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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Disturbia (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Disturbia (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Dreamworks // PG-13 // August 7, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 5, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Disturbia's like Rear Window, only...y'know, for kids!

Disturbia may not bother to acknowledge Alfred Hitchcock's voyeuristic thriller or the original story penned by Cornell Woolrich -- not in its credits or the smattering of extras on this HD DVD -- but it's a remake just the same. Updating one of the genre's most iconic films for the RAZR Generation opens itself up to all sorts of attacks from my breed of smarmy online movie reviewers, but I have to admit to liking Disturbia. No, it's not a particularly memorable thriller, especially compared to Rear Window, a genre stalwart that's unerringly won over audiences for more than a half-century now, and Disturbia has a tendency to coast on the strengths of its time-tested premise and the charms of its leading man. Still, Disturbia accomplishes what it sets out to do, and light, forgettable entertainment is still entertainment just the same.

Blaming himself for the devastating car wreck that claimed his father's life a year earlier, the once bubbly and quippy Kale (Shia Labeouf) is now morose and withdrawn, repeatedly finding himself at odds with the authorities. He's given a break after cold-cocking his Spanish teacher; instead of being shipped off to juvie for a few months, Kale just has to spend the summer with an itchy monitor on his ankle that electronically tethers him to a box in the family kitchen. If he steps outside of that 100 ft. range for more than 10 seconds, flashing lights, sirens, and handcuffs follow a few minutes later.

Kale's mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) snips the power cord on his TV and yanks his subscriptions to scores of online services. His only contact with the outside world (well, aside from the TV downstairs, but don't get hung up on the fact that he might have to...y'know, walk) are a few scattered phone calls from his pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and whatever he can see out the window. The grimy underbelly of suburbia's as good as anything on Fox, though: the sociopathic rugrats across the street leering at satellite porn, a neighbor banging his titty-tattooed maid the second his wife's out the door, and the foxy little thing that just moved in next door. Half Miss Torso and half Lisa Fremont, Ashley (Sarah Roemer) is both voyeur and unwitting voyeuee, saddling up alongside Kale and Ronnie as they investigate their creepy neighbor (David Morse) who they think might responsible for a string of murders.

Okay, if you've seen Rear Window, you ought to recognize a lot of these beats. Kale thinks he might've seen a woman butchered, but most of the clues that fuel his suspicions are either damning or completely innocuous, depending on how you look at 'em. The cops shrug it off as a kid with cabin fever crying wolf, and Turner's stories check out. Unable to step foot outside his home, Kale turns to his pals to do the legwork for him, and one of the people closest to him is brassy enough to skulk around inside Turner's place...yeah, you can fill in the rest. Disturbia doesn't handle the thriller aspects as deftly as Rear Window, unable to ratchet up the tension in quite that same way. The movie leans on a parade of jump scares rather than establishing a particularly tense atmosphere, and it pretty much turns into a slasher flick in the last reel.

It's to Disturbia's credit that the movie manages to work so well even if it's not overly suspenseful. It's not until halfway through the film that Kale spots what may or may not be murder, but the pacing moves at a remarkably nimble clip throughout, and the characters are endearing enough that the 45 minutes of setup somehow manage not to drag. It's not that Disturbia is exactly rich with characterization -- Ronnie's the annoyingly wacky best friend, Sarah is the impossibly perfect girl next door who can't fathom that her voyeuristic neighbor could ever have aimed his binoculars her way, and then there's the thankless Mom role -- but the actors are likeable enough to prop up the competent but routine material. Shia Labeouf proves again how readily he's able to carry a movie on his shoulders; there's something about him that's instantly engaging -- that rare movie star quality -- and having been a fan of Labeouf's all the way back to Even Stevens' three season run on the Disney Channel, it's great to see that 2007 looks to be his breakout year.

Disturbia updates Rear Window by tightly weaving camera-enabled cell phones, webcams, digital video, and online research into the story. While this means that Disturbia won't age as gracefully as Hitchcock's classic thriller, it does give the movie a sort of immediacy that works in the here and now, and none of it comes across as awkwardly forced or bogged down by clunky exposition. The downside is that Kale's digital connection to the outside world makes David Morse's creepy neighbor considerably less interesting. One of the aspects in Rear Window that worked so well is that for so much of the movie, Thorwald was only seen from a distance, leaving him far out of earshot and as a largely unknown quantity. Morse's Mr. Turner has a much more dominant presence in Disturbia, exuding an unsettling creepiness that makes it impossible to buy him as anything but a nutjob. Rear Window succeeded at better establishing doubt as to whether or not Thorwald was a killer or if Jeffries had just gone stir crazy; in Disturbia, we know Turner is the killer. It's just a matter of proving it, and the "did he or didn't he?" is a pointless red herring.

Disturbia may be a routine and forgettable thriller, but it's competent enough to at least function as disposable entertainment. The movie sets some modest goals and achieves each and every one of them, and at the end of the day, that's really all that matters. It's probably best suited to a rental -- this isn't a movie I think most viewers will want to return to again and again -- but I enjoyed Disturbia enough that this HD DVD still comes recommended.

