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What has happened to Eddie Murphy? He was so witty, funny, and an all around great actor at one point. Films like Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America will always stand out to me as some of his best work. After the few successes and failures, Murphy realized it was time to do the genre of film that is almost always guaranteed a profit; family films. He started first in 1998 with Dr. Dolittle, followed by 2001's Shrek. Both these films were funny and a joy to watch. Naturally an actor has to make a bad film after a host of good films. Murphy decided to make two, one being extremely horrid (Adventures of Pluto Nash) and the other not being as bad (2003's The Haunted Mansion).
Based on the Disney ride, 2003's The Haunted Mansion is about a man named Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy), a workaholic real estate agent who never spends enough time at home or with his family. On the eve of his wedding anniversary, Jim decides to take his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), kids Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis) on a fun filled weekend adventure. But before the adventure begins, per the request of a Mr. Ramsley (Terence Stamp), Jim has to make a quick stop at a dilapidated, old, abandoned mansion. As we can tell by the title of the film, this mansion happens to be haunted. The mansion's original owner named Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) wants what was his back, especially his long-lost wife.
Directed by the man who gave us Stuart Little, a cute, funny, wholesome family film, I expected a lot more out of this film. I suppose this is because I long for Disney to make a film just a tenth of the caliber they were when I was a child (memories of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast). The main problem with The Haunted Mansion, especially because the word 'haunted' is in the title, is that the film was never really scary. There weren't any real overall scenes of spookiness or real danger that the family was put under. Now yes, I'm aware that this is a Disney family film and we can't show families in danger. But I ask, how is the audience suppose to get tense if the actual characters in the film never get frightened?
The film's stars do a serviceable job with what they're provided with. Murphy, seemingly going to bank with all these family films lately, has a few scenes that reminded me of his older films. He and Terence Stamp (all hail General ZOD!) play off each other exchanging a few witty lines reminding us of the quality of actor they both can be. I won't bother to address the kids as they're annoying, rude and downright stupid throughout. Thomason as Murphy's wife does acts in a manner that, similar to the film, never showcases that she's in a haunted mansion.
I will say that The Haunted Mansion is a simple sign of what Disney is made of these days. Their goal is to make films that will make serious buck and will be eaten up by families. Maybe because I'm not a family man yet or maybe because I know Disney is capable of much more, but I couldn't ever get into The Haunted Mansion. Best left for the kids only.
Presented in a 1080p, MPEG-2 Encoded, 2:35:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio, The Haunted Mansion, perhaps because of Disney's decision to use an MPEG-2 encoding, looks fine as a high-definition title, but lacks that overall 'wow' factor we expect out of one of the leading supporters of Blu-Ray.
Colors are bright, clear, and vivid throughout a majority of the film creating a nice, semi-scary feel to the picture. The film's print is in nearly pristine condition with no examples of grain, pixilation or overall noise (I did notice a bit of noise in some of the darker areas, but nothing too overwhelming). Blacks were so solid and bold that they felt, sometimes, too black creating a kind of dark look to the film making me wonder if my colors had been messed with on my set. This resulted in the film's detail, which is very important in a film where we have a big mansion with tons of possible little details, coming off poorly as all the little detail that a normal Blu-Ray boasts, looked way too dark and almost hidden here.
By no means does The Haunted Mansion contain a poor transfer. It's just that the transfer, especially coming from a company that usually boasts some of the best SD-DVD transfers out there, never really looks that much better than the SD-DVD counterpart. The image doesn't ever contain that 3-D look that most high-definition title contain. Overall, this was a good, but rather lackluster transfer.
Provided with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround Track, encoded at 48khz/24-bit), The Haunted Mansion, unlike the video, delivers on all levels creating a truly nice home theater experience.
The film's dialogue is simply and easy to understand throughout despite all the instances of screaming and creepy sound effects occurring around us. Speaking of sound effects, the various effects used in the film sounded excellent. The effects came out of all speakers, giving us a nice, equally balanced sound experience. A scene of possible demo to other families could be the graveyard sequence where a lot of these aforementioned sound effects came alive creating a nice enveloping soundstage.
Dynamic Range is also quite good here. The film's mid's and high's were placed well resulting in a clear auditory experience. The bass is also exceptional with deep, strong response from the sub. The loud, booming thunder and whoosing wind really sounded perfect. I'm sure that The Haunted Mansion won't be your first example of a film to show off to your buddies, but if nothing else, it shows us that even family films can compete with bigger action films. A first rate job Disney.
- Audio Commentary with Director Rob Minkoff, producer Don Hahn and screenwriter David Berenbaum: During this commentary, the three participants give us a ton of information about the film's concepts, turning the ride into a film, casting, visual effects, and finding the right audience. In fact these three get into such detail, that there is one instance where they get into so much detail that it felt like I was listening to an ad on the Home Shopping Network. If you like to know everything about a film, this is your commentary.
- Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts in the Graveyard: Running around 11 minutes, we get a sneak peek at how this sequence was completed via physical, blue screen and various effect statuettes. The problem here was that this was too short for the subject at hand. They skimmed over some of the more important areas too fast.
- Grave-Spirits: Ah some HD content! Thanks Disney! This short Blu-Scape film by award-winning filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg is well worth watching. I don't even want to give anything away here. Just sit back and enjoy.
- History of the Haunted Mansion Attraction: This 15 minute featurette was excellent. We get to hear from the ride's team of imagineer's as they give us a look back at the ride's conception.
- Audio Commentary with Director Rob Minkoff and costumer designer Mona May: A commentary with a costume designer seems a bit odd here. I'll be completely honest here and say that any comments mentioned here seemed so technical that Ms. May could have simply been added to the fist commentary so I wouldn't have to watch this film again.
Straight up, The Haunted Mansion was too short and not very convincing throughout. Like the movie, the video is rather lackluster, but the audio delivers on all fronts. The provided extra's, particularly the HD exclusive content, was a nice treat. However, I honestly don't imagine many people getting a lot of this film to consider a purchase. Stick with a rental solely to find something to watch with the kids.