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review added: 4/19/00



Psycho
Collector's Edition - 1998 (1999) - Universal

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Psycho (1998): Collector's Edition Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/B

Specs and Features

104 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 57:20, at the start of chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, Psycho Path documentary, audio commentary (with director Gus Van Sant, Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn), theatrical trailer, productions notes, cast and crew bios, Universal web links, screen savers, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (Dolby 2.0), Closed Captioned


"Newly Renovated" - sign in front of Bates Motel

Film fans everywhere screamed. Critics shrieked at the top of their lungs. Terrified moviegoers hid behind their hands. All this just from an announcement by Universal that they were remaking Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. What followed when Gus Van Sant's remake was actually released was even more screaming, shrieking and head shaking.

Psycho is a film that probably never should have been remade. Not because Gus Van Sant is incapable of making great films (Drugstore Cowboy is one of best films of the past 15 years), but because people love the original so much. Any attempt to remake it is going to be picked apart and criticized by ardent fans everywhere. In the end, Van Sant's effort to please fans of the original by doing a shot-for-shot remake (rather than an "update" of the film) ends up pleasing nobody. By restaging each individual scene, Van Sant set himself up to fail, because people will inevitably compare it to the original. It's nearly impossible to recapture that kind of magic.

Is Van Sant's remake completely horrible? Not exactly, but there are some really bad things about it. The little bit of "updating" that is done to an otherwise shot-for-shot remake seems stilted and obligatory. Before Sam and Lila (Viggo Mortensen and Julianne Moore) leave to look for Marion (Anne Heche) and Detective Arbogast (William H. Macy), Marion mentions something about retrieving her Walkman before they leave. Huh?! Or better yet, why? The scene where Norman (the miscast Vince Vaughn) peeps at Marion undressing through a hole in the parlor wall becomes laughable and embarrassing, as we are treated to the off-camera sounds of him pleasing himself. Again, why?

Van Sant pays a lot of attention to recreating (or getting one-up) on many of the details in the original film. Ultimately, that is where the film fails. A few things (such as the opening Phoenix skyline shot) were done the way Hitchcock intended but wasn't able to for various reasons. There is enough bold color in this film for two or three movies. It's almost as if he's rubbing in Hitchcock's face the fact that he's getting away with using color. Marion's wardrobe is loud, and many of the interior shots, before we get to the damp and dark Bates home, are decorated in obnoxious pastels.

So much attention gets paid to the film's technical details, that the acting actually suffers. This is a really good cast, but they are virtually wasted. Julianne Moore's performance as Lila is more angry than concerned over the disappearance of her sister. Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn seem to make decisions and give motives to their characters on the spot, rather than addressing them before hand. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Viggo Mortensen and William H. Macy. Mortensen makes Loomis' desires to meet Marion's sister more carnally-driven and Macy is good in his turn as Detective Arbogast.

Universal has done a nice job in preserving the film's image on DVD. Unlike their release of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, this DVD sports a beautiful anamorphic transfer (and how irritating is that?). Done from a very clean print, there is little noticeable edge enhancement or digital artifacting. Flesh tones seem a little on the orange side occasionally, but other than that, this is a very nice picture. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also very good. Danny Elfman's adaptation of Herrmann's trend-setting score creates a very nice sound field and adds mood to some of the more suspenseful scenes.

The extras are good, but are not on par with previous Universal collector's editions. The commentary by Van Sant, Heche and Vaughn is fun and at times amusing (as Van Sant is interrupted many times by Anne Heche interjecting something about the on screen goings-on). Psycho Path, the "making-of" documentary, is interesting but kind of brief. Gus Van Sant studied the DVD release of Psycho to make this movie, and he and the rest of the cast can be seen here watching it. Pat Hitchcock even makes an appearance to give her (and her father's) blessing to the project. The rest of the features (bios, a theatrical trailer, and the ever-popular web link) are the standard Universal fare.

This new version of Psycho isn't as bad as you may have heard, though it definitely has its problems. Sometimes it plays out like a plagiarized term paper... but even reading those can be lots of fun. Think of the original Psycho as your most treasured Faberge egg or Elvis collector's plate. Now imagine inviting some really cool celebrities (like Gus Van Sant, Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, William H. Macy and Viggo Mortensen) to a wild kegger at your place. Without a doubt, the place is going to be trashed and your egg or plate will get broken. At the very least, you'll be able to say, "My Franklin Mint, limited edition Elvis plate may be broken, but it was broken while Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn played catch with it in MY house!" That's some kind of consolation, isn't it?

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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