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review added: 10/30/01



The Haunting

reviews by Florian Kummert of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs


The Haunting


The Haunting
Signature Selection - 1999 (1999) - DreamWorks

Film Rating: D

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C

Specs and Features:

113 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 42:47, in chapter 11), behind-the-scenes feature hosted by Catherine Zeta-Jones, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, cast and filmmaker bios, production notes, animated film themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English




The Haunting (DTS)

Encoded with DTS 6.1 ES Digital Surround

The Haunting (DTS)
Signature Selection - 1999 (2000) - DreamWorks

Film Rating: D

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/C

Specs and Features:

113 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 42:47, in chapter 11), behind-the-scenes feature hosted by Catherine Zeta-Jones, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, cast and filmmakers bios, production notes, animated film themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DTS-ES Discrete 6.1 & DD 2.0), subtitles: English



"It's like Charles Foster Kane meets the Munsters."

I'll admit it right away, The Haunting is not exactly Citizen Kane. It's actually a very silly, stupid flick. But then again, I happen to like silly, stupid flicks... as long as they're entertaining (even if that wasn't the original intention of the filmmakers). But hey - intended or not, The Haunting is entertaining... especially if you're equipped with a big case of beer. I guess a director like Jan de Bont, who isn't known for his subtly or his skill to pull off a character-driven story, was a bad choice to begin with, especially for a genuine character based chiller. I think you can tell right from the start that The Haunting wanted to be just that. And although the film has all the special effects money can buy, it never produces any excitement or momentum because we just don't care about any of these characters. After Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Haunting, de Bont better come up with something real good if he wants to keep any credibility in Hollywood.

The Haunting is based on the classic novel The Haunting of Hill House by Queen of the Creepy, Shirley Jackson. In it, a grand collection of well-drawn characters are thrown into the supernatural world of Hill House, an old mansion with an ugly past. In this film version, we find the same basic plot with a decidedly modern edge. The whole point of the film is to get a group of people in a haunted house. So, to do that, we meet one Doctor Marrow, played by a maddeningly boring Liam Neeson. The good doctor invites three subjects to the house for a sleep deprivation experiment. The group he picks is even more boring. They include Owen Wilson (who tries, but can't save the film), Lili Taylor (zzzzzzz) and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sexy bi-sexual (whatever). All arrive at the big, scary house (which is guarded by creepy 70's holdover and supposed gatekeeper Bruce Dern). The trouble begins when Lili Taylor's character, Nell, becomes frighteningly drawn to the house. You see, some truly badass spirit by the name of Hugh Crane is ready to party in Hill House, and it won't be long before the giant mansion, with all of its numerous and cavernous rooms, shows that it is, in fact, very much alive and ready to start picking off its guests one by one.

Stories of ghosts and haunted houses have long been entertainment staples. The film's two producers, Susan Arnold and Donna Arkoff Roth, have family roots in the fright genre. Roth's father, Samuel Arkoff, was responsible for numerous classic horror flicks such as The Amityville Horror. Arnold's dad is none other than famed director Jack Arnold, who helmed Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space. Still, as deep as those family roots are, they just don't seem to be deep enough to guarantee a solid, scary movie.

But The Haunting also has its fascinating qualities, above all the production design. Production designer Eugenio Zanetti's elaborate sets are marvelous, blending architectural styles from all over the world. Hill House looks fantastic, especially the huge doors in the Great Hall, inspired by Rodin's The Gates of Hell. These set designs provide the film with an interesting atmosphere - this house is full of menace and we can feel it. Oh... if only the rest of the film was only half as good as the set design, it probably would have rocked. But as it is, The Haunting didn't rock anything and ended up just being a tiny pebble on the vast beach of silly B-movies.

Whether the film works or not, it looks wonderful on DVD. DreamWorks released two versions of The Haunting, and both are exactly the same except for the sound options. One features Dolby Digital 5.1 and the other is a DTS-ES edition with much more killer sound. The video on both editions feature outstanding transfers. The anamorphic, 2.35:1 video exhibits awesome contrast. The colors are rich and fully saturated. Fleshtones on the spot and blacks couldn't be any deeper. The image exhibits a high level of detail. I couldn't detect any distracting compression artifacting.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio version is absolutely excellent. It was sourced from a 16-bit, matrix-encoded Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1 channel master. It's full of excellent surround effects, clear dialogue and full-on bass - if you don't have access to DTS, you're not going to be hurting for sound quality. But if you do have access to DTS, you're in for a treat. The DTS-ES Discrete 6.1 version is from a newly created discrete 6.1 master at 24-bit depth, encoded at 754 kilobits per second. So it's a bit unfair comparing the two discs, but hey - that's life. The DTS sound of The Haunting is a breathtaking home theater audio experience. You (and all your neighbors within the same zip code) can literally feel the soundtrack deep down in the belly. The vastness of Hill House is perfectly recreated in the vast spatiality of this track. The surround speakers have to put in extra shifts, as directional sound effects hit you permanently. The discrete back surround channel is very effective and expands the sound field enormously. The DTS-ES disc sounds clearer, more detailed and powerful than any other soundtrack I know. As for the bass, well... my neighbor must hate me a lot now. The Haunting has the deepest bass I ever heard on DVD. Check out chapter 17 and you'll really know and FEEL what a good subwoofer can do. Be careful though - the subterranean rumble of The Haunting can damage your sound system if it's not calibrated properly. The dynamic range in all channels is incredible, as if to try and summon up the ghost of Hugh Crane into your own home.

DreamWorks may have released The Haunting as a Signature Selection, but the disc is far from being a full-fledged special edition. We get two trailers, which are actually creepier than the movie itself. There's also a featurette which is quite entertaining, as we also get to know a bit about Jack Arnold and Samuel Arkoff (courtesy of their daughters) and can watch a few clips from their films. We also get plenty on the making of The Haunting through interviews, commentary from Zeta-Jones and clips of the filming. The cast and crew information is quite extensive, along with some production notes. You also have nicely animated menus, which take you to a different hall in the house with each new selection.

Can I recommend The Haunting? Not really. The regular DVD edition is fine, with great sound and video quality. I'd feel better recommending the DTS version though. Even if the film doesn't really deserve this excellent sound, it kicks major butt. Every good DTS-equipped home theater should have the DTS version of this DVD in their library. This 6.1 surround sound assault is too good to be missed. If there were a perfect DTS demonstration DVD out there on the market, it would be this film.

Florian Kummert
floriankummert@thedigitalbits.com


The Haunting


The Haunting (DTS)


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