s seldom credited for the acting genius that he is; he always seems to be placed in some sort of “comedian” box. In Haunted Mansion he still plays a comedic role, but it’s less type-cast than many of his others and you can start to see a side of Murphy as an actor that would be so nice to have fully developed in a dramatic role that takes him seriously. His wife and two children in this film also are well cast and the daughter especially impressed me with her presence—she comes off convincingly as Jim Evers’ (Eddie Murphy’s) own child. Mix that with a bit of humor (though not as much as I was expecting) and some creative (though not frightful) ghosts, and the Haunted Mansion comes together as an entertaining film.


I was sent the 16x9 2.35:1 OAR DVD (remember, a separate 4x3 P/S version is available so Walmart shoppers beware!) and had the chance to review it on my newly acquisitioned BenQ HD2 DLP projector. I’m driving the projector 720P DVI from my Momitsu v880 DVD player (with built in upscaling). This is a phenomenal video combination…the Momitsu DVD player upscales the DVD to the projector’s native 1280 x 720P resolution, and then feeds this video signal digitally to the machine…a pure digital video pathway from the DVD disc to the DMD mirrors inside the projector. The result is a DVD image that looks smooth and noise-free as possible with the maximum visible detail obtainable with exceptionally pure color fidelity. Ok…so is this guy reviewing the DVD or the projector/DVD setup? Posted Image Just trying to lay the ground work to assure you that my impressions of the picture quality of this disc are about as “accurate” as they can possibly get.

So what’s Haunted Mansion look like? Well, let’s start with the good. Colors are truly wonderful. Hues are much richer and more vibrant than I would have anticipated for a generally “dark” film like this. Shadow detail is also good, and contrast is very even without any clipped whites or overpowering blacks. The image balance feels very “right” at all times: bright scenes feel comfortably bright and dark scenes feel appropriately dark but reveal enough detail in the grayscale that you never feel that you’re missing any picture information. I noticed one or two minor halos (affecting vertical lines, most likely a result of horizontal-frequency filtering) but by and large the picture is free from anything that looks like “edge enhancement” and is very smooth, silky, and pleasing to the eye. Naturally there’s nothing in the way of print damage and (not that this would have bothered me) there’s no hint of film-grain.

For most folks watching the film from a distance greater than 2 screen widths on a traditional CRT display, the above paragraph will characterize your experience of the video content on this DVD quite well. For those of you who are viewing a larger image at a wider viewing angle (front projection folks or those sitting in close proximity to their large-screen displays) or who have displays that track grayscale in a very linear manner down to black, you may notice a few problems.

The first problem I’ll mention is that, similar to the picture quality on Kill Bill vol. 1, the image is lacking in all fine picture detail and appears to be filtered. There’s no way around it…it’s filtered. Watching this otherwise lovely 2.35:1 image from about 1.75 screen widths, I wasn’t once fooled into thinking I was watching a “film” as I sometimes am watching a higher-resolution DVD like LOTR or 5th Element. The image wasn’t bad, it just lacked that fine level of resolution that lets your eyes relax and “take it in” like you can with a real film print, HD image, or DVD that’s mastered with minimal filtering. But the biggest problem I saw was an astonishing amount of MPEG noise…or what I’m assuming to be MPEG noise…in the dark near-black areas of many of the darker scenes. In some scenes, the dark backgrounds suddenly collapse into a single shade of dark gray…and then bounce out again into their subtle more natural looking gradations and shades. Quite a bit of MPEG compression noise was also evident in the dark areas of some scenes—appearing like large blocky film grain in the darkest areas of the image. Look at the scene when the butler closes the door to the parents’ room, or when Eddie Murphy first enters the stairway behind the hidden entrance. Obviously, being a movie of a “haunted mansion” as you might expect there are a fair number of “dark” scenes, so this artifacting became quite distracting during the movie. I had to put in some other reference DVDs just to test to make sure what I was seeing really was on the disc and wasn’t some anomaly of my DVD player or projector calibration. Interesting, some dark scenes are “perfect” and have absolutely so such video compression noise whatsoever. Very curious.

