Running Time: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1
May 17th, 2005
Although based on a fairly intriguing premise (Electronic Voice Phenomenon – EVP – which I will talk more about below) White Noise ends up becoming just another formulaic thriller that does nothing to develop its interesting premise any further. How did this happen? Well, after watching carefully, I am not quite sure who should get the lion’s share of the blame: director Geoffrey Sax, who crafted a good-looking film but fails to generate any thrills, chills, or entertainment in his big screen debut, or screenwriter Niall Johnson, whose plot is full of holes, lacks interesting characters, and shows utter disregard for detail. Either way, watching White Noise is ultimately about as dull as watching real white noise, and it is obvious why the film was released theatrically in the slow movie month of January, when it would have a shot at recouping its cost.
Basically, the central theme in White Noise is that the dead can reach the living via the static, or white noise, that radios, televisions, and computers are capable of receiving. For some reason, the words they speak cannot be picked up by our ears, but can be captured on these various devices. Of course, this phenomenon (EVP) sends the mind racing through any number of amazing possibilities: EVP is proof of life after death, EVP offers the ability to communicate with lost loved ones, etc. The only problem is that in the afterlife, just as in this reality, some people have bad intentions, and the messages they send the living can be perilous.
Personally, though I am usually quite open minded about these sorts of things, I take what EVP authorities say (watch the extras) with a grain - no an ocean - of salt, as I believe the potential for the messages they have recorded to be “faked” or manipulated by the living to be quite high. It is also strange that the messages are so brief and vague. Irrespective of my feelings on the subject, however, I realize that this “science” has captured the attention of a great many people over the years. Hell, if it didn’t it is doubtful that a studio-backed motion picture would have been made about it.
Then again, although not the focal point of the plot like it is here, EVP has indeed played a part in some of the creepiest and most disturbing movies of our time, like The Sixth Sense and Poltergeist. In the case of Poltergeist (1982), just thinking of poor little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) calling for her mother from inside the family’s TV set sends chills down my spine!
Getting back to White Noise though, Michael Keaton stars as Jonathan Rivers, a successful architect who is very happily married to his second spouse, acclaimed author Anna Rivers (Chandra West). When we first meet the couple, we learn Jonathan and Anna are expecting a child, which is extremely exciting news for both of them. We also discover that Jonathan has a son from his first marriage named Mike (Nicholas Elia), whom he has a close relationship with.
All in all, it seems as though Jonathan is a respectable, family-oriented person, and that life is treating the loving husband and father kindly. Sadly, there is to be no happy ending for Mr. Rivers, for his fortunes change when his beloved Anna dies suddenly in an accident. Her demise not only leaves Jonathan depressed and lonely, but also shatters his dreams of having a family with his wife.
Things take a bizarre turn a short time later, when Jonathan notices a man staking out his home, and later tailing him to the office. Upon confronting him, the man introduces himself as Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), and tells Jonathan that he has been receiving messages from Anna from “the other side”, via EVP. At first, Jonathan wants to brush him off, but desperate to reestablish some kind of connection to his departed wife, he pays Mr. Price a visit, and listens intently while he describes the study of EVP in detail.
Convinced of its value by Mr. Price, Jonathan begins to experiment with EVP himself, by creating a studio in his home, outfitted with monitors, computers, and top-shelf recording equipment, with which he hopes to capture and filter any messages that might appear in the white noise he is monitoring. Soon, his desire for contact with Anna becomes an obsession, to the point that Mr. Rivers blocks out everything that had previously been important in his life, including his relationship with his son and his business, to scan white noise for her communications.
Eventually, some negligibly creepy things do happen, and Jonathan does see and hear things in the static, which he believes to be messages about future events. Acting on this information, Jonathan initially does a lot of good, rescuing some people from untimely fates and bringing closure to others. Unfortunately, this also causes Jonathan to develop a sense of trust in both the messages he is receiving and in the spirits sending them. And this is where the more malevolent spirits come into play, and take advantage of Jonathan’s gullibility…and at which point I refrain from providing any more detail about the story, in case you still want to see the film after reading this review.
Right from the opening paragraph, my feelings about White Noise should have been clear…this film is a terrible disappointment. Even as I write this, I cannot help thinking that this story should have been much scarier and more entertaining. Unfortunately, this predictable and disappointing film relies much too heavily on generic horror film staples, like things jumping into the frame, or characters going into dark rooms they should stay out of, just because a door is open. Not only is this indicative of the film’s lack of creativity, but nothing terribly worthwhile ever happens along the way. As a result, the film fails as both a thriller and as entertainment.
As I mentioned earlier, the complete disregard this film has for real world details bothered me immensely as well. Things are just much too convenient in this script, such as Jonathan’s chummy relationship with his ex-wife who doesn’t mind the lack of interest he is showing in their son, or how his business can survive for such a long period of time without his participation while he tinkers with his PCs and recording devices.
Granted the screenplay he was working with could not have helped much, but outside of giving the film a clean, modern look, Geoffrey Sax clearly struggled a bit on his first feature film, especially in terms of giving the story direction and bringing characters to the screen that are easy to identify with. For example, during the initial stages of the film, which show Jonathan trying to cope with Anna’s death, it is disconcerting how little emotion he shows for someone who just experienced such a profound loss, and his retreat from his responsibility and the others who care about him is also not handled well, in my opinion.
