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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/6/02

The Mothman Prophecies
2002 - Screen Gems (Columbia TriStar)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Mothman Prophecies Film Rating: B+

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

Specs and Features
119 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced (on Side A), full frame (1.33:1) (on Side B), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, Half Light music video, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

John: "What do you look like?"

Mothman: "It depends on WHO is looking."

In my first few reviews for the site, I've reviewed comedies. Yes, they're enjoyable, but they don't exactly make the most use out of the DVD format. Films that I call "Cinematic experiences" such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings do, as they make the most of their widescreen format, fully use the surround sound, and pretty much put you right in the action forcing you to get involved and not just react. The Mothman Prophecies is such a film, and what an experience it is.

Richard Gere plays John Klein, a reporter for the Washington Post who's recently married and has just bought a house with his wife, Mary (Debra Messing). On the car ride back to their apartment, Mary is frightened by something she thinks she sees in the road, swerves to get out of the way, and hits a telephone pole. While John suffers very little injury, Mary is traumatized with brain damage. Though she's rushed to a hospital, she dies only a few days later (don't worry... I'm not giving anything away. This happens in the first fifteen minutes). Before her death, Mary tried to draw the creature she thought she saw in the road. John finds her notebook full of these sketches - a large man with winged arms and bright red eyes.

Years later, John can't sleep one night and decides to go for a drive. When his battery runs out and John goes for some help, he's shocked to find that he's traveled from Washington D.C. to the West Virginia/Ohio boarder in two and a half hours (a feat impossible by car). The local sheriff (Laura Linney) takes notice, and explains to John that the whole town has had some weird things happen to them lately. Then she shows John a file full of sketches not unlike his late wife's.

After some research, John and Sheriff Connie find that this is part of strange phenomena called "The Prophecies of the Mothman". These strange coincidences and accidents begin to grow in frequency and intensity, building up to a major disaster. Soon John and Connie become quite frightened that the townspeople could soon be finding themselves in grave danger.

I'm not normally a fan of a filmmaker being REALLY stylistic, but it's the odd camera angles and cool edits that sell The Mothman Prophecies. Mark Pellington directed and, given his track record (which includes Arlington Road and Pearl Jam's Jeremy music video), one would expect such ominous and viscerally cool style. Yet this isn't style-over-substance, and a while there are a few holes in the plot every now and then, and some of the characters are underdeveloped, it's a really intriguing story.

Richard Gere gives a very subtle performance, as a man still haunted by the death of his wife, who feels this "Mothman" is responsible for the bad in the world. In fact, most people I talk to who've seen this film view the "Mothman" as an antagonist. Rather, I believe the "Mothman" is an alien or even a facet of god himself. The "Mothman" is trying to warn these people that the disasters are coming, not causing them, and "he" communicates through the only ways he knows how, such as coming to John in visions of his wife. I view the film very spiritually, and as an agnostic, it opens my mind to the possibility that while there may not be a god, there may be other forces at work looking over us or just checking in for time to time. Despite my analysis, that's not to say the film doesn't have its problems (including a climax that works but doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the film). But it's an intriguing and unique film nonetheless.

The downside to The Mothman Prophecies DVD being presented on a dual-sided disc is that it's only one layered, meaning that the film has to be compressed to just one layer to make room for the other side's full frame presentation. It's very unfortunate, because there is a lot of movement in the film, and the transfer really could have taken advantage of more bit space. This is the first time that I've really noticed MPEG-2 compression in a film of this budget. The picture is fine, but it just could have been a lot more special. I usually don't have too much of a problem with a cropped presentation for those who "don't like the black bars," but Mothman need the disc space badly.

On the other hand, the disc boasts one of the best audio mixes I've heard recently. Perhaps it's in the nature of the film, but the surrounds are in constant use. Both the score and the effects make great use of the rear channels. A great way to test this is to try this disc's 26th chapter. The scene slowly builds from an incredibly quiet scene to one that's filled with a cacophony of bending steel girders and terrifying score. I certainly hope someone at Sony remembers this film come Oscar time, because this sound mix is definitely worth an Oscar nomination. Along with Signs, it's my favorite soundtrack of this year. I'm also not one to call for a DTS track for it's own sake, but I'd love to hear this film in DTS.

The extras are a little disappointing, but the lack of them is mostly due to the disc being single layered on each side. The moderately interesting trailer is provided (in anamorphic widescreen), as is a music video of Half Light, the song played over the end credits, which is also directed by Mark Pellington. The video is interesting but, given Pellington's music video track record, could have been more exciting. Besides, if you like the song, just listen to it over the end credits as it's played in full surround sound. It's the type-of song the works well in 5.1 audio (I've somewhat unfairly compared the song to Massive Attack's Teardrop, sonically).

This film didn't do terribly well at the box office (about $35 million domestically), but The Mothman Prophecies is a very hard sell. Still, it ranks as a pretty terrifying thriller on a visceral level, and a very spiritual film on a deeper level. While the disc is a little lackluster, the audio track is amazing.

Graham Greenlee

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