I didn't catch Arachnophobia (1990) during its theatrical release...but it's not like I wanted to, either. Spiders weren't my favorite thing as a kid, and I incorrectly assumed it was both (A) exceptionally bleak and (B) a straight-up horror movie. It's neither, actually. In hindsight, I shouldn't have expected anything different from Frank Marshall (who makes his directorial debut here), the producer behind such classic cinematic hybrids as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. While Arachnophobia isn't in the same league as any of those three, it's definitely a hard film to pin down.
Our central characters are the Jennings family, who recently migrated from San Francisco to the sleepy town of Canaima, California. Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) was promised his own office and a client list from the retiring Dr. Sam Metcalf (Henry "Don't Call Me Indiana" Jones)...who, unfortunately, rescinds the offer and stays in business. His wife Molly (Harley Kozak) offers to return to work for financial support, but...well, all that stuff eventually takes a back seat to spiders. Weeks before their arrival, Canaima resident Jerry Manley (Mark Taylor) was killed in Venezuela by a poisonous spider who hitchhiked back to California in his coffin. Soon enough, the town is hit hard by the deadly plague after our rogue arachnid sets up shop in the Jennings' barn and starts havin' babies. Lots and lots of creepy, crawly babies.
At 110 minutes in length, Arachnophobia runs at least 20 minutes too long for a horror or comedy film. More often than not, needless little details, mostly during the first hour, grind the pace to a halt. Even the initial setup scenes in Venezuela exist entirely to follow the "original" spider's journey to small-town America, when we don't necessarily need a feasible explanation for its arrival. From there, the uneven pace of the spiders' wrath feels much too episodic and repetitive...and by the time the real fun begins in Arachnophobia's brisk, over-the-top third act, we're wondering why it took so long to arrive.
Pacing problems aside, there is some fun to be had here...and in the right mood, Arachnophobia is passable popcorn entertainment. But it's most certainly for a limited audience: if you're severely freaked out by spiders and other creepy-crawlies, this movie isn't for you at all. If you're looking for a non-stop laugh riot...well, Arachnophobia isn't terribly funny either. But for those who don't mind their horror/ comedy hybrids on the slightly watered-down side, it's definitely worth watching at least once. Disney's new Blu-Ray edition offers a notable A/V upgrade from the non-anamorphic 1999 DVD release, but those looking for additional bonus features will be roundly disappointed. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Originally sent to some review outlets last month, the initial screener for Arachnophobia suffered from black level and contrast issues which, to Disney's credit, were almost immediately rectified. This Blu-Ray under review today is the corrected version (which is the only one available in stores and online, so don't worry) and its 1080p video presentation is quite good. The film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been preserved, the color palette looks perfectly natural, black levels and contrast are much improved, image detail and textures are crisp, and a fine layer of film grain is also present. Overall, Arachnophobia is simply a great-looking catalog release, and that's not always the norm on Blu-Ray these days.
DISCLAIMER: The screen caps in this review are from a DVD source and do not represent this Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and also gets the job done, offering crisp dialogue and robust music cues. Rear channel activity and LFE are used sparingly, and obviously the atmosphere becomes more aggressive during the film's chaotic third act. It's certainly limited to the original source material, but Arachnophobia sounds better than expected for its age. Optional French and Spanish dubs are available in Dolby Digital 2.0, as well as English (SDH), French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, these simple and perfectly functional menu designs do the job nicely while preserving the original poster artwork, but a number of annoying commercials must be dealt with beforehand. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and includes no slipcover or inserts of any kind.
Only the lightweight extras from the older DVD release, unfortunately. This recycled material includes a short Production Featurette
(480p, 3 minutes), a similar Frank Marshall Featurette
(480p, 3 minutes), a brief Location Featurette
shot for the Venezuela sequence (480p, 2 minutes) and the Theatrical Trailer
(480p, 2 minutes). No optional subtitles are included for the extras, which definitely show their age.
Arachnophobia isn't a film with broad appeal: it's a bit too soft to get under the skin of most die-hard horror junkies and too creepy-crawly to sit comfortably with the whole family. The performances are quite good and the off-center cornball score suits the atmosphere well enough, yet its painfully slow first half barely makes the chaotic finale worth waiting for. There's definitely some intrigue lurking under its odd exterior, but only established fans should consider Arachnophobia worth a purchase. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off , juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.