My suspician is that some of you (even with very nicely calibrated displays) may notice no compression noise at all. The BenQ DLP projector has a virtually perfectly flat contrast response, and any imperfections like this in dark are immediately apparent (especially running DVI). However, many CRT displays go blacker and may tend to “swallow” these last steps of gradation so that they are not so evident, depending on how your brightness/contrast settings are adjusted. I’d very much like to hear your feedback about these two issues (picture detail and MPEG noise) to find out how this disc looks on other systems. When you post, please make mention of your video chain so we can all understand the context of your statements.

P.Q. Summary:

A generally good effort but the folks at Disney have got to learn to keep their fingers off that “filter” dial. They can do what they like to the 4x3 P/S version, but videophiles are the market for their WS OAR product and more and more of that audience are watching on large-screen systems. Make a DVD look good on an 8 foot-wide screen and it will also look good on a 34” direct-view. Getting back to the topic at hand, taking a picture with great contrast and a beautiful color palette combined with the filtered detail and MPEG noise in dark scenes:

Picture: 3.5/ 5
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The 5.1 DD English soundtrack is excellent in every regard. Fidelity is excellent with a smooth and non-fatiguing treble and airy, open highs. The sense of “air” in the mix was so pronounced that I was reminded of my bygone high-end audio days when I’d audition a good LP album on my friend’s tube amplifier. The soundstage spreads wide across the front channels and is full-bodied without any hint of lower-midrange bloat. Surround use isn’t employed in more passive-scenes to quite the degree of the best multi-channel mixes that try to create a sense of “environment” with subtle, ambient cues. But the rear channel does come into full play during action sequences and succeeded in startling me a few times (always fun). Effects-scenes make quite prodigious use of the rear channel and if you’ve got kids with whom you enjoy sharing your home-theater, this will be a fun disc to make good use of your audio system for all the right reasons.

Bass is solid/tight and creates a rich bottom end to the overall presentation. Dialog is clear and always intelligible and sounds “round” and non-irritating. I’ll just mention again how impressed I was with the sense of openness the top-end of this soundtrack provides. This is a first-rate mix and aside from the minor lack of “atmospheric” surround use during more passive scenes, is without fault.

Sound: 4.5/ 5
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Special Features...

There’s a lot of bonus material for a single-disc presentation (probably one reason why I’m seeing that compression noise). Please forgive my brevity discussing these extras. It’s late and I really want to get this review posted!

    [*]Commentary: The commentary by Minkoff, Hahn, and screenwriter David Berenbaum is screen specific and quite interesting. If you have any avid interest in the movie or want to pass the time and develop a deeper understanding for the particulars that went into making this movie a reality (dealing with issues such as actor choices, set designs and translating the Disney “ride” into a film) it’s here waitin’ for ya.
    [*]Bloopers: There are bloopers (see, I can be brief when I want to be).

    [*]Deleted Scene: Really more of an “extended” scene with the kids and the ghosts in the attic. 4x3 lbxed. The extended scene would have provided more plot exposition but also took away part of the fun of discovery.
    [*]Music Video: I try to be nice. I really do. But if you don’t have something nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all. Oh who’s kidding, I’m not nice. This is a really cheezy music video folks. 4x3 lbxed (I’d have added a point for 16x9 had it been so) with a not-so good sounding music mix (very center heavy) and the performance…actually one of the most frightening moments on the disc--had this shown up during the feature film it would definitely have increased the fear-factor. Posted Image Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad. Nope, it’s that bad. But I’m sure someone out there loves it so I’ll shut up.
    [*]Making Of Featurette: A nice little (4x3) documentary talking about how the creative team envisioned the film, created the mansion, worked on digital effects, designed the costumes for the characters/ghosts/etc. A good and wholesome extra.
    [*][b]Anatomy of a Scene: This brief documentary focuses specifically on the “graveyard” scene from the movie and details all the particulars about how the effects were created. Lots of cool ghosts and costumes. This correlates with the feature from Pirates of the Caribbean that details the ghosts in the moonlight.
    [*][b]DVD-ROM Material: I don’t have a PC with a DVD drive (boo hoo for me) so one of you guys will have to chime in. I’ll paste your comments here if you do a nice job.

