I've never read Intensity, the 1995 Dean Koontz bestseller about a troubled young woman and the serial killer that she crosses paths with. But it proved popular enough to spawn this 1997 TV adaptation, which condenses the 400+ page novel into a two-part movie that runs just over three hours. The story gets a bit more elbow room than your average adaptation...and though some of the gorier details obviously had to be left on the printed page, it's a gripping little thriller that plays most of its cards exactly right.
Our story begins with and revolves around Chyna Shepherd (Molly Parker, Deadwood), a 26 year-old waitress who's trying to put her past behind her. As the product of an abusive household and witness to at least two murders, she's understandably reluctant to make new friends, let alone join their family for Thanksgiving. But that's exactly what happens...and as fate would have it, the family she's staying with is being stalked by serial killer Edgler Vess (John C. McGinley - Scrubs, Office Space), who spoiler alerts the family in cold blood and drives off with Chyna's co-worker as a trophy. Vess doesn't realize that Chyna is in pursuit... and what's more, she eventually finds out that he's holding a little girl named Ariel captive in his remote cabin. Determined to save her, Chyna is up against tough odds: even though she's got the element of surprise on her side, Vess is cruel, organized, efficient and of course, intense.
The film's first half is a bit more unpredictable, since it routinely switches location after the initial plot is set in motion. A seemingly routine trip to a gas station turns ugly and serves as one of the film's early highlights. The long drive to Vess' remote cabin is made all the more tolerable by moody landscapes that wouldn't feel out of place in The X-Files or Millennium. Still, it isn't long before the film strips away all sense of the outside world and becomes much more claustrophobic: the second half is still very much a cat-and-mouse thriller (aside from the presence of a curious police detective, played by veteran TV actor Blu Mankuma), albeit one that takes place mostly within the wooden walls of Vess' compound.
Punctuated by a strong sense of danger, Intensity stays entertaining from start to finish, and I'd imagine that it holds up well to repeat viewings. The only frustrating elements---aside from the occasional don't go in there and just leave and call the cops, lady---are a few plot twists that seem to stretch certain scenes a little thin. McGinley occasionally delivers a few clunkers, particularly when explaining his outlook on life and the meaning of his name. For the most part, though, both leads do just fine with the material: the motives are clear and the characters are played with satisfying amounts of conviction and restraint. Intensity succeeds on a number of levels, but the performances are what carry most of the weight.
Sony Home Entertainment presents the film as part of the "Choice Collection", meaning this is a burn-on-demand DVD-R with cover artwork and not much else. It's not all bad news, though: Intensity looks and sounds better than expected, which will undoubtedly thrill fans of this forgotten small-screen gem.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
I'll admit that I'm a little stumped in regards to the visual origins of Intensity. Every resource I've found has stated the film's original TV aspect ratio is 1.33:1, but this excellent 16x9 transfer doesn't appear to be cropped in any way. It's likely that the original 1997 broadcast version was, which certainly gives this an advantage right out of the gate. Aspect ratio theories aside, this is a crisp transfer with strong image detail, good color balance and no major digital issues to speak of. Intensity obviously isn't a big budget production and looks a little thin at times, but the film's well-lit indoor scenes and moody landscapes translate quite well to DVD. A Blu-Ray option would've been nice, but it's tough to complain overall.
The audio is a bit less ambitious but still gets the job done. The technical specs aren't clearly listed but this appears to be Dolby Digital Surround 2.0, featuring crisp dialogue and strong channel separation. There's at least one scene (just over 20 minutes into Part 2) where the audio temporarily seems to drop a little in clarity, but the overall listening experience is a pleasing one. Intensity obviously relies on its use of music, ambient effects and atmosphere to build tension and, for the most part, this 2.0 Surround mix is up to the challenge. Unfortunately, no optional Closed Captions or subtitles have been included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, these menus are about as plain as they come, which goes for the cover and disc artwork as well. The main feature has been burnt onto a dual layered DVD-R and, presumably, each 90-minute half gets its own layer. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and includes no inserts.
Nothing, which isn't surprising since this release is a burn-on-demand DVD-R. I'd have loved to see a few retrospective cast interviews or deleted scenes, but Intensity
stands up pretty well on its own.
This 1997 adaptation of Dean Koontz' best-seller is definitely a cut above your average TV movie: the cast is great, it's nicely shot and the film's slow-burning story allows for plenty of suspense to be built. Though I'll admit the second half doesn't have as much power as the first, it's a fine little thriller that's worth watching at least once. Sony's burn-on-demand DVD-R obviously doesn't have the weight (or extras) of an "official" release, but the terrific widescreen video presentation is a nice touch. I doubt this title is available for rental purposes, so I'll give Intensity the benefit of the doubt. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.