HTF REVIEW: "Insomnia" (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Oct 7, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein


    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 2002
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 118 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish

    Don't close your eyes.
    Amongst a sea of blockbusters that dominated this
    past Summer slate came this sleepless "sleeper"
    that was smartly played and smartly directed by
    Christopher Nolan (Memento). In fact, this film
    managed to bring the director closer to the
    Hollywood major leagues thanks to its gripping
    and forceful story and a cast of Oscar winners
    that include Al Pacino, Robin Williams and
    Hilary Swank.
    Will Dormer (Al Pacino), is a legend in the Los
    Angeles Police Department. He's also a cop under
    investigation by his own internal affairs department
    for tampering with evidence in a case against a
    child-molester. Flying on assignment into a remote
    spot in Alaska with his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan),
    Will has the look of a jaded, exhausted cop. They
    have been called to investigate a teenage girl who
    has been beaten and murdered. It's the biggest
    thing that has happened for a long time in this
    small community, known for being the "Halibut fishing
    capital of the world" and for having 24 hours a
    day of sunlight in the summer.
    Under the glare of the region's perpetual daylight,
    Dormer and Hap close in on the primary suspect,
    reclusive novelist Walter Finch (Robin Williams).
    During a tense stakeout on a rocky, fog-shrouded beach,
    Finch slips into the mist and out of Dormer's grasp.
    As he makes his escape, shots ring out and Dormer
    makes the mistake of his life.
    As he struggles to cope with his sense of
    responsibility and remorse over the accident, he
    gets drawn into a psychological game of cat-and-mouse
    by sociopathic Finch. Problems go from bad to
    worse as a young, brilliant Detective Ellie Burr
    (Hilary Swank) gets assigned to the investigation.
    The overzealous police woman slowly unfolds a truth
    that could topple Dormer, who happens to be her idol.
    Though Insomnia received critical praise
    for being surreal and dark (despite its perennial
    daylight), the film isn't perfect. I felt that
    Nolan got a little too lost in his own style as
    the film moves a little too slowly, often coming
    to a complete stop. Fortunately, the film survives
    greatly on the performances of Pacino and Swank,
    although I had to do a little adjusting in
    believing Robin Williams as an ominous psychopath.
    Unfortunately, he isn't fully convincing as a
    callous killer.
    How is the transfer?
    Insomnia joins the long list of consistently
    stunning quality DVD product from Warner Brothers.
    What makes this film so wonderful to watch is its
    cinematography. As the film opens, a small plane
    flies over the barren wasteland of jagged mountains
    and broken ice that makes up so much of the rugged
    terrain of Alaska. Watching these beautifully
    photographed scenes only reminds you why you love
    this format so much. There are no flaws to be
    found in this vividly crisp transfer that remains
    well detailed throughout, even when shrouded in
    deep fog. Whites are perfectly clean and colors
    are well represented here -- never becoming
    The 5.1 mix is mostly satisfying thanks to its
    robust sound full of dynamic range and noticeable
    stereo separation across the front channels. The
    rears do a fairly good job of recreating the film's
    outdoor environment. You'll notice how nicely
    sounds come together in creating an eerie atmosphere
    during a fog chase. Unfortunately, the LFE channel
    was sort of weak, making the film a little less
    "jarring" than it could have been.
    Special Features
    Warner Brothers has released Insomnia in
    separate widescreen and full frame editions. Both
    feature a sizeable amount of supplemental material.
    To begin, the DVD contains a unique full-length
    commentary by Director Christopher Nolan[/b].
    I say unique, because the commentary coincides
    with the order the film was shot in. As you begin,
    you find yourself somewhere in the middle of the
    film as Ellie (Hilary Swank) is doing a little
    background check on Will Dormer. In the lower
    black bar area, we find titling that indicates
    that this is Day One of the filming, scene
    #111. Though this may be one of the oddest
    commentaries to date, I found it a fascinating
    study of how the Director chose to piece his film
    together. Why not start with a simple scene to
    warm up the actors? As a viewer, I was fascinated
    with Nolan taking us day-by-day through the film's
    production. He is very particular about pointing
    out the complexities of each scene, as well as
    the mannerisms of each actor. Watching and listening
    to this commentary was the closest thing to being
    in film school. Nolan is the perfect teacher, barely
    taking a breath between his meticulous descriptions.
    There are five Screen specific commentaries
    with Hilary Swank, Hillary Seitz (Screenwriter),
    Wally Psister (Director of Photography), Nathan
    Crowley (Production Designer)
    and Dody Dorn
    . Each of these individuals get a
    few minutes of dedicated screen time that total
    almost 45 minutes in length. Swank begins the
    commentary by describing how like her character,
    she was in awe of Pacino. She was also in awe of
    Nolan, who she describes as directing this film
    like a road map, knowing every inch of his territory.
    Seitz talks about being very wary about
    remakes, but was fascinated with the story of a film that
    looks at the nature of an accident that happens within a
    split-second. She was grateful that the studio
    permitted the film to be dark rather than having a
    happy ending. Pfister talks about the
    importance of involving movement in his shots. He
    also talks about the use of indoor and outdoor
    lighting to set the mood of his scene. Crowley
    was rather rushed in scouting his locations, and
    talks about his journey of discovery. He was very
    proud of the scenes that took place at Bear Lake.
    Dorn talks about a powerful scene with
    Pacino that she had to re-edit several times due to
    the fact that Nolan felt wasn't being conveyed
    powerfully enough. The insertion of glances from
    Pacino's character finally made the scene right.
    180 degrees: A conversation with Christopher
    Nola and Al Pacino is a fascinating personal
    conversation between the Director and Oscar-winning
    actor. Pacino and Nolan almost interview each
    other on such topics as rehearsals and performing
    in theater vs. film. This is one of those rare
    moments that you can just sit back and watch an
    interview-shy Pacino talk about his views of film.
    (length: approx. 17 minutes)
    Day For Night: The making of Insomnia is
    the standard promotional fare that begins with
    the filmmakers (Nolan, Soderbergh) talking about
    the almost Hitchcock-like atmosphere of the film.
    Nolan describes his desire to make this a very
    dark film despite its perpetual daylight. There
    are a few on location sequences shown here, some
    featuring Robin Williams joking on the set. Both
    he and Swank add some insight into their characters.
    It was kind of cool to hear Williams talk about
    bringing normalcy to his character in order to make
    him more creepy.
    (length: approx. 7.5 minutes)
    In The Fog is two separate short featurettes
    that take a look at Wally Pfister's cinematography
    and Nathan Crowley's Production design. The highlight
    of this piece involves creating the film's climatic fog
    chase that included building interior and exterior
    cabins as well as flooding the outdoor set with smoke.
    Most of the material seems to repeat itself across
    both parts, but is somewhat fascinating to watch.
    (length: approx. 15 minutes)
    There are two additional scenes presented
    here. They are dialogue scenes between Will and
    Rachel that takes place in a hallway and then the
    bar. An optional commentary by Nolan tells us that
    the dialogue didn't seem to fit that well into the
    film, coming at a very unfortunate time in the
    (length: approx. 3 minutes)
    Eyes Wide Open takes a look at stories
    from real-life suffers of insomnia as well as the
    opinions of professional doctors about stress and
    anxiety that continues to build in those deprived
    of sleep.
    (length: approx. 8 minutes)
    Promotional materials include:
    From the evidence room brings us almost
    three dozen publicity stills that run automatically
    through a cycle. In addition, the film's original
    theatrical trailer is included.
    Cast and Crew gives access to filmographies
    of a limited amount of cast members. DVD-ROM
    content gives you access to Warner website links.
    Final Thoughts
    It must of been a great task for Director Nolan
    to follow up his successful Memento with
    a film that is a little more sure-footed. While
    credit must be given to his accomplishments, this
    potentially brilliant dramatic mystery tends to
    be under paced, ending with a rather unsatisfying
    Still, Insomnia is a must-see film, thanks
    to its performances by Swank and particularly Pacino
    (who I hope will get an Oscar nod for his performance).
    Warner has done a terrific job with this transfer,
    making this DVD a worthy addition to your collection.
    Release Date: October 15, 2002
  2. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

