"I'm just up here to find a missing girl whom people are pretending doesn't exist."
There's got to be a rational explanation for how movies like The Wicker Man redux get produced by otherwise talented filmmakers who ought to know better. Neil LaBute may not have proven himself as a bonafide auteur yet, but he's directed some interesting, intelligent movies such as In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and especially the underrated dark comedy Nurse Betty that show him to have a distinctive authorial voice. And yet here comes a pointless remake of a 1973 cult horror movie, assembled with shockingly artless ineptitude. Was he that desperate to sell out to mainstream Hollywood? How sad.
Nicolas Cage stars as Edward Malus, a California motorcycle cop sidelined for stress-related issues after witnessing a horrific car accident in which a woman and young girl were killed. Popping anti-anxiety pills like candy, Malus isn't ready to go back to work yet but becomes intrigued by a letter from an ex-girlfriend pleading for his help in finding her missing daughter. So Malus sets off for the rural community of SummersIsle, located on a remote, difficult-to-access island off the coast of Oregon. In investigating the child's disappearance, the policeman finds little help from the locals, who've formed a bizarre, cult-like matriarchal farming commune and don't have much fondness for strangers. Every question he asks is met with a deliberately confusing riddle of an answer, usually mixing the past and future tenses. Even the ex-girlfriend can't seem to get her facts straight. At first he's told that no one knows of the girl at all, then later that she died and the mother is simply suffering from grief. Refusing to accept either answer, Malus continues to dig into the mysteries of this strange community until discovering their practice of pagan harvest and fertility rituals, one of which may require a sacrifice to their ancient gods.
The original Wicker Man is a well regarded example of the British horror genre, often praised for the religious dynamic it establishes between the sternly Christian police detective and the uninhibited pagans, both of whom are viewed as intractable extremists. The remake throws almost all of that away, changing the conflict from one of faith to sex instead. Malus is basically an arrogant sexist jerk, charging into town and pushing women around to get the answers he wants. The women of the island in turn have enslaved men and treat them like animals. LaBute has explored the battle of the sexes in most of his previous movies and no doubt continues to find it fertile territory for drama. The problem is that whereas his other movies depict sexist behavior as a commentary on misogyny, in this one the film itself is just straight-up misogynistic, a tale of evil feminist wackos full of murderous deceit.
But the real problem with the new Wicker Man is its incompetence as either a thriller or a drama. The plot is absurdly contrived, filled with blatant lapses in logic or coherency, and its twist ending (retained from the original) doesn't work at all because we just don't care about the characters. The movie continues to take itself much too seriously even as events turn outrageously ridiculous in the last act, which sees Malus hijacking a bicycle at gunpoint, beating up women and young girls, and eventually running through the woods in a bear costume while chased by villagers with pitchforks (honestly!). Poor Neil LaBute's career is going to take some time to recover from this turkey.
The HD DVD:
The Wicker Man debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Warner Home Video. A separate Blu-ray edition is also available.
The disc contains only the Unrated version of the movie with a "shocking alternate ending not seen in theaters." The original theatrical ending is not included, even though it is present on the standard DVD edition.
Warner has apparently finally discontinued their use of that lengthy HD DVD promo at the front of earlier releases. However, the disc's interactive menus are still accompanied by annoying clicking sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it).
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Wicker Man HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
All things considered, this transfer looks decent though not exceptional. The image is reasonably sharp with excellent detail in close ups and no edge enhancement artifacts. Wide shots look a little filtered and are less impressive, unfortunately. Contrasts seem rather flat, leaving the picture lacking much sense of three dimensional depth. Flesh tones appear accurate for the most part, and the beginning of the movie features some strong colors. Things turn drab once the action shifts to the island commune, but that was probably intentional.
The Wicker Man HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus or lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 formats. This is a quite bassy mix, with an overuse of cheap stinger shock effects. Angelo Badalamenti's bombastic score has a nice swell that fills the soundstage. The surround channels are kept active with both ambient noises and more aggressive directional effects. There's nothing particularly artful about the movie's sound design but it's presented well enough on disc.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - N/A
All of the bonus features on this HD DVD title are recycled from the DVD edition. They don't amount to much.
Missing is the original theatrical ending, which the DVD edition offers via seamless branching. The footage is described in the commentary, however.
- Audio Commentary - Neil LaBute is joined by editor Joel Plotch, costume designer Lynette Meyer, as well as actors Leelee Sobieski and Kate Beahan. The director does most of the speaking and seems to take this ridiculous movie very seriously. Topics of conversation include his attempts to give the remake a different "flavor" than the original and how the alternate ending differs from the theatrical version. This is a surprisingly sober and intelligent discussion of the filmmaking process that the movie in question is completely unworthy of. Clearly recorded before the film was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office, the track offers no indication that anyone associated with the project realized just how terribly it turned out.
- Theatrical Trailer
Neil LaBute's Wicker Man remake is a career misstep that the director will undoubtedly regret for many years. The film works as neither a thriller nor a drama, and takes itself too seriously for us to believe it was intended as parody. It's basically just awful. The HD DVD has adequate picture and sound quality, but not much in the way of bonus features. This is a rental at best. Certainly don't buy it.
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