Cape Fear (1991)
Universal // R // $24.95 // January 1, 1991
Review by Chris Hughes | posted September 25, 2001
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Graphical Version

Features: Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1, Making Of featurette. Deleted Footage. Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), DTS, Pro Logic. Script-to-screen comparison. Production photographs. Saul Bass titles collection. Matte Paintings. Theatrical Trailer. Cast and crew bios. Production notes.

The Movie:
To director Martin Scorsese's credit he was reluctant to remake 1962's B movie classic Cape Fear. How, he reasoned, could one improve on such a perfect film? Scorsese's longtime colleague and close friend Robert De Niro lobbied the director for years and in 1990 he relented and production on the remake began. The result, though artistically weak, would become Scorsese's most financially successful film.

The plot of Cape Fear follows the original almost to the letter. Ex -con Max Cady (Robert De Nero) is released from jail and immediately begins stalking his former public defender Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). Cady blames Bowden for his lengthy prison term and is bent on exacting revenge. Cady comes at Bowden with a single mindedness that is genuinely terrifying. He threatens Bowden's wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter (Juliette Lewis), assaults one of Sam's associates (Illeana Douglas) and repels every attempt Sam makes to keep him away. The plot eventually builds to a disturbingly violent confrontation between the men of such epoch proportions that nature herself seems to join in the conflict.

There's no doubt that Scorsese's Cape Fear is entertaining but it is also deeply flawed. In order to add a new dimension to the plot Scorsese gave Sam Bowden and his family a number of frailties. The relationship between Sam and his wife and daughter is fragile and Cady uses this fact to get his hooks into them. This adds some depth to the story but it removes one of the elements that made the original so unique. In the 1962 version of Cape Fear Sam Bowden and his family are the perfect image of goodness. When Cady enters their lives they begin to adopt corrupt tactics in their dealings with him. That movement from the idyllic to the tainted is what makes the original film's plot so engaging. How far will Bowden go before his since of morality intervenes? Scorsese's Sam Bowden is already flawed so the transition in his case is much less pronounced. By giving Sam Bowden an evil side and failing to make Cady in any way sympathetic Scorsese leaves us with a cast of characters bereft of compassion. Because Scorsese's Sam Bowden did in fact have a hand in the conviction of his client we're unable to identify with his plight and the unreasoning animal lust for vengeance of the original Max Cady is removed.

That being said there is one high point in the Scorsese remake that makes it worth watching. Robert De Niro as Max Cady is fantastically evil. De Niro is famous for inhabiting the characters he portrays and Max Cady is no exception. He's evil, demonic, maniacal and threatening to such a degree that he nearly bursts off the screen yet he's also calm, reasoning and tempered in his reactions. De Niro's Max Cady doesn't rise to the level of Travis Bickel in Taxi Driver but he is a very close second. It's just a shame that Cape Fear isn't a better film overall.

The Picture:
Cape Fear was made only ten years ago so the picture is nearly pristine. The elements are completely free from dust, dirt and scratches. The transfer is beautifully done with rich color saturation, exemplary black levels, deep shadow detail and good contrast. There is a little edge enhancement to be seen from time to time but it's far from distracting.

The Sound:
This special edition release includes a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a DTS track and the original Pro Logic track. Each of these tracks is clean and crisp with deep dynamic range, plenty of surround activity and a wide front sound stage. There are plenty of kicks in the LFE and although this won't be your demo disc of choice it certainly uses the capabilities of modern home theater to great advantage.

The Extras:
Universal gave Cape Fear a two disc release that has a number of interesting extras. First up is an enlightening Making of featurette that includes interviews with most of the principal actors and Martin Scorsese. The program follows the production from concept to screen and offers lots of behind the scenes information. Next is a small collection of deleted scenes most of which were dropped for pacing reasons. Next there's a brief examination of two scenes that show a comparison between the story boards and the completed sequences. Also included is a handful of production photographs, publicity materials, the theatrical trailer, cast and crew bios and screens showing some of the matte paintings used in the film. My favorite extra is a collection of opening credits from acclaimed graphic designer and oft time Hitchcock collaborator Saul Bass.

Though Scorsese's Cape Fear isn't the disaster that Gus Van Sant's 1998 version of Psycho is it still pails in comparison with the original. Scorsese completests will want this film in their collection and fans of the modern thriller may find some entertainment value here. Universal's treatment of the title, with a beautiful transfer, sound track and extras, is well worth the price of admission. I rate this film: Recommended.

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