    [b]In Closing...

    Those of you who have already seen Haunted Mansion and are reading this review to decide whether the DVD is worthy to be added to your library, Disney has done a respectable job trying to earn your purchase. I might hesitate to recommend this DVD to any videophile viewing on a large-screen/wide-viewing-angle system due to the excessive HF filtering and compression artifacting in dark scenes. But for those of you viewing on smaller screens or who are planning to enjoy this film for its entertainment value without such a fine-eye for picture-quality concerns, the great audio quality and nice plethora of bonus material make it an easy choice. If you missed this flick in the theater as I had and have been curious to give it a try, I hope my review and the discussion that follows gives you enough information to make an informed decision. If your expectations are for a light-hearted fun and entertaining film to kick back and enjoy with the family, Disney’s The Haunted Mansion DVD will meet those expectations with ease.


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#2 of 20 OFFLINE   Kenneth Cummings

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Posted April 16 2004 - 03:34 PM

Sounds like a winner for me, DaViD. Besides, not only I am going to Disney World with my family (and of course, riding the Haunted Mansion again this year Posted Image), but everyone in my family wants to it, so I will buy it. Not often when your parents urge me to get the dvd.
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#3 of 20 OFFLINE   Amy Mormino

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Posted April 17 2004 - 01:43 AM

The ROM material for this movie is fairly substantial from what I hear, much like the Pirates of the Caribbean material. From my perspective, the best feature (and one that just may get me to buy this one blind) is a featurette on the original ride, which I always dug as a kid. I have a good pal who searches for ghosts in her spare time and she told me the movie was pretty good from a parapsychology perspective.

#4 of 20 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted April 17 2004 - 03:44 AM

No such commentary exists.
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#5 of 20 OFFLINE   jonathan_govols


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Posted April 17 2004 - 04:08 AM

The movie was ok but the MANY references to the ride put this film over the top for me. I have "enjoyed" few films more than this one. I am a huge Disney theme park buff (I've been to WDW over 30 times) and the film makers NAILED the references to the attraction. They had me when the first words on the screen appeared: "Welcome Foolish Mortals". And to have them spoken by the late Paul Frees was also a treat. Let me say this, If you are a hardcore fan of the attraction you have to see this film. Otherwise you might enjoy it, but it's not very likely.

#6 of 20 OFFLINE   Andy_MT


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Posted April 17 2004 - 04:36 AM

good to hear disney have put in their usual "non existant" effort into the video. why has this studio become so bloody useless at the presentation side of dvd lately ? every single dvd (that i've seen lately) is like watching a dvd released back in the first few years of the format. their work is sloppy and amateurish. perhaps they should take some lessons from warner bros in this department.

#7 of 20 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted April 17 2004 - 04:41 AM

It's not Paul Frees - it's a sound-alike.
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#8 of 20 OFFLINE   jonathan_govols


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Posted April 17 2004 - 04:44 AM

WOW! I really thought they used the Paul Frees voice. Of course I was in the back of a packed theatre when I saw it so I guess I couldn't hear it well enough to tell the difference. Thanks for the correction.

#9 of 20 OFFLINE   Tarkin The Ewok

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Posted April 20 2004 - 06:38 PM

I went into this movie expecting nothing but a few laughs. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was entertaining from start to finish. Sure, it's not the best movie in the world, and it doesn't measure up to the standard set by Pirates of the Caribbean, but it is a great movie when judging it on its own merits. My favorite character was the ghost played by Wallace Shawn (Star Trek's Grand Nagus Zek and Toy Story's Rex). Also, the many references to the ride had me cracking up. I didn't remember the singing busts, but sure enough, they were there at Disneyland during my next visit. This is some quality family entertainment, and any Disney fan should give this DVD a spin. I would rate it a solid 4 stars (out of 5).

