It's incredibly ironic that the Scream franchise ended up succumbing to the Hollywood pitfalls it was rebelling against, and also incredibly sad. This really could have gone down as one of the finest trilogies in recent memory, but the flailing third act just couldn't make it so. Fortunately for us however, Craven and Williamson have joined forces once again to bring us Scre4m (Scream 4). The horror scene has once again become lazy, concentrating most of its forces on popular remakes and reboots, and these guys are anxiously awaiting to send their latest message to a very complacent Hollywood. Hopefully, they're able to do what couldn't be done with Scream 3, and make their latest offering feel fresh and relevant once again.
Now that Scream 4 is finally here (I refuse to refer to it as Scre4m for the entirety of my review), that's really the biggest hurdle it has to overcome - Reviving the wit and originality that croaked in a dried up franchise long ago, and considering how much of a clunker Scream 3 was, it wasn't going to be an easy task for Director Wes Craven or Writer Kevin Williamson. By now, the franchise has become the butt of the very joke it was trying to provide to its audience. Instead of coming off as reality imitating art, the previous Scream entry felt like art - imitating art - imitating life - imitating art. Ugh, what a mess. Scream was a success because the characters were self-aware of how things play out in horror films, but once the formula made it seem like the films themselves were self-aware, things just fell apart. So, how does one perform a successful resurrection of the horse that's been beaten to death? Why, by laying waste to the reboot trend, of course!
It's the 15th anniversary of the infamous Ghostface murders that scarred the small town of Woodsboro, and although that may have been enough time for the town's blood drenched history to dissipate into distant memory, Hollywood has been having too much fun exploiting the town's peril for financial gain. Despite the fact the Woodsboro killings have been sensationalized and debatably helped spawn copycat killers - Sidney Prescott, survivor of the events from over a decade ago, is finally able to move on with her life in a positive way. She's written a book about her experiences as a victim in an attempt to close the door on her traumatic past, and a book tour has brought her back to her hometown for the first time in 10 years. Upon her arrival she's greeted by her old friend Dewey, who's since been promoted to be Woodsboro's sheriff. As a welcome home present, a new Ghostface killer kicks off the 15th anniversary festivities by hacking up a couple of teenagers and planting evidence in Sidney's car, so the police can rule her as a suspect and force her to stay in town for the rest of 'the movie'. Using film methodology yet again, the latest copycat uses the rules of a franchise remake/reboot, carefully recreating the events of 'the original' with a younger fresh-faced 'cast'. The victims this time around are the friends of Sidney's little cousin, Jill, as you still need a Prescott cast as the lead, and her fellow high school buddies loosely fit the profiles of the original victims. In typical Scream fashion, everyone is a suspect - Up to and including Gale Weathers-Riley (that's right, she married the loveable lug), who's been waiting for the perfect opportunity to claw her way out of 'has-been' status with a new book. Considering it was the original round of Woodsboro murders that made her famous in the first place...
In theory, this is the fresh plot twist the franchise needed in order to be relevant in an age where horror films once again feel like a dying breed. Scream 4 successfully does something that only 2009's Star Trek was able to accomplish thus far - Feeling like a reboot without ignoring the story we've already watched unfold for so many years. Although the spotlight is being shared with Jill and her disposable friends this time around, the story between Sidney, Dewey and Gale is still as prevalent as it ever was. Of course, the key words here being, 'in theory'. It's true that Scream 4 really does pull off feeling like a sequel and a reboot, and absolutely nails its self-aware, satirical look at Hollywood's unoriginality in the last decade or so. However, to go as far as to say that this film pulls off what the original did, by rising from the ashes of a decaying genre and becoming relevant again? Not quite. Don't get me wrong, I have a great amount of respect for Craven and Williamson's work on the series thus far - They've basically given Hollywood a big middle finger for being too lazy to stay away from tired formulaic concepts. I applaud them for doing so, but isn't that exactly what they're doing with this movie? How could they honestly believe that making a film about revisiting the same old ideas by, get this, rehashing the same ideas, would actually work? I mean, the whole premise of the film dissects the idea that reboots are more or less the same film, but with less memorable characters, and a few tweaks to the events that get us from point A to point B in order to keep things 'fresh'. I would almost think Craven and Williamson forgot to ask themselves if remakes are hardly ever worth watching over the original, but they answered that question in the film - No, they're not.
