Psycho (98)
Review by Jeremy Kleinman | posted January 4, 2000
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
Fearures: [5.1 DD, Anamorphic -1.85:1, Commentary by director Gus Van Sant, Actors Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn, Behind-the-scenes material, "Psycho Path" 30 min Featureette, 16:9 - Universal]

The Movie:
As pointed out by Van Sant in the commentary track to the DVD, the plays of William Shakespeare and other great playwrights are routinely reworked, reorchestrated, updated and remade. Several of the Bard's plays have been made into extremely enjoyable films. Nevertheless, news of a 90's remake of the granddaddy of all horror films left many fans of the original both excited and fearful. Psycho, perhaps above all other Hitchcock films, is revered as a true masterpiece of filmmaking and was powerful enough to keep people from taking showers for weeks. The new film does a good job staying faithful to the masterpiece in its orchestrations, taking some occassional artistic license and adding to the dynamics of the supporting characters, but without changes which would offend Mr. Hitchcock.

Gus Van Sant's Psycho, a very enjoyable film, as expected, falls considerably short of the original. The film does retain much of the suspense of the original and using the same powerful script, it is quite entertaining. However, perhaps it is because the original leaves such a strong impression in the minds of those who have seen it, at times the remake feels a bit awkward.

The film does contain a number of strong performances, among the strongest, William H. Macy's performance as Arbogast, the private detective. Vince Vaughan's portrayal of Norman Bates is surprisingly good, showing a dramatic increase in the range Vaughan normally shows. (Listening to the commentary track, one gets the feeling he isn't too removed from Trent, the character he played in Swingers).

The film has a number of strong scenes including, most notably, the compelling scene in which Bates and Marion sit down over sandwhiches and talk.The new film often reflects the magic of Joseph Stephano's script and Hitchcock's direction.

The Picture:
he use of color is striking, celebrating the fact that the Tremake is not in black and white, and the use of 1990's filmmaking technology adds to the update (and should provide the viewer with a great appreciation for what Hitchcock did with far less). As always Universal did a great job of transfering this picture on to DVD.

The Sound:
Like with the film transfer, the sound on Psycho '98 is stellar. With this kind of clairty you can use pause button during the shower scene to figure out if Mother is who we think she is.

The Extras:
From the moment I saw the film in the theater, I was hoping that the DVD version would contain director's commentary. The Collector's Edition contains great extra features, including web links, a screen saver, Psycho Path: a 30 minute documentary on the making of Psycho, and commentary by Director Gus Van Sant and stars Vince Vaughan and Anne Heche. In addition, the DVD offers the theatrical trailer, chaper seclection, production notes, french dubbing, and cast and filmmaker bios. The 30 minute documentary is quite interesting, beginning with various people questioning why this movie was made. The documentary also shows comparisons between scenes from the original and the remake, showing the great attention to detail which was employed in the making of this film. DVD-philes will find great joy in hearing in the commentary that they actually used the DVD of the original film to make this one.

The commentary on the disk is good and indeed one's viewing of the movie would be relatively incomplete without either listening to the commentary or watching the documentary. It delves significantly into the differences between scenes and characters of the original and the remake. Vaughan and Heche try to provide viewers with insights their acting methods and what was really going on in each scene. Unfortunately, the commentary contains very little examination into Hitchcock's methods and imagery, and having studied this film in school, I have to say I was expecting more. At times there are awkward silences and more than a few times the three commentators compliment each other's work. Gus Van Sant does point out his cameo in the film, being lectured by Hitchcock in the same spot where Hitchcock appeared in the original and the commentary includes discussion of many interesting topics, including the sexual motivations for each of the major and minor characters. On the commentary track, Gus Vant Sant identifies his primary motivation for making this movie- the fact that audiences today don't hold the same appreciation for a movie like Psycho, primarily because it is in black and white.

If this film does inspire moviegoers to see the original, it will have done its job well. While this film is definitely worth watching, rent it when you have time to sit through the film and its commentary track and in the meantime, buy the original.

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