Video: Disturbia has the same smoothened, overly processed appearance I've noticed in a couple of other recent releases from Paramount and Dreamworks. The lack of even the faintest trace of film grain coupled with its heavily stylized palette results in Disturbia more closely resembling digital video than the natural warmth of film, and that's a look that tends to leave me cold. Presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and encoded using the AVC codec, Disturbia is still sharp and nicely detailed -- it can be kind of unforgiving to the teenaged actors' complexions when the camera closes in, really -- but it's not quite as crisp as the most impressive HD DVDs I've seen. Disturbia fiddles around with its colors extensively, exaggerating the azure skies and lush green grass in its bright, sunny exteriors while emphasizing browns and muddy yellows indoors. That looks to be an intentional part of the film's aesthetic, although fleshtones often boast more of a clay-like consistency than usual.

This HD DVD does sidestep many of the usual flaws: there's no ringing around hard edges, the film is free of specks or visible wear, and I couldn't spot any digital artifacting. The image holds up well even in exceptionally low light, which is appreciated during all of the skulking about in the dimly-lit climax. Disturbia is a nice looking disc, but its somewhat smoothened appearance leaves it falling short of the best we've seen from Paramount and Dreamworks.

Audio: Disturbia is backed by the usual Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix as well as a 6.1 DTS-ES track. For a lower key thriller -- there's no gunplay or megaton pyrotechnics, and its most sonically punishing sequence arrives just a couple of minutes into the movie -- Disturbia's sound design is much more potent than expected. Even though so much of the film is set in a suburban house with two or three people chatting or peeking out a window, the design establishes a surprisingly strong sense of atmosphere. Something as innocuous as the ring of a doorbell can still be accompanied by clear and distinct directionality, and the pounding thunder as the climax approaches and the pervasive ambiance of suburban mundanity also take advantage of the various channels on-hand. These sorts of discrete sounds really come into play as Disturbia draws to a close, particularly when Kale's trying to pin down the location of some off-screen moaning, and that fear and confusion are bolstered by the way those sounds lurch from various speakers. The mix is supported by a robust low-end, and the film's dialogue as well as the extremely diverse selection of songs that pepper the soundtrack all emerge without any concerns. Nicely done.

Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 dubs are also offered in French and Spanish, and the list of optional subtitles include English (both traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Extras: Disturbia's extras are pretty much the same assortment expected from a movie hopping straight out of theaters, but unlike pretty much everything else on HD DVD at the moment, Paramount and Dreamworks went to the trouble of presenting every single one of them in high-definition.

Director D.J. Caruso and stars Shia Labeouf and Sarah Roemer pile into the recording booth for the disc's audio commentary. There's nothing stuffy or pretentious this time around as they spend an hour and a half and change fielding cell phone calls, quipping about the spread of chicken, curly fries, and gourmet jelly beans in front of 'em, and pretty much just shooting the breeze. They do talk about the movie, of course, with lots of chatter about the challenges of Labeouf reacting to nothing but pieces of gaffer's tape alone on a soundstage and Caruso noting how many times they'd switch between location shoots and artificial sets in the space of a single scene. The commentary isn't Film School 101 so much, but it's a hell of a lot of fun, including tips on how to get nekkid female corpses past a PG-13 rating, why there's no rain even though the soundtrack is bombarded with thunder, the nasty side effects of overdosing on Creatine, a tally of the number of "shit!"s Labeouf spouts off in the space of a few lines of dialogue, and ogling Sarah Roemer at every possible opportunity. Well, I liked it.

Many of the notes highlighted throughout the commentary are recycled for the Serial Pursuit Trivia Popup/Quiz, a subtitle stream that lobs out everything from Sarah Roemer wearing her own jeans in one scene to the etymology of 'stir crazy' to the flexibility of spraying canned cheese. It also identifies each of the many licensed songs scattered throughout the movie, keeps a running tally of everything resembling a skull, and sporadically quizzes viewers to see how closely they're paying attention to some minor details. I don't think I'd recommend viewing this feature on its own, but it's worth pairing with the audio commentary to fill in some of the gaps.

The fourteen minute making-of featurette actually does try to offer an overview of production rather than shamelessly plug the film the way most EPKs do. It's not bogged down by snippets from the movie, and there's a healthy assortment of behind the scenes footage in between quick comments from the cast and crew. They touch on the tone of the movie, which they dub a thriller by way of John Hughes, the collaborative tone and improvisation on the set, Disturbia's emphasis on characterization, and the influence props and well-designed sets can have on a performance. Other highlights include David Morse's method acting initially keeping him at arm's length from Labeouf, likening this suburban Californian architecture to an eyebrow, a brief look into some of the movie's stuntwork, and establishing a voyeuristic landscape that would've been unrecognizable even two years ago. Nothing overly insightful but worth a look.

Four very short deleted scenes, running just over four minutes in total, spend a little more time fleshing out Kale's relationship with his parents and give Carrie-Anne Moss a few more minutes to spend in front of the camera. The obligatory outtake reel is shorter and a good bit funnier than usual, clocking in at a lean ninety seconds or so with Labeouf screwing around with props and riffing while fly fishing with his on-screen pop.

The music video for "Don't Make Me Wait" by This World Fair -- also helmed by director D.J. Caruso and sticking to the formula of pretty girl plus band performance plus clips from the flick -- is included as well, along with an extensive photo gallery with just under fifty high-res production and promotional stills. A theatrical trailer rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: As a thriller, Disturbia isn't unnervingly tense but is suspenseful enough, and there are at least a couple of plot points that didn't go in quite the direction I expected. The premise of voyeurism and claustrophobic paranoia really can't miss in capable hands, and another likeable turn by Shia Labeouf adds to Disturbia's charms. It's hardly the enduring classic that Rear Window is, but disposable or not, Disturbia's not a bad way to kill a weekend afternoon. Recommended.
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