So why bother trying to revive this franchise from the grave it shamefully dug itself after the release of Scream 3? The fact that one of the Weinstein's thought it was time to do another Scream comes to mind (undoubtedly with dollar signs in his eyes), but then again, Wes Craven said he would only be a part of the project if the script was just as good as the first. Apparently he thought there was something special here, but is the final product that we have in our hands on Blu-ray disc today the result Craven really wanted? There were numerous factors at play that caused some (what I assume to be) fairly drastic changes in the story Williamson had in mind. For one thing, Williamson had to come off the project due to other obligations, so Ehren Kruger (Scream 3) stepped in to handle the rewrites. And most curious of all, is that the Weinstein's wanted some decent ideas dropped in favor of the tired idea that, 'if you bring a new young cast in, they will come'. Sounds like another 'by the numbers' money making scheme to me. Craven stands by his work and says that the Scream 4 we've seen is very much the product we were intended to see from the work that Williamson left behind, but I'm not so sure I buy it. Not just because the dialogue isn't as witty or the film isn't as charming, but even the main cast members themselves - Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox - are seemingly phoning it in. They're just drab versions of the characters they used to be, and honestly, this really made the young and throw-away-by-design cast even more interesting than they were. This turned me off from the film in a big way, because everything in this paragraph really only makes me believe that this film, although with good intentions from Craven, was made for all the wrong reasons.
I know I'm coming down on Scream 4 really, really hard, but it deserves the criticism it gets. I know you're probably thinking I went into this film with high expectations, but that couldn't be any further from the truth. I was expecting the film to be 'not good, but not bad', so it really had a great opportunity to surprise me and give me something unexpected. But, I pretty much found the experience to be what I expected it to be, and that's a disappointment because this franchise deserves better. Let's not forget the mantra of Scream 4 is, 'you do a remake to outdo the original', which this film clearly doesn't live up to. I've seen a lot of praise for this film on the internet, so I know I'm probably in the minority here, but Scream 4 isn't the return to form that many would have you believe it is. It's better than Scream 3 in virtually every way, but that isn't saying much. Better than Scream 2? In some ways it is, as the premise is a bit more creative overall, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. If Scream 4 had actually been Scream 3, I think it would have served as a terrific ending for a trilogy, but history can't be re-written in order to make this movie fit into the series better contextually, and is just too little, too late.
The picture quality of the Scream trilogy released earlier this year had the internet tearing at the seams. These catalogue titles were somewhat dull and lifeless, had some DNR, edge enhancement, and the only thing most people had to say about those discs were, "Well, they're better than the DVD." Or better yet, "At least Echo Bridge didn't release them!" If anyone had any concerns over what Scream 4 would look like (despite the fact this isn't a catalogue release), put your troubled head to rest. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) is absolutely gorgeous. Black levels are an important part of the film and they're spot on, with immaculate contrast and no black crush to speak of. If you were able to see shadow detail in shots at the theater, you're going to see them here. Colors and skin tones are natural and lifelike, and certain daytime scenes have that happy 'pop' in an attempt to emulate some of the earlier portions of the original Scream. Most importantly, there's been no digital scrubbing to hold back any detail. Everything from clothing, to skin textures, to individual strands of hair... it's all here as it was in theaters, and it all looks immaculate. The grain structure here is present yet not overbearing, coming off looking very natural and film-like. It's great to finally see a Scream film in high-def the way it was meant to be seen, and although the film itself wasn't that great, the transfer here is a real winner. An added bonus is the fact that high-def resolution doesn't make the CGI knife (utilized for the most realistic kills possible) look like some cheap effect, and still very much looks like a real weapon. Picture perfect and incredibly film-like, you won't be disappointed with Scream 4!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this release is phenomenal in most respects, but it's lacking in one of the most important areas it really needed to drive home - The score. The music has always been an important part of setting the atmosphere in the Scream franchise, so I was a little disappointed that it didn't sound like the orchestra was practically in my living room. It just didn't sound like a full engaging experience, as there wasn't enough attention paid to the low end to push the most intense sequences to make us jump out of our seats. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the score is weak. I just feel like it should have been capable of a little more, making the experience go from 'very good' to 'great'. This is probably a creative decision that was made in the mixing process however, in order to provide more emphasis on the grunts, screams and sound effects, because taking the entire package into consideration, everything else is perfectly balanced. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, the sound effects can pack a wallop, and the dynamic range is precisely tuned to keep you from wanting to adjust your volume whenever things pick up. Overall this is still the best sounding Scream title sporting a lossless track to date, and despite my criticisms, is one of the more enjoyable aspects of a film that just doesn't work.
