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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/31/00

The Changeling
1980 (2000) - HBO

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Changeling Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/D+/F

Specs and Features

115 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish and French, Closed Captioned

"That house is not fit to live in - no one's been able to live in it. It doesn't want people."

Fake blood, cheap scares and mutilated teenagers are not how you truly scare people. Sure, you can get an easy jump out of the audience by having the psycho fisherman lunge out of the shadows at the scantily clad, well-endowed 16-year-old co-ed, but... yawn. Tales of the supernatural - now that's the spooky stuff. What are we to do when we are terrorized by restless spirits with unfinished business, or even vengeance in mind? Ask John Russell (played by the late, great George C. Scott).

After losing his wife and daughter in a freak accident, John moves into a historic old mansion in Seattle. Still unnerved by his tragic loss, John begins experiencing unexplainable and bone-chilling sounds and images in the dark old house. Running short of logical explanations, John hosts a seance in the house to uncover some answers. What he discovers is a menagerie of greed and lies, starting with the murder of a crippled 5-year-old boy, named Joseph. Little Joseph - desperate to finally rest in peace - is frantically trying to communicate the truth to John. But when John learns how far this conspiracy goes, he will have his work cut out for him to avenge the little boy's fate.

The Changeling is half ghost story and half detective story. Unfortunately, the detective story is much less interesting than the ghost story, but you can't have one without the other here. The story is very intriguing, but the script is a bit hackneyed. Subsequently, the acting veers away from naturalistic to melodramatic. These negatives aside, the ghostly scenes are very effective. Director Peter Medak uses a brilliant sound design to portray ghostly Joseph as a distant and otherworldly (yet still chilling and immediate) presence. Joseph's small voice and distressful moans are exactly the sounds you would not want to hear if you were alone in a big, spooky house. The seance scene is simple, yet very exciting. With one minor exception, this scene does not use any special effects, and that's exactly what makes it work. In a movie like 1999's The Haunting, the filmmakers dictate to the audience what is supposed to be scary with lavish special effects, and that's absolutely the wrong approach. I say, let the audiences' imaginations go wild. What we conceive in our own minds is always more chilling than what a CGI expert can design.

Presented on DVD in anamorphic widescreen, the video on this disc easily beats the hell out of the full-frame version I taped off of Cinemax about 15 years ago. That said, it still falls well short of the best looking discs available today. Colors are fairly accurate, but the overall level of sharpness varies greatly from scene to scene. While some close-up shots and well-lit scenes appear surprisingly clear and detailed, other scenes are soft and hazy, giving away the fact that this is a 20-year-old film. The print used for the DVD transfer is very clean and free of anomalies, however compression artifacting is a constant problem. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio is very problematic. The sound is harsh and is anchored in the center speaker. Occasionally, the entire sound environment will light up with audio, but it's so inconsistent that these instances feel very gimmicky, and the problem with harshness will have you reaching for the volume control. Dialogue sounds veiled and boxy, and the lovely piano sonatas featured in the story lack smooth fidelity. The usual cast and crew bios haunt this disc as the lone extra, but I can hardly consider this a serious supplement.

An effective ghost story and passable detective story, The Changeling will provide some shivers and screams for late night viewing. Problematic audio and video and a complete lack of extra features will make this DVD a hard sell for those who have never experienced this film before. But fans like myself can celebrate the fact that The Changeling is finally available on our favorite format (and it's presented in anamorphic widescreen to boot). Give it a spin... but don't let Joseph push you around.

Greg Suarez
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