Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/7/00
1989 (1999) - Warner Bros.
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/D
Specs and Features
96 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
full-frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper case
packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens with sound,
scene access (30 chapters), languages: English and French (Dolby
Digital 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned
Billy Zane sweats. I
mean, man - this guy sweats a lot. Maybe its because he's
crazy. I hear that's what crazy people do, they sweat. One could
argue, by watching Dead Calm,
that Zane is sweating because it's summertime, the sun is blazing
down and he's in the middle of the ocean. To counter that, I present
Nicole Kidman, who doesn't sweat... er... I should say, glisten...
once during this entire movie, not even while he is attempting to
kill her. Kidman doesnt even break a bead while she's having
sex with him to try and get him not to kill her. I found myself
wondering if having sex with a deranged killer would actually work
in order to sway their opinion of who to kill and when. It seems to
work in movies, but I don't know anyone willing to be that guinea
pig. It's the moments like these that undermine the genuinely scary
and tense setups of Dead Calm.
After the losing their child in a car wreck (one of the sillier
moments of the movie - it looks as if a Chucky doll flew through the
windshield), John and Rae Ingram (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman)
decide to head to the seas for a little mind and body healing. A
couple weeks into their vacation, they spot an abandoned schooner.
Hughie (Billy Zane), the one surviving passenger, boats over to John
and Rae's ship. He explains that the entire crew of the ship died
from a bad case of food poisoning. As he's resting, John leaves Rae
alone with Hughie, and rows over to the schooner to check out
Hughie's story. Naturally, his story is balderdash - everyone on
board the fast-sinking ship died at his hands.
The really good parts of the movie are the scenes that rely on
action, rather than dialogue, between the characters. The camera
work and scenery are exhilarating and had me wanting more. Phillip
Noyce, who would later go on to direct Patriot
Games and Clear and Present
Danger, forms a taut web of suspense in two separate
story lines. In one, John is trying to escape the fast-sinking
schooner while trying to stay in touch with his endangered wife. In
the other, Rae is trying to stay alive and avoid further torture by
Hughie. During these parts of the movie, I was really involved and
on the edge of my seat. I wish there were more of them.
So, what do you do when you're in the middle of nowhere and there's
nowhere to hide? Well, if you're Rae, you just sort of keep yourself
in constant peril. There are opportunities in the movie for Rae to
really give it to Hughie and end her torture. But in the interest of
keeping the pace of the movie up, she instead teases him with death.
Sure, she could easily kill him at several points in the movie, but
she has a conscience... even in the face of his constant taunting
and punishment. Her character is otherwise written much more
intelligently than this, so these parts don't sit well with me.
In paying more attention to the action elements of the story, some
of the performances suffer. Billy Zane's performance is too
exaggerated to be believable. His constant zig-zagging between "desperately
wanting to be understood" antics and "maniacal killer on
the edge" craziness is hard to follow. I don't necessarily want
to know why he wants to kill them, but I do want to understand him
and believe that he would do it. We, as viewers, are left to figure
out why he would kill a whole boat full of people and leave himself
stranded in the middle of the ocean. Sam Neill's performance is the
stand out of the three. My guess is that since he is by himself most
of the movie, he is relegated to more physical acting, and Sam Neill
is a strong physical actor.
The video presentation of Dead Calm
is pretty good. The blacks are solid and there was only a small
amount of artifacting. Parts of the movie are really high on the
edge enhancement, resulting in some heavy halo effect, and the
colors look a bit washed out. Aside from that, this is a clean print
with a nice anamorphic transfer. The surround mix is also good, but
I would have liked to have heard more usage of the surround
speakers. They can be particularly useful in thrillers, and with all
the action and environmental noise of Dead
Calm, it would have added a lot to the feel of the movie.
Warner's DVD budget line is not heavy on the features. The
theatrical trailer, with an anamorphic treatment, and a French
language track with subtitles, is all you get here. What else can
you ask for at the $15 price level most places charge for this disc?
Maybe trailers for other movies in Warner's catalogue would be a
If you can turn on the part of your brain that allows the willing
suspension of disbelief, Dead Calm
is a very enjoyable movie. The ending asks a lot of that willing
suspension, and is very cornballish, but most of the movie is
suspenseful and lots of fun. With a cheap price tag attached to it,
this is a nice addition to Warner's budget line.