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review added: 3/29/01



What Lies Beneath
2000 (2001) - DreamWorks

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

What Lies Beneath Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

130 mins, PG-13 letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:14:35 in chapter 14), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (by producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, and director Robert Zemeckis), HBO First Look featurette, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0, and DTS 5.1), subtitles: English captioned for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned

Before I even get into the review of What Lies Beneath, I should tell you to avoid the extras (including the trailer) until after you've watched the film. Trust me... you won't regret it. Dreamworks has taken the liberty of giving away all the surprises in What Lies Beneath in the trailer, by showing all the plot points in the story (and the few twists that made it exciting) in its two-and-a-half minute running time. What that means for a movie like this, is if you happen upon any of this material before actually seeing the film, it's not going to be as enjoyable as it should or could be. What Lies Beneath is an average thriller that did indeed have a few interesting threads woven into its storyline. Had these parts of the story NOT been shown in the trailers... perhaps it could have been a little more effective than it was.

Okay... on to the story. The Spencers live quite comfortably in a scenic, lakeside home in New England. Norman (Harrison Ford) is a well-respected professor at a local university, and he spends much of his time doing research in his lab. His wife, Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), spends her time at home raising their daughter. But after their daughter leaves for college, Claire has a little more time on her hands - time to notice the fishy goings on next door and an increasingly angry spirit which seems to haunt their own house. Claire eventually tells Norman what's going on at home, and also that she suspects something freaky is going on next door with their not-so-happily married neighbor couple. Naturally, he doesn't believe her, so she does what any suspicious person would do - she consults a ouija board and her otherworldly obsessed friend, Jody (Diana Scarwid).

When Claire learns that the spirit in her house may have closer ties to her home life than she originally thought, the story starts to become a little more involving. Some of the scares here are genuinely suspenseful, without ever being too hammy or extreme. It's not often that a PG-13 movie can manage to be both suspenseful and involving. This is also where Michelle Pfeiffer starts to carry most of the weight of the movie. She's good in her role, and she lends some integrity to a story that is sometimes over-the-top (especially the ending) and awfully self-indulgent. Ten to twenty minutes could easily have been shaved off of this flick and the story wouldn't have suffered any.

The scares in What Lies Beneath are often standard suspense setups and payoffs. They're not poorly executed, but they don't offer anything that hasn't been done before in movies with smaller budgets and more scares. This is a standard, by the numbers type thriller, but it's dressed up with a first-rate cast and a well-known director to make it stand out from the crowd. This film is literally brimming with Hitchcock references. There's so many references, in fact, that it teeters on distraction. It's not that I don't get a kick out of the "homage" to Hitchcock, but it feels like they're there to package this movie for adults and legitimize what could otherwise be considered cheap thrills.

On DVD, What Lies Beneath is satisfying enough, but when compared to other Dreamworks releases, it falls a little short. What we're given is a decent looking anamorphic transfer, culled from a clean source print. Color reproduction and saturation seem to be on, as do black level and shadow detailing. What drags the picture down just a notch is the lack of fine detail. It looks like Dreamworks tried to remedy that with some edge enhancement, and that does create a small amount of haloing around some of the brighter edges. A minor distraction, but a distraction nonetheless.

What Lies Beneath, like most of Dreamworks recent releases, comes with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on the same disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a good mix, but is only slightly above average. Bass response is adequate, and the front end of the sound field is used to full effect. Much of the track is very crisp and distinct, but the majority of the movement in the mix involves the music. The surround channels are used almost exclusively for the score, so the mix doesn't come across as very lively. Ditto the DTS track. It's also a decent sounding mix, but it only adds a bit more depth and strength to the sound field as a whole. There's nothing inherently wrong with either track, but they lack the strength of other really good DVD audio mixes (U-571 and X-Files: Fight the Future, for example) that put you in the middle of the action.

The extras are the standard fare for a Dreamworks disc that's not given the full special edition treatment. Best of the features is the audio commentary by director Robert Zemeckis and producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke. Zemeckis dishes out some good information here and there, but never really sounds too excited about the project. And the producers spend a great deal of time patting Zemeckis on the back for a job well done, which definitely gets old quickly. My guess is that it's only going to be good for a listen once through. The behind-the-scenes featurette is the HBO First Look segment that aired prior to the film's release. Like the commentary track, this also sheds some light on the making of the film. It's a promotional piece though, so it's not going to knock your socks off with insightful information. Cap this off with some production notes, cast and crew bios and the theatrical trailer (in anamorphic widescreen), and you've got a fair batch of extras.

What Lies Beneath is one of those films where you're really better off knowing as little as possible about the movie when you go into it. It's not the best flick in the world, but it does manage to pull its strings together tightly enough to become entertaining. It's a good Saturday night rental and it makes for good viewing on DVD. If you like your Hitchcock references shoved down your throat Brian DePalma-style, then there's bound to be some entertainment value in What Lies Beneath for you.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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