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? 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.
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
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
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. 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.
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.