    Aug 13, 2000
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    I thought this was a pretty good movie. Nice to hear it has a great transfer. Warner definitely knows something that some other studios don't (look how good Training Day looked). If I can pick this up at a good price, I will get it.
  3. Aaron Gould

    Aaron Gould Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 4, 2002
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    London, Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Aaron Gould
    Thanks for the review Ron!

    I'll probably pick this up too if the price is low enough. I saw this in the theatre with great anticipation, but, like Ron, found it a bit slow at times.

    One segment in particular seemed too long. The part where Dormer and Finch are talking on the ferry seemed like an hour (it was probably 5-10 minutes). I just wanted them to get on with the show! Did anyone else think the same at this point?

    Aside from this scene however, it was a fairly impressive movie. Excellent scenery and even better performances.
  4. James D

    James D Second Unit

    Jul 1, 2001
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    I recommend everyone checking out the original 'Insomnia'. It's a Norwegian film from 1997 with a GREAT performance by Stellan Skarsgard. Criterion released a nice disc of this version a couple of years back. As a point of trivia, it was Criterion's first anamorphic release.
  5. Mike Graham

    Mike Graham Supporting Actor

    Aug 31, 2001
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    By far one of 2002's best so far. Pacino really out did himself here with a wonderfully subtle performance that silenced his critics who were commenting on his over acting from time to time.

    After I watched the film, I was taken aback by Williams' performance - I thought it was one of his best. At first he's hard to get used since we're used to seeing him break out in hysterics, but here he just plays it low-key like Pacino, making it even more disturbing with the idea such a normal man could commit such crimes (Swank and Nicky Katt also turn in great supporting performances).

