While "Pirates of the Caribbean" proved that it is in fact possible to make a good movie out of adapting a theme park ride, apparently, lighting doesn't strike twice in that department. Despite a talented director (Rob Minkoff, who helmed the "Stuart Little" movies and the original "Lion King"), the film seems rather goofy and predictable.
The picture stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a real estate agent who finds himself spending more time trying to close the sale ("You'll be happy for Evers and Evers.") than being with his family, which includes his wife/business partner Sara (Marsha Thomason) and his children, Michael and Megan (Marc John Jefferies and Aree Davis).
One day, they're invited to Gracey Mansion, which is about to go up for sale. The run-down mansion looks like mansions we've seen countless times in the movies - it's surrounded by intimidating gates and covered with vines that seem as if they're continually creeping their way outward. When they finally make their way inside, they're greeted by Ramsley (Stamp, who's good, but Christopher Walken would have been better in the role.), the butler and shown the way to the house's mysterious owner, Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker).
Gracey's motives for bringing the family to the house are soon enough revealed, as is the fact that he's not exactly who (or actually, what) he seems to be. Given the title, I think everyone can figure the rest out - there aren't any surprises to be found here, but some kids may find it entertaining (although some younger viewers might be disturbed by a few of the scenes in the film, despite the PG rating).
The film's mansion should certainly be a focus of the production and an important part of the movie, but the mansions of "Haunting" and "House on Haunted Hill" are certainly far better than this one. While those films had exceptional production design, the rooms in this particular mansion look rather uninspired, with some hallways looking positively plain. Even weaker is the film's CGI effects, which look rather primitive, considering this film's budget. This all seems covered by cinematography that appears darker than I'd expect for a haunted house movie.
The performances are merely average, with Eddie Murphy seemingly content to check off a list of one-liners. Thomason is enjoyable as his wife and the kids aren't bad, but they're given little to do. To the cast's credit, they aren't exactly working with much of a screenplay - the film's story is thin and although Murphy's wisecracks rarely work, a few other attempts at humor (statues in a graveyard suddenly turn into a barbershop quartet).
Harmless but rather boring, "Haunted Mansion" could have been a clever, creepy comedy, but the whole enterprise seems to be on autopilot. Disappointing stuff, but at 88 minutes, at least it's over quickly. Entirely forgettable.
VIDEO: "Haunted Mansion" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a pan & scan version is also available). The THX-Certified presentation is merely fine. Sharpness and detail varied somewhat throughout the film, but I never found the presentation's clarity or definition impressive.
The picture did not suffer from any instances of edge enhancement, but compression artifacts did become an issue in a few scenes. The print appeared to be in very fine condition, with no noticable instances of specks, dirt or any other debris. Colors appeared mostly bright and well-rendered, with nice saturation and no concerns. A decent transfer.
SOUND: "Haunted Mansion" is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital 5.1. While a few sequences start to use the surrounds creatively (see the sequence where Murphy's character is being chased by instruments or one where doors are closing around him), but the majority of the movie is somewhat more front-heavy audio-wise than one might expect from a haunted house movie.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes no less than two full-length audio commentaries - one by director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mona May, while the other is by producer Don Hahn, visual effects supervisor Jay Redd and screenwriter Daniel Berebaum. The director's commentary is basically enjoyable, as Minkoff and May provide a moderate amount of tidbits about some of the production challenges, as well as a few on-set stories. Things go well until about halfway in, when the commentary seemed to run out of gas. The other commentary is similar in its presentation, discussing a mixture of story, casting and effects, but the participants seem a little more loose and funny, cracking a few good jokes about the feature and production process.
"Secrets Revealed" is a 12-minute look at the production, with special attention paid to the make-up and visual effects, as well the production design. Rick Baker, director Rob Minkoff, Eddie Murphy and others are interviewed. "Anatomy of a Scene" looks at the sequence where Murphy rides through the ghost-populated graveyard.
Rounding out the DVD are sneak peek trailers for other Disney titles, Raven's "Superstition" music video, a deleted scene and a 5-minute outtakes reel that has a few good laughs, but is mostly so-so.
Final Thoughts: I was hoping for a moderately entertaining effects romp, but got a cliched haunted house picture that was not very funny and lacked chills or thrills. Disney's DVD edition provides average video quality, very good audio and a few solid supplements. Skip it.