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THE GRUDGE  (2004)

Region 2 (UK) Edition

Director Takashi Shumizu

Featuring:  Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, Ryo Ishibashi

THE FILM

Stripped of the alien-ness of the Japanese language, and without the virtual anonymity of the cast members, Takashi Shumizu's remake of his own 2003 film Ju-On, is an odd and unimpressive film. Ju-On's odd, creepy, off-kilter atmosphere has been diluted by the presence of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Sarah Michelle Gellar and other Westernised elements and influences. The new film closely models itself on the original, but the grit has been polished out of it. Pasty-faced children are chilling in the Japanese film, but the same figures in the US version seem like pale imitations.

One of the film's biggest weaknesses is the casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar (as an exchange student drawn into a malevolent house). She's an accomplished actress, but the baggage she carries from her role as Buffy, and our familiarity with all her acting nuances, are obstructive. The unique Tokyo landscapes enhance the film considerably, and help disguise the Buffy-ness of it all, but can't totally eliminate the sense that the film is merely going through the motions. It's not even vaguely scary, but then what do you expect from a film targeted at thirteen year-olds?

THE DVD

The static menus on Universal Home Video's disc do little to help acclimatise the viewer for the film they're about to see. They also suggest a certain cheapness on the part of the studio.

The film is presented in 1.85:1 format, with anamorphic enhancement. It's not an attractive-looking film, and although the transfer might be a perfect facsimile of the film as the director and cinematographer intended, it's drab and ugly. It's also generally a very dark film, too. This is, of course, par for the course with a genre movie of this type. However, even the scenes lit with bright sunshine lack vibrancy. Some of the screen-shots used here needed considerable brightening and contrast enhancement.

For a modern Hollywood-financed film, there's a surprising amount of dirt on the transfer. It's not distracting, but it is there. There are signs of edge enhancement in some shots, but it's well under control, and should only be a problem on very large displays. There are also some fleeting examples of MPEG macro-blocking, but these should not be evident under normal viewing conditions.

The film is only eighty-seven minutes long, so it's able to take advantage of a quite high average bit-rate:  7.49Mb/s. This may explain why it seems unusually grainy - the grain hasn't been removed by noise reduction software to help keep the bit-rate under control.

There are English subtitles for the film, the commentary track and the bonus features. There's a moment in the commentary track where Sarah Michelle Gellar is discussing a scene where she's performing with an actress with a long, synthetic wig, and a cigarette lighter, and the subtitles make a mildly amusing error. Instead of "So I kept worrying that I would torch her completely", they say "So I kept worrying that I would torture her completely". It must be the accent.

The film has several sequences where Japanese dialogue is subtitled, and a few shots where there are English caption translations for Japanese text (the writing on some envelopes, and an entry in a diary, for example). These are burnt-in, and not player-generated.

The layer change (at the end of chapter 22, 68'05" into the film) is very well-chosen and not at all disruptive.

There's only one audio soundtrack on the disc: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track (at 448kbps). The mix is often aggressive, with heavy dramatic chords provided by Hellraiser composer Christopher Young, very much on autopilot. The sound effects design is often effective, though, and there are some nice moments that play with separation effects, but generally it's not remarkable.

THE BONUS MATERIAL

Universal hasn't been stingy with the bonus features on the disc.

The film is supported by a commentary track featuring eight of the film's cast and crew members (stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Clea DuVall, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, producers Robert Tapert, Ted Raimi and Sam Raimi, and screenwriter Stephen Susco). It's a very entertaining track, with plenty of good-natured banter between the participants, who closely bonded during their stay in Tokyo. There's a lot of giggling about the cultural differences they encountered, and about how much effort various individuals made to blend in, or not, as the case may be. There are also a few occasions where they're self-consciously aware of how shallow they are being, and how pampered Hollywood stars are in their own country. Everybody seems largely oblivious to the film's shortcomings, and no-one delves too deeply into the history of the film, or its relationship with its predecessor. As is often the case with large group commentaries, it's sometimes difficult to identify each contributor. In the absence of the director, it's Gellar who takes the lead, and since it's her presence in the film that will draw many customers, it's probably just as well.

A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge  (48m)

This documentary, produced and directed by Michael Gillis, is broken down into five segments: The Birth of The Grudge, Myth of the Ju-On, Culture Shock: The American Cast in Japan, Designing The Grudge House and A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu.

Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen format, this is straightforward look at the making of the film, featuring the usual mix of behind-the-scenes footage and talking heads (including Gellar and Bill Pullman, who has a supporting role in the film). It also features contributions from the director, and some of the Japanese cast and crew members (these sequences are in Japanese, with player-generated subtitles). It's a bit of a patchwork, as if it was cobbled together using tons of b-roll footage and promotional interviews, but generally worthwhile and substantial. 

Under The Skin    (12m)

An academic look at how horror films scare us, courtesy of Joseph LeDoux, Ph.d, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology. This is illustrated using clips from the film, and from other films, like William Castle's The Tingler. It's rather dry, and there won't be many viewers who wouldn't have cheerfully ditched this for a few minutes of deleted scenes, or a blooper reel.

There is some discussion during the commentary about scenes that were filmed, but not used, and about material cut to achieve its MPAA PG-13 rating, but none of the excised footage has ended up on the DVD. They also note that a different shot of Gellar in the shower was used in the TV adverts, but these aren't on the disc either. While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that the shower sequence is strictly PG-13 material. It's the marketing people's job to lure punters in with the suggestion of seeing some flesh, and my duty to warn anyone who might be tempted to see the film because of it that they're likely to be disappointed!

SUMMARY

The Grudge remake is a tame, bland horror film. There are few chills, but it should satisfy fans of Sarah Michelle Gellar. The transfer is probably a faithful replication of the film's theatrical presentation, but it's dark and dull, and not ideally suited to the small screen.

The commentary track and the A Powerful Rage documentary are worthwhile, and help to make the disc considerably more attractive.

The disc's content appears to exactly match that of the US edition, which is on the Columbia Tristar label (the UK disc starts with a Columbia logo', too). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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