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Mothman Prophecies: SE, The

Columbia/Tri-Star // G // May 27, 2003
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jason Bovberg | posted May 17, 2003 | E-mail the Author

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

If you're a fan of the underrated, spookily cerebral frightfest The Mothman Prophecies, you probably already own it on DVD, perhaps directly adjacent to director Mark Pellington's other effective paranoid thriller, Arlington Road. The previous release of Mothman was a disappointingly barebones disc, and I suspected even as I plunked down my cash that a nice special edition would ultimately usurp it. Well, here's the special edition...but you might decide to stick with what you already have.

The Mothman Prophecies is based on John A. Keel's same-named book, which recounts actual events of the 1960s. Richard Gere plays John Klein, a reporter for the Washington Post (he's essentially playing Keel). He and his wife Mary (Debra Messing) have just purchased a new home when a horrific vision in the middle of a dark road changes their lives unalterably. Two years pass, and Klein is still haunted by the memory of that vision. Reeling from a personal tragedy, he takes a drive to Richmond, Virginia, but ends up in the much more remote destination of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. After some strange encounters with the locals—including police sergeant Connie Parker (Laura Linney) and unfortunately named backwoods hick Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton)—Klein begins to understand that fate has brought him to Point Pleasant.

The disturbing paranormal vision returns full-force into Klein's life, and the film ratchets up its hyperkinetic editing and jangling sound effects to induce a nice, extended creep-out. One of the stronger aspects of this "monster" flick is that it doesn't resort to blatant visual representations of its central baddie. Pellington smartly resorts to barely glimpsed suggestions and jittery silhouettes, understanding that the unknown or (unknowable) is the true basis for fear. Admirably, Pellington avoids revealing much at all about the Mothman, and for this viewer anyway, the effect is chilling, extending beyond the film.

The Mothman Prophecies is an ambiguous film, but it's no less creepy because of its tendency to withhold straightforward answers. Throughout, you're asked to consider whether the Mothman is a real entity or the form of some shared delusion. Is Klein an everyman guiding us through a series of supernatural events, or is he an unreliable narrator under the sway of psychological duress? Aiding this sense of psychological breakdown is Pellington's visual and aural style. Nearly every aspect of the film's craft—the nerve-wracking score, the uneasy compositions, the jolting sound work, the flash editing—enforces the notion that some serious mind-fucking is going on, among the film's characters as well as the film's audience.

The performances ground the film in reality. Richard Gere is effective as Klein, delivering a shattered emotional landscape while conveying appropriate confusion and fear. Linney, in her relatively minor role, is fine though the tiniest bit arch in her two big emotional scenes. Patton is predictably great, portraying a loony with steely-eyed grit.

If you've seen Arlington Road, you know Pellington has a flair for dramatic twist endings. Although Mothman's ending doesn't provide quite the same sense of "HOLY CRAP!" that his first film's ending did, it delivers on its promise and is a great capper to an eerily effective film.

HOW'S IT LOOK?

Columbia presents The Mothman Prophecies in a pleasing 2.35:1 anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original theatrical presentation. After some back-and-forth comparisons, I'm sure this transfer is the same as the one on the previous release. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The image is terrific in nearly every aspect: Detail reaches into backgrounds, colors are rich and accurate, and black levels are deep. On the negative side, edge enhancement rears its ugly haloed head quite often, lending the image a hard, contrasty look.

HOW'S IT SOUND?

I believe this is the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track that's on the previous release. It's a great track, completely in service of the film's precise and eerie sound effects and score. Dialog is clear and accurate, and the score comes across powerfully. The surround speakers provide a sense of envelopment that wraps you into the film's menace—particularly as you progress toward the climax. The low end is deep and tight. I expected a DTS track with this re-release, but no such luck.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

This new special 2-disc edition offers some interesting extras, but they're not the kind of extras that make you stand up and applaud. I think that has something to do with Mark Pellington's personality, which is gruff and a bit off-putting. He dominates the extras with his surly, monotone voice and hulking presence.

On Disc 1, you get a new scene-specific Audio Commentary by Pellington. In his deep, dry voice, he actually has a great deal to impart about his techniques, about working with the actors, and about behind-the-scenes anecdotes. I particularly enjoyed when he pointed out subliminal images and sounds in the backgrounds that pointed John toward his fate. Pellington also talks about deleted scenes and why he chose to slice them. As much as I enjoyed the quantity of information here, Pellington delivers it in a sleepy, almost bored way that doesn't necessarily foster an entertaining listen.

Also on Disc 1 are brief Filmographies for Pellington, Richard Hatem (the writer), Gere, Linney, Messing, and Patton.

Moving on to Disc 2, starting from the top, you get the informative but scary-in-the-wrong-way 43-minute full-frame documentary Search for the Mothman. This feels like one of those earnest, authoritatively narrated television specials. To explore the "history" of the Mothman phenomenon, it unfortunately interviews an odd assortment of, you guessed it, residents of the rural south, who—as you also might guess—simply ooze credibility. I actually felt my own slight willing belief in the Mothman phenomenon crumble to pieces while listening to these people sit in their living rooms and drawl on about attendant UFO sightings, men in black, and the fact that the Mothman itself is named after a character in the old Batman TV series. If you want to remain even slightly unsettled by the events of the film, I'd stay away from this documentary.

Next up is an hour-long video journal of the director, broken into two half-hour segments called Day by Day: A Director's Journey – The Road In and Day by Day: A Director's Journey – The Road Home. The first half explores preproduction, and the second half explores the production. This is exactly the kind of fly-on-the-wall digital-video approach to documentary filmmaking I typically admire, but in this case, I was a bit put off. Again, the personality of the director gets in the way, as he comes across as hotheaded and grumpy. He loses his cool a couple of times. He curses like a sailor—not that there's anything really wrong with that, but the multitude of bleeped-out obscenities wears on the viewer. To be fair, there's some cool stuff here. We witness the production team scouting sites and finding a bridge that will play a part in a key scene. We listen to rehearsals. You get a definite sense of what the set was like. In the end, though, these two featurettes are too much of a good thing. The way they drag us through virtually every day of preparing and shooting wears thin, taking more magic away from the finished product than it should.

You also get five non-anamorphic widescreen Deleted Scenes. The Hilltop Sequence (4.5 minutes) brings UFO sightings into the proceedings. Return to the Zone of Fear (2.5 minutes) shows more footage of John outside the abandoned plant. Church Scene (1.5 minutes) has Gordy's wife freaking out on Connie. John at the Comfort Inn (1 minute) contains some front-desk weirdness. And John at Airport (2.5 minutes) is a silent scene where something else weird happens. These are only mildly interesting.

Trailers include an anamorphic-widescreen preview for Mothman, as well as for Formula 51 and XXX.

Finally, you get a Music Video of "Halflight" by Low, directed by Pellington.

WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?

The Mothman Prophecies is a fascinating and quite-scary thriller that I've already watched a few times. This new 2-disc set provides some unique behind-the-scenes supplements that both enrich and negate the effect of the film. The disc also contains the same video and audio efforts. Are the supplements worthy of an upgrade? Maybe, but you might consider a rental, because you'll definitely watch the supplements only once.

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