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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » What Lies Beneath
What Lies Beneath
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 29, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

I sat through "What Lies Beneath" when it was released in theaters last Summer, and found it to be an almost completely unenjoyable experience. The review that I wrote after watching it was angry - well, actually furious. I thought that, after watching it again on DVD I could write a review that may still be negative, but will discuss the faults of the movie in a calmer manner.

Director Robert Zemeckis had a similar problem going into "What Lies Beneath" that he did with "Cast Away", his more recent picture. Both movies give away a great deal of the plot in the trailers, moreso with "Cast Away". That doesn't really excuse things here, though. But, onwards to the plot. The movie revolves around Claire(Michelle Pfeiffer) and Norman(Harrison Ford), a couple who have just had their daughter move on to college, so they find themselves alone in the house for the first time in quite a while. And then, things begin to go South from there.

Claire belives that a ghost is haunting her house. Doors begin to close, all of the usual spooky occurences are there. Even the radio turns on. Meanwhile, Claire is spying on the neighbors as she thinks foul play is afoot. This is what we have to go on for much of the first hour, and believe me - there's not a whole lot here. There are several things during this piece of the film that irritated me greatly, though. I don't want to reveal anything about the plot of the film, but I was amazed that during a few moments early on, the story almost seems to provide a knowing and obvious "trailer" of what's going to happen in the end - which really ruins any sort of suspense as we enter the second half.

As for the scares in the film, they mainly revolve around the "boo!" fashion. Nothing terribly imaginative, and some of the scares are used several times. Much of the first half has a pace that's almost glacial. Yes, this is the first thriller I've seen in a while that is about as exciting as watching paint dry. There's whole scenes in the movie where nothing's really going on. The ultra-serious air of the film also begins to weigh the whole thing down.

And yet, I can still find some things to like about "What Lies Beneath". Don Burgess's cinematography is elegant and crisp, and occasionally captures the beautiful surrounding scenery quite well. Pfeiffer gives it her all as Claire, and without her the movie really would have fallen apart. Ford, on the other hand, is at his least impressive. Walking around like he's just taken a stroll from his trailer for a moment, he gives nearly no energy to the role of Norman.

And there's so much else to chat about. The movie goes on one path for 75% of the movie and then throws all of that away to go elsewhere. Cliches run throughout the movie, especially in the final half, where the whole movie turns very predictable, very quickly. Alan Silvestri's score goes along with the whole thing, going for ominous notes every time something bad is going to happen.

It's really amazing that director Robert Zemeckis did this film while on break from "Cast Away", with Tom Hanks. That picture is a fantastic one, with a wonderful screenplay and great performances. It's easily one of the best of the year while this remains, in my opinion, one of the worst. There's a lot of talent in "What Lies Beneath", but I only wish they could have paired it all up with a story that's even basically engaging.


VIDEO: "What Lies Beneath" is presented in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and like all of the titles from Dreamworks, it's anamorphic. Although much of the presentation is up to the usual excellence that the studio's titles offer, it falls a little short of their best work. Sharpness varies a little bit throughout the movie. There are times when the picture seems a little bit softer than others, but this may have been by intent. Never did the picture lack clarity or seem hazy or murky, though. Detail fares well, and the picture seems consistently well-rendered and looking much like it did when I saw it in the theater.

There aren't a great deal of flaws to contend with, but there were a couple more than I would have liked to have seen on a movie that's this new. Print flaws are by no means major, but there are a handful of infrequent speckles that I found noticable. A couple of slight traces of pixelation appear, but are hardly distracting.

Colors are usually cold and subdued, with sharp blues and greens looking crisp and clear throughout. Colors in general look natural and accurate, but this isn't a movie that is bright or vibrant visually. Again, this is a fine presentation from Dreamworks, but I've seen better from the studio.

SOUND: "What Lies Beneath" is presented in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The movie really doesn't offer that remarkable of a sound presentation. Not that it's lacking in envelopment where it could have used more, it's simply that, for much of this movie, there's really not that much going on.

Surrounds do come into play at times, but don't go into the film expecting an agressive surround-sound experience. The one element of the audio that has the most presence is the score by Silvestri - although it seems to exist to warn the audience what's coming up next - it actually sounds very strong and rich at times, filling the listening space well. Dialogue generally sounded pleasant, clear and without any problem. As for the differences between the Dolby and DTS versions, I thought the two didn't have any noticable differences.

MENUS:: A clip of different scenes from the movie leads the viewer into the main menu, which offers some subtle background animation. The score also plays behind the menu. The scene index is also animated, with clips of each scene.


Commentary: This is a commentary track from director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey and producer Jack Rapke. Press releases and other announcements have listed cinematographer Don Burgess as being part of the track, but he is not included. The commentary itself is a pretty low-key track and although there are some interesting bits of information now and then, there are times when the track begins to ramble. Early on, the discussion begins to focus a little too much on how pleased the group is to have the two leads - actors of "this caliber". The track picks up a little more in energy and amount of information about the production as it goes on, but overall it still remained a pretty uninteresting affair. There's a few patches of silence throughout, but there's a lot of talk about how much the three enjoy certain details of the final production that doesn't prove for an engaging discussion of what it took to make the film.

Making Of: This is an HBO "first-look" documentary about the making of the film. It's mainly promotional, so much of the interview footage is a discussion of the movie most will probably have just seen before watching this feature. What's a little more interesting though, is a discussion of director Robert Zemeckis' previous work, starting from when he was younger - even as a film student, as we see clips from his early years. Strangely, after a short few minutes on "What Lies Beneath", the rest of the documentary focuses on the director's other films, finally leading up to this one in the last couple of minutes.

Theatrical Trailer: The film's theatrical trailer, in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Also: Production notes & Cast/Crew bios.

Final Thoughts: Although many seemed to enjoy "What Lies Beneath", I still think it's one of the year's least entertaining films. The DVD does present good audio & video quality and a couple of average extras though, so if you're a fan you may enjoy the studio's efforts for this release.

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