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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Below
Below
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // March 11, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Mike Long | posted March 10, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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With the release of "U-571" and "K-19", we've seen a "resurfacing" of submarine movies. (And movies with way too many letters and number combinations in the titles.) However, both of these films left me wanting more. "U-571" was exciting, but didn't have much "depth" in its story. "K-19" was an over-long snooze-fest filled with bad accents and zero characterization. However, the newly released sub thriller "Below" has answered all of my prayers, combining action with a great story.

The Movie

The story of "Below" takes place upon the submarine USS Tiger Shark, which is patrolling the Atlantic Ocean during August, 1943. The boat receives orders to rescue survivors floating adrift on a raft. They arrive to find a badly burnt man, a man named Kingsley (Dexter Fletcher), and a woman named Claire (Olivia Williams). Supposedly, it's bad luck to have a woman on-board, but commanding officer Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) assures Claire that she'll be fine.

But, things aren't fine for long, as the sub is soon being pursued by a German ship. As the men fight to keep the sub in one piece, Claire begins to suspect that something strange is going on aboard the Tiger Shark and that she's not being told the whole story, even by Ensign O'Dell (Matthew Davis), the one man who seems trustworthy. Claire's suspicions come to fruition as many odd things begin to happen. Are these occurrences the result of anxiety, bad air, or is there something else on-board the sub. As Claire learns, a submarine is no place to keep secrets.

I've heard "Alien" described as a haunted-house film set in space. (Although, there obviously weren't any ghosts in that film.) "Below" introduces a similar conceit by turning the haunted house into a submarine, and then sticking it on the bottom of the ocean. But that label is far too constricting. "Below" combines some elements of a horror film (and does contain some good scares), while also playing as a drama and an action/adventure. The film introduces the audience to interesting characters, puts them through some rigorous paces, and then lets us question their sanity. Director David Twohy ("Pitch Black") and writer Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream", "Pi") have crafted a tightly-knit film that will keep the audience on edge until the end. (Including the most suspeseful depth-charge scene ever in a sub movie.)

The great story is only made better by the fine acting in "Below". Bruce Greenwood, best known to most as JFK in "Thirteen Days", is fantastic as Brice, a career-Navy man who is carrying a dark secret. Despite the fact that he looks just like Cary Elwes in some scenes, Matthew Davis is able to go toe-to-toe with Greenwood and is in most of the scenes in the final act. Speaking of look-alikes, Holt McCallany, who plays the dubious Lieutenant Loomis, bares a strong resemblance to Biff from "Back to the Future", but he brings a tough air to his role. Finally, it's Olivia Williams who serves as the conduit to the audience and she basically carries the film. While she's been good in past roles ("Rushmore" for one), she shows that she can be very strong in "Below".

Video

For this DVD release, "Below" has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I'll cut to the chase: this transfer looks great. The image is sharp and clear, showing little, if any grain or distortion. The bulk of the action takes place aboard the sub, and it is dark. However, these scenes look great and one has no trouble seeing the action. Also, photography like this tends to be grainy, but not here. There are some flashbacks which are very colorful, demonstrating the film has a very diverse palette. The only drawback is some artifacting on items such as microphones and floor gratings. Otherwise, a great transfer.

Video

The outstanding video is accompanied by an equally good Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Submarine films have become known for offering constant sound effects, and "Below" doesn't disappoint. The audio here is clear and free from any overt defects. The use of surround sound is nearly constant, making one feel that they are aboard the Tiger Shark. Also, the bass response is excellent, adding ambiance to nearly every scene. But, the true beauty of this track comes in the nicely balanced dynamic range, as the depth charge explosions sound just as good as the subtle whispers that flood the ship. This track helps to make "Below" a nice demo disc.

Extras

The "Below" DVD sports a nice selection of special features, beginning with an audio commentary by director David Twohy, and stars Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Davis, Holy McCallany, Zach Galifianakis, and Nick Chinlund. This is a very fun commentary, as the guys mention that they are taping it the day after the film's premiere, so they are clearly still in a party mood. In between all of the jokes (some of which are very funny), they take time to share many behind-the-scenes details, and then go back to making fun of the actors who didn't make it to the commentary recording. It's been a while since I've heard a commentary that I enjoyed this much.

Also in the "making of" vein is a 12-minute featurette entitled "The Process". This is a very well-made segment, which contains many nice graphics and is well-edited. This piece consists mainly of clips from the film and behind-the-scenes home video shot by Twohy. However, it doesn't contain any interviews or the standard plot explanations that we've come to expect from featurettes. The title, "The Process", makes me wonder if there weren't other featurettes that focused on other aspects of the film (casting, writing, etc.) that weren't completed.

The other extra features are the film's theatrical trailer, which is presented full-frame, and three deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary from Twohy. These scenes run about nine minutes in total and are all worth watching.


Those of you who enjoy searching for "diamonds in the rough" should love "Below". I can't imagine what Dimesion/Miramax was thinking when they dumped this film into theaters with basically no marketing (where it earned a little over $500,000). The movie is definitely worth seeing, as it offers thrills and chills in equal amounts. The DVD excells as well, making this a nice package indeed.
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