#10 of 20 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted April 22 2004 - 08:08 AM

Like Jonathan above, I am a huge Disneyland fan. I've had an annual pass to that park for 11 years and still going strong. Heck, I go to Disneyland 2 to 3 times a month. I bought this blind solely based on my favorite ride in the park. Can't wait to see it.
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#11 of 20 OFFLINE   jonathan_govols


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Posted April 22 2004 - 08:48 AM

After watching this film the second time I did enjoy it quite a bit more. I think the film has a pretty good story and the acting wasn't as bad as it gets credit for (Yes it's not wonderful but I don't think that it is "bad"). Where the creators of Pirates of the Caribbean made a better movie, the Haunted Mansion creators did alot better job of putting in stuff from the ride. Hopefully Pirates 2 will have more references.

#12 of 20 OFFLINE   Al (alweho)

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Posted April 23 2004 - 07:16 AM

Ron, while I can't recommend the movie itself (it was a missed opportunity), I purchased this disc for the mini-documentary about the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

For some odd reason this feature is only offered on the DVD-ROM part of the disc, which for many purchasers (without a DVD drive in their computers) makes it unavailable to them.

I've included a few screen caps of this feature on my website today (MiceAge.com). While the 12 minute presentation is edited too hectically for my taste, it does include some unique behind-the-scenes video and a few construction shots of the ride.
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#13 of 20 OFFLINE   jonathan_govols


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Posted April 23 2004 - 07:24 AM

Mr. Lutz I love your site. Even though I'm a WDW guy and I've never been to DL (yet) I really enjoy your articles.

I really liked the short documentary. I really wish that they would've made it longer and not a DVD-ROM feature. The rest of the special features were ok but nothing to buy the film over.

I hope they come out with an Alien Encounter movie next Posted Image (I know it's now closed but that was my all time favorite Disney attraction and it would make a great movie).

#14 of 20 OFFLINE   BarryRR



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Posted April 24 2004 - 01:18 AM

I'm a huge HM attraction fan (ever I visited the Disneyland version in 1970), and I just saw the DVD. I'm relieved that the film didn't trash the ride's whimsical legacy. The film was decent enough, but the bonus features really top matters. Posted Image

#15 of 20 OFFLINE   Sean Scott

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Posted May 02 2004 - 07:52 PM

I got this movie for free. I think the special effects make the movie. Eddie Murphy's acting was not his best as neither was the two kid's. The movie seem too kiddie at times and it just there... I will keep the disc for memory sake since i love the HM!

#16 of 20 OFFLINE   Lawrence X

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Posted May 03 2004 - 01:56 AM

I watched it with the kids the other night (9 year olds that usually hate "kiddie movies") and expected to grin and bear the entire 1 1/2 hours of it. Actually, it was much better than I thought, and the kids liked it too. Personally I found it more enjoyable that the tedious Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course this could all be a study of expectation..

#17 of 20 OFFLINE   KorbanPelecehan



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Posted May 03 2004 - 08:20 PM

I want to know if i use DD EX on this film will make the sound better ? Or just leave it original DD 5.1 ? Importanly i want to know if the original DD EX is better than the DD EX decoding from Reveiver ??? or just the same ?

#18 of 20 OFFLINE   JeremyR


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Posted May 05 2004 - 06:18 AM

I was very irritated with the dialogue in this movie.. though generally fine, when Jennifer Tilly (Madame Leota) spoke there was a lot of static coming through my center channel. Maybe it's just an individual problem with my setup, but right after I watched the Rundown and had no static. I'm not sure what the problem with it was, but it was very irritating to my ears...

#19 of 20 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted May 05 2004 - 07:37 AM

Hmmm. I never heard any "static". Curious...

BTW, I don't have a 6.1 system so no ES/EX for me... Posted Image
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#20 of 20 OFFLINE   JeremyR


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Posted May 05 2004 - 07:47 AM

It was fairly loud (the scratchy, static sound), mostly just with Jennifer Tilly's dialogue. Enough it freaked me out and I thought maybe I had a problem. But, as I said, I didn't notice it through most of the rest of the movie, and when I watched Rundown there wasn't any static. Then I put in a Gloria Estefan CD that makes alot of use of highs, and it sounded clear as a bell on my Paradigm CC-170. I also noticed the static to be pretty apparent during "Cheaper by the Dozen". I assume there musn't be anything wrong with my tweeter or CC, as it would be doing it all teh time.

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