To put it bluntly, I'm pretty disappointed in the supplemental package on this disc. When Scream 3 was originally released on DVD, extras weren't exactly as big of a deal as they are today, so it's understandable that there wasn't a great wealth of material to be found on that release. Scream 4 is a modern film however, and considering how influential the original film was and how influential this film wanted to be, I can only shrug my shoulders here and wonder why they didn't take full advantage of all the material they must have shot in between takes to provide a stunning, must have Blu-ray release. The chances of Scream 4 ending up in a boxed set with the previous entries are slim to none since different companies hold the distribution rights, so I'm not exactly sure what they were waiting for. Double dipping for a collection in a snazzy box, loaded to the gills with new special features I could understand, but the interest for double dipping on this film at any point in the future just isn't a reality. Anyways, here's a look at what's on the disc:
-Commentary with Director Wes Craven, and Stars Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts - For three people sitting in a room together talking about a film they just did, there isn't a lot of excitement. Yet another mark on the board as to why I feel this film wasn't the product Craven really intended us to see. To solidify the lack of excitement for this project, Neve Campbell joins the commentary... via telephone. She only hangs around for about 45 minutes or so, and she adds some little tidbits here and there, but her presence doesn't really add much to the track. Despite the unenthused atmosphere this commentary provides, all the standard information is here. Most notable of all is the recurring theme of scrapped ideas that didn't make it into the final film.
-The Making of Scream 4 - At only 10 and a half minutes in length, this really acts as more of a promotional piece than a true 'making of' featurette. Wes Craven is the main focus here, which is understandable considering the franchise is really his baby, but there's plenty of interviews with cast and crew sprinkled throughout as well.
-Deleted/Extended Scenes - There are plenty of deleted and extended sequences here, coming in at around the 26 minute mark, but most of it is pretty boring. What truly stands out above the 'no surprise it was cut' material is the alternate opening and an extended ending. I won't go into any details about what they're about because I don't want to spoil the surprise, but they are definitely worth taking a look at.
Also included is a Gag Reel, a Scream 4 Video Game Promotion piece, as well as a DVD and Digital Copy.
Scream 4 does a decent job at working as both a sequel and a reboot, but part of me wonders if the franchise would have been better off getting an official reboot. For the record, I'm not an advocate for remakes by any means, but despite Scream 4 having a really excellent idea at its core, its execution left a lot to be desired. Instead of standing up strong and proud as 'Scream 4', it feels more like 'Scream - Who Gives a Crap Anymore'. And that's not just coming from me - Just watch the film, and you'll see the same level of 'blah' from the original cast as well, as they fail to deliver the characters that once showed a lot of spirit. All that can really be said for this film is that it's better than Scream 3, but that's not exactly saying much now, is it? At least the A/V presentation on this disc is fantastic, but the supplemental package is seriously lacking anything that's truly interesting. I hope this film ends up being the end of the series, but with rumors floating around that this could have been the beginning of a new trilogy, I can only put my head in my hands and sigh, "Why?" This should come as no surprise, and I know I'm probably in the minority, but I can only recommend a rent it rating for Scream's lackluster return.