    True, the film's pacing isn't for everyone, but I felt it helped increase the atmosphere of the film. Technically speaking, the cinematography and score were fantastic, while Nolan once again proved his directing talents.

    Ron, I'm so glad to hear from you that the disc boasts a strong video presentation and that the extras are at least worth checking out - October 15th can't come fast enough.
  6. Dave Scarpa

    Dave Scarpa Producer

    Apr 8, 1999
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    Real Name:
    David Scarpa
    I Like to take time out for a filmthat develops it's plot slowly and not in the use of CGI and Explosions. I Liked Memento I'll check it out.
  7. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Dec 11, 2000
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    Ron, thanks for the review. With the mixed reactions to this, I think I'll rent it first.

    I'll second James D's recommendation of the original version. Criterion's transfer is excellent.
  8. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Aug 3, 2002
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    Exemplary DVD review as ever, Ron. [​IMG]
    I just ordered the DVD today. Can't wait to check this one out! Great to hear that the transfer is great. Peter Bracke at DVD File gave it 5 out of 5:
    Glorious stuff! [​IMG]
  9. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

    Dec 4, 2001
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    Nice review Ron. Since I enjoyed the director's previous effort - Memento, I think I'll take my chance on this one...the story sounds rather fascinating.
  10. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Thanks for the review, Ron. I'm on the fence with Steve on this one.

  11. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Jun 19, 1999
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    Great to see Warner continue their top notch transfers.
    Warner offers the best transfers for new releases.

    I also recommend everyone checking out the original '97 Norwegian film - which I think is a perfect film.
  12. Guy_K

    Guy_K Second Unit

    Aug 14, 2001
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    I've seen the remake and original versions of Insomnia. Since I saw the new one first, I prefer it to the original (simply because of its higher production values, although I believe Stellan Skarsgard had the better performance). They are very similar. One difference I noted is that in the original, the lead character is much more flawed and unlikeable.
  13. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Thanks Guy, I may have to check it out. [​IMG]
    I've been on the fence--you just gave me a push.
  14. CraigL

    CraigL Screenwriter

    Jan 16, 2000
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    Best movie I saw this past summer...loved every minute of it. Didn't feel it was slow at all and found it a helluva lot more engaging than Momento.

    Two thumbs up!
  15. Piers C

    Piers C Stunt Coordinator

    Jun 3, 2002
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    I have to lump this one in the category of "Why even attempt a remake?" Hollywood continues to baffle me.
  16. Runar_R

    Runar_R Second Unit

    Dec 4, 2001
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  17. Martin Jeeves

    Martin Jeeves Supporting Actor

    Oct 18, 2000
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    Thanks for the review Ron.

    I watched the DVD last night. As always (for a Warner release) the picture was stunning. The extras were also very good and well structured (I haven't checked all of them out yet). BUT, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SOUND. I felt that the surrounds were quite quiet and the dialogue (particularly Pacino) was muffled - VERY MUFFLED. I guess the movie must have sounded like that theatrically as well as Hilary Swank is as clear as a doorbell, but Pacino is so closely mic'ed that he sounds like he's chewing on it. I understood maybe half the things he said, and the muffled quality of the dialogue with the quiet (dull) surrounds (even in the action scenes) was very distracting to me. Anyone else notice this? Ron?
  18. rhett

    rhett Supporting Actor

    May 11, 2001
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    INSOMNIA is a great film, and it is so far one of my favorites of the year (along with CHANGING LANES). I never felt the story was too slow, Nolan spends a lot of time fleshing out the bleak and over-exposed shots of Alaska, and the cinematography is at times beautiful. I was hoping Williams would be a little more forceful, but thankfully he got the job done in ONE HOUR PHOTO.

    Pacino is in top form here, and I too hope he gets another nod from the Oscars this year. He was great in the underrated S1M0NE, and from what I hear he brings down the house in PEOPLE I KNOW. So needless to say, 2002 is a gift for Pacino fans like myself.

    I highly recommend this film for people looking for a slow moving, but very satisfying, character drama.
  19. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

    Aug 1, 2002
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    I'm really pissed. Apparently Blockbuster is only going to carry the fullscreen Insomnia DVD. I didn't see this at theaters and have been waiting for months to see it. This is a big letdown. [​IMG]
    According to IMDb, Insomnia was shot in Super 35, but according to Leonard Maltin's movie guide it was Panavision. Does anyone know which is correct?
  20. Martin Jeeves

    Martin Jeeves Supporting Actor

    Oct 18, 2000
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    I thought that "Insmonia" and the Diane Lane adultery thriller "Unfaithful" were the two best "adult" oriented thrillers of the past year. Great acting in both and I'm sure they will get Oscar noms! However, the disc itself is stunning except for the audio. Can anyone else verify the muffled quality of the soundtrack, particularly Pacino? Was it like that theatrically as well? I can't remember.


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