To me, this is a real shame, as I was hoping that this film would mark a comeback of sorts for Michael Keaton. I have long been a fan of Michael Keaton, a performer that has exhibited wonderfully versatility in his career, by showing himself to be equally adept at madcap comedies, as in Beetle Juice and Mr. Mom, and dramas like Jackie Brown or Clean and Sober. Mr. Keaton was very busy in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but for some reason, over the course of the last decade, he appeared in far fewer films, and though he still has a wonderful screen presence, he has chosen some rather forgettable projects, and thus his star has fallen a bit.
Unfortunately, White Noise has to be included among these recent poor career choices, as it is a film unworthy of either viewers’ attention or Michael Keaton’s presence in the lead role. Quite frankly, although I can’t think of another movie that focuses on EVP specifically, there are much better films treating with similar concepts that have already out there. And with that being the case, why would anyone want to watch a film that is mostly about a man sitting in front of a snowy monitor? Maybe next time Michael - I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you buddy…
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
White Noise has a very clean, sharp look, and Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer brings it home nicely. To begin with, whites are bright and noise –free, and colors are well drawn throughout the feature. The actors’ flesh tones have a very natural appearance as well.
The image is also extremely clean, and boasts plenty of detail, even in shots where the characters are distant from the camera (or made to appear so). Thankfully, I did not notice any compression artifacts, and the application of edge enhancement is extremely minimal. That is not the best news though. The best news is that for the bulk of the film, light is relatively scarce, or the weather is bad, but contrast and black levels do not waver! The result is plenty of detail in even the darkest scenes!
Universal has been known to turn in a disappointing transfer for some of its newer releases from time to time, but this is not one of them. Indeed, it is an excellent visual presentation overall, despite the challenging source material.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Universal has encoded White Noise’s soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it does a fine job of presenting the film’s audio information. Frequency response appeared to be even over the audible spectrum, and the soundstage was spacious enough for the soundtrack to generate the appropriate ambience and atmosphere. And since this is a newer production, you will probably not be surprised to hear that fidelity is also good, and that characters’ speech is warm, natural, and easily discernable throughout the film.
The surround channels are also used somewhat actively in this film, especially to bolster the startling effect the jump-scares Geoffrey Sax employs to attempt to scare viewers, and at other key points in the film. All in all, although I would stop short of saying that the soundtrack for White Noise is outstanding, it certainly should not register many complaints from those who elect to give the film a spin.
For White Noise, a feature-length commentary has been provided by director Geoffrey Sax and actor Michael Keaton, who departs during Chapter 16. These two fellows interact well, and there are not too many lengthy pauses, but with some exceptions their comments are generally not quite as interesting or detailed as I would have liked them to be. All in all its is not a bad commentary though, and if you like the film, it may be worth a listen, as you will hear things like:
--- Geoffrey Sax talking about some of the directorial choices he made, and the reasons for them.
--- Michael Keaton briefly describing how he tried to avoid reacting to the events in this film in a repetitive manner.
--- Discussions about how things like the design of the title sequence, the use of color schemes, and camera angles were used to create a sense of unease, or to emphasize Jonathan’s loneliness.
--- Keaton and Sax talking briefly about some of the other actors, and what it was like to work with them
A total of five deleted scenes are included, which run for about 9 1/2 –minutes (four are about 1 minute in length). This is only my opinion, of course, but I don’t think any of them would have added to the final cut of the film, so they were wisely deleted. They are entitled:
--- John Drives to Work
--- John Reports Anna Missing
--- Bar Scene
--- Balcony Hit
--- Shocking Twists
Making Contact: EVP Experts
This 8 ½-minute mini-doc gives viewers a basic overview of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), which is the study of paranormal/unexplained voices on various recording media. During the piece, members of the American Association of EVP speak about their desire to educate the public about the potential that this phenomenon offers for people to communicate with another reality.
Recording the Afterlife at Home
In this featurette, which runs for 4 ½-minutes, Tom and Lisa Butler, the co-directors of the American Association of EVP, give viewers a few different examples of how to do EVP recordings at home. Their instructions are simple and require minimal technology, and thus geared towards encouraging everyone to try and communicate with the dead.
Hearing Is Believing: Actual EVP Sessions
Tom and Lisa Butler return in this bonus feature (14 ½-minutes), which is hosted by Jim Moret. In it, they are shown in action, capturing EVP recordings in two real world settings - a haunted house in Hollywood and Chicago’s “The Excalibur” Nightclub – and then playing the messages they recorded back on their sophisticated computer setup. Are they really contacting the dead, or is it all some sort of trick? I will let you decide…
Trailers for Assault on Precinct 13, the Casino: 10th Anniversary DVD, and the Northern Exposure – Season Three DVD are included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
White Noise was especially disappointing for me. The main reason is that the premise and a good cast gave it the potential to be an entertaining film, but the end result was a horribly written, predictable thriller that is of little interest to all but the most hard-core Michael Keaton fans.
In terms of presentation, Universal has served White Noise well in the audio/visual departments, and the featurettes do provide a decent (if hokey) look at the study of Electronic Voice Phenomenon. The other extras, the deleted scenes and the audio commentary, are not quite as interesting.
Ultimately, it will be up to you whether or not to give White Noise a spin, but I would whole-heartedly recommend a rental before a purchase on this title…there are just too many better movies in the same vein out there.