"The Mothman Prophecies" is another new attempt to bring subtle, intelligent horror to the screen, similar to (at least early episodes of) the "X-Files", which is certainly welcome. The film is even "based upon true events", which were chronicled in John A. Keel's non-fiction book. Directed by Mark Pellington, the film should work better than it does overall; there is marvelous cinematography, interesting visuals, solid performances and generally good writing.
Richard Gere stars as Washington Post reporter John Klein, who, as the story begins, is wrapping up a house purchase with wife Mary (Debra Messing of "Will and Grace"). They decide to go out driving and, as they're headed down a suburban street, Mary swerves to avoid what looked like a giant, winged creature. She's diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in the hospital, but before she passes on, she asks, "you did see it, didn't you?". He didn't, but he finds a notebook filled with drawings of it.
Time passes and Klein is headed down somewhere one night for an interview. He reaches a point where he's not quite sure where he is then, convieniently, his car stalls. When he reaches the nearest local house, he's not given a particularly warm greeting: the homeowner (Will Patton) is convinced that Klein has been knocking on his door for the past few nights. He finally finds out where he is: Point Pleasant, West Virginia - hundreds of miles in the wrong direction and only a little while after he left.
Soon after, the local sheriff (Laura Linney) informs him that strange things have been afoot in the town: phone calls with either strange sounds or voices, visions of a "moth-like" creature - the same creature that Mary said that she saw that night. It's up to Klein to find out what the voices mean and what or who the creature really is. Interesting so far, but Pellington's main problem and positive choice are one and the same: he doesn't try for agressive scares similar to a lot of other recent movies. Yet, there's a point - about 45 minutes in - that my mind started to wander. You know the feeling; thoughts of dinner, work that needs to be done, how cold it is out. There's simply not enough happening in the film's first hour; for every minor effective moment, there's a considerable stretch of near-emptiness that drains what tension had built up.
After getting close to the point of giving up, the film finally gets going. Scares and chills come at a more consistent pace and there are a few inspired thrills that are quite enjoyable. The performances aren't bad at all, either. Gere is subtle, but intense and effective at the right moments. He also works wonderfully with his "Primal Fear" co-star Linney, who also turns in a strong (and funny, during one scene) performance. Even Debra Messing, previously well-known for her comedic skills, is solid in her small part.
Overall though, there's still something somewhat unsatisfying about the picture. The scares are good and occasionally quite good. While I never jumped out of my seat personally, a girl down the way nearly jumped into the next row. Again, the performances are great and the cinematography and general atmosphere are noteworthy. The second half really gets going quite well and has a few downright classic moments; it's just that first hour or so of the film that I can't get past. It's far too slow and personally, I almost lost interest completely. Certainly a very good attempt though, and worth checking out.
VIDEO: "The Mothman Prophecies" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan on this edition. Each version of the movie has its own side on this dual-sided, single-layered disc. Obviously, as with all films, the picture should be viewed in its original widescreen aspect ratio. This film's compositions are striking and highly effective; the visuals often heighten the tension marvelously and should be seen in their full glory. It seems very unfortunate that a pan & scan edition was included here, as the widescreen edition should have gotten a dual-layer, single-sided disc all to itself. That said, the widescreen presentation is certainly an excellent transfer from the studio, although it's not without some concerns.
Sharpness and detail are excellent throughout the film, especially in some of the bright, outdoor sequences, which have a three-dimensional feel. Darker scenes, of which there are plenty in this films, still look superb, as well. While the presentation's flaws aren't major, the infrequent problems did raise some concerns. Mild edge enhancement was noticed in a handful of scenes and was somewhat bothersome, but not hugely irritating. A couple of tiny traces of pixelation were also noticed, but not much of an issue. On a positive note, the print looked terrific, as no marks or scratches were spotted. Intentional grain that was seen theatrically returns again here, but never looks heavy or becomes distracting.
The film's color palette is extremely subdued. While a few warmer colors occasionally entered, most of the film offered crisp and cool tones. Colors looked well-rendered, with no smearing or other flaws. This is certainly a good and very watchable presentation, but I did not feel it was up to the studio's usual high standards.
SOUND: "Mothman Prophecies" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The soundtrack is appropriate and effective, although not remarkable. Surrounds are engaged for the score and for occasional sound effects. While I'm glad that the soundtrack isn't full of "scare sounds" just to get a jump out of the audience, I would've liked to have heard more ambience from the rear speakers. Audio quality was excellent though, as the haunting score was crisp and rich, while sound effects and dialogue remained clear and clean.
MENUS: The menus are not animated and very basic. A film like this certainly could have used a strong animated opening.
EXTRAS: Disapointingly, a trailer for "Mothman Prophecies" and a music video are the only supplements. The film really calls for a "Special Edition" - I'd love to have heard from Pellington or one of the actors or writer John A. Keel on a commentary track. Maybe a documentary about the "Mothman" would have been fun.
Final Thoughts: Fans of supernatural thrillers like "The Others" should check out "Mothman Prophecies". While the film's flaws (mainly, a pace that could have been tightened) keep it from being considered with the best of the genre, it does offer a terrific second half with some impressive scares, great atmosphere and a fantastic performance from Richard Gere. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers a fine presentation, but nothing else, which is too bad. Certainly worthy of a rental; those who are already fans might want to purchase.