Director Robert Zemeckis has an impressive resume, being behind the camera on such diverse films as Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump. His most daring and risky film has to be Cast Away. Released in 2000, this film should have been a flop. Throughout most of the film there is little dialog, only one actor on screen, and little in the way of action, a sure receipt for a yawn-fest. With Tom Hanks in the lead role and Zemeckis' trained eye directing, he created one of the finest films of the year.
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a FedEx executive in charge of making sure that the companies various branches run on time. Famous within the company because he once stole a kid's bike to finish his route when his delivery truck broke down, Noland flies all over the world to teach the various offices the importance of keeping one eye on the clock.
Chuck is so busy that he even leaves Christmas dinner to catch a plane
when his beeper goes off. His girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) drives
him to the depo and he has just enough time to propose before he flies
off. The flight isn't a smooth one however, and after the plane veers
hundreds of miles off its course to avoid a storm, something disastrous
happens that causes the plane to crash in the middle of the Pacific.
Escaping the wreckage with an inflatable raft, Chuck spends the night floating
at sea and wakes up the next morning on the shore of a small, rocky island.
Tom Hanks did an amazing job in this film. Famously taking a year off in the middle of filming so he could grow his hair out and loose a reported 50 pounds to realistically portray Noland's physical changes while on the island, Hanks does more than look the part. He's able to carry the entire second act by himself with almost no dialog. With only a look and his actions, Hanks is able to relate how terribly lonely he feels and how tough it is to survive on the island.
To the movie's credit, there are no huge action sequences aside from the plane crash itself. Chuck doesn't have to fight wild boars or pirates, and there are no shark attacks or poisonous snakes to battle. The narrative is driven by more mundane matters of survival. The island is a place where a minor toothache can turn into a life threatening ordeal and a where he has to work all day to meet his basic needs for food and water. Watching this could have been an exercise in tedium, but the realism and authentic feel with which the film is presented avoids that. How he uses his limited resources to meet these needs and the decisions he makes are what makes the movie so captivating.
It's interesting to note that the name of the film is two words instead of one. The single word, castaway, refers to a person while "cast away" means to put aside or discard. That's a key theme of the film. Chuck is forced to give up many of the things he holds dear including his reliance on time and the worth he finds in his job. He's reluctant to give up the last one however. When he finds 8 or 9 FedEx packages soon after the wreck that have washed up on shore, the first thing he does is sort them as if they're going to be sent out soon. He doesn't open them until he gets desperate, and even then there is one box that he leaves sealed. Keeping this package safe an unopened, though he knows that he'll never be rescued from the island gives him a sense of purpose that defines him. At the end of the film, Chuck once again finds himself in a situation where he has to cast off some of the things that have kept him going for so long.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1, 1080p, AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is just spectacular. This is a disc that will really show off your home theater. While the very first scenes are a little drab and dull as far as the colors go, that was an intentional decision on the director's part and this disc reproduces the cold dreary Moscow cityscape with a lot of detail. The disc really starts to shine once the narrative moves to the island. The cinematography is simply stunning with bright vibrant green trees, a beautiful lagoon, and an achingly blue sky. Even the white caps of the waves as they roll into the shore are full of detail and texture. This section of the film has a lot of eye pop, where the image seems to leap off the screen. Definitely one of the better Blu-ray discs that I've seen all year.
The film comes with a lossless DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack that really brings the movie to life. The perfect compliment to the excellent video, this soundtrack really adds a lot to the viewing experience. There's not a lot of dialog in the film but that doesn't mean the audio is flat or boring. This track brings Chuck's experiences to life by filling the room with island sounds. The crashing of the waves on the beach, the thudding of coconuts as they fall from the trees, and the rustle of the brush as the wind blows through all come together to create an impressive aural experience.
Even more impressive are the storms and the plane crash where soundtrack really fills the room with a sound so powerful you can almost touch it. The chaos of the plane going down and the terror of being in the Pacific in the middle of a storm are created by the soundtrack even more than by the visuals. From start to finish, this is an excellent sounding film.
While the A/V quality is impeccable, Fox really dropped the ball when it comes to the bonus material. All of the documentaries and video interviews from the 2-disc SD DVD are missing. What we're left with is a commentary track of sorts, a trailer (which should NOT be viewed before the movie as it gives away way too many plot points), and a pop-up trivia track that's pretty mundane. The commentary audio features interviews and Q&A sessions with director Robert Zemeckis, visual effects team members Ken Ralston and Carey Villegas, sound designer Randy Thom, and director of photography Don Burgess, which were then edited together. I found it a little disappointing since there was a lot that wasn't addressed. They talked about the CGI effects that were used and the many problems they encountered during filming, but this mainly technical track skipped over many of the themes of the film, which is too bad.
Looking back at the films of 2000, Cast Away has stood the test of time much better than other films from that year. Tom Hanks was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Russell Crowe's performance in Gladiator, a film that seems old and tired today. Cast Away is a gutsy film that takes a lot of chances. With a wonderful performance by Hanks and an intriguing story, this film is recommended. The Blu-ray presentation is wonderful with both sight and sound being top notch, and it's only the lack of extras that are available on the SD version that prevents a higher rating.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.