1408 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Stevie McCleary & Noor Razzak (18th November 2008).
The Film

John Cusack has long been one of my favourite actors, ever since I saw "Grosse Point Blank" (1997). His presence and comic timing entertain me greatly. But the interesting career choices he’s made over the years has left me with a less than wholesome taste in my mouth. Same goes for Samuel L. Jackson; in the way that even starring in movies like "The Man" (2005) will not erase the good he’s done…although it comes close.

Now, when it comes to storytelling, Stephen King was the first major author I ever read and I fell in love with his storytelling. Horror is my favourite genre and I absorbed much of it at an early age. Many books and really bad movie adaptations later I began to wonder what the heck was going on. Can nothing this man writes be translated into a worthwhile film? We’re about to find out.

"1408" is the story of Mike Enslin (Cusack) who, after suffering a tragic loss, becomes a literary paranormal investigator making a living writing about (and then debunking) some of the supposed most haunted places in the world. But when he receives a postcard telling him not to enter room 1408 at the New York Dolphin Hotel, Mike can’t resist checking in…especially when they try everything to keep him out. Quickly Mike discovers that the room’s grisly reputation is based in fact. According to the hotel's manager Gerald Olin (Jackson) this room has been the site of over fifty deaths that have been kept out of the papers due to the fact they suffered death via natural causes (natural doesn’t sell)…if you can call drowning in a hotel room ‘natural’. The most chilling warning is also offered to Mike: nobody that enters room 1408 lasts more than an hour. But Mike is a total skeptic and shrugs it all off. "We don't rattle," he tells his trusty voice recorder. His tune changes quickly, as does ours once The Carpenters’ classic track “We’ve Only Just Begun” echoes from an unplugged alarm clock. An alarm clock counting down from one hour…

The story that "1408" is adapted from is very, very short and not enough to fill out even an hour of television. Which means this is reliant of good casting, strong actors and competent direction and storytelling (with that last one being of utmost importance). Which, shocking as it may seem for a King adaptation, they do have here. The whole fleshed out package is an eclectic mix of drama and horror that is distinctively King, yet in motion. It most certainly looks like the King curse has been broken.

The pace is deliberate with a psychological air to it as they roll through the first act, which was by far my favourite. From there it does delve into the realm of the absurd, however not in a way that is laughable…this is a rather chilling tale that I foolishly watched in an empty house. No, "1408" takes you on a surreal journey that hits the mark far more often than it misses. This is largely thanks to the brilliant strength of performance shown by Cusack, who is in the inevitable position of having to mostly act against himself. It is an impressive performance by someone that always gives it their all. It is Mike’s story that drives the film and it never loses sight of that, which was a fear of mine about halfway through. When the special effects began to kick in I wondered if the plot would be thrown by the wayside but this was luckily not the case. When all was said and done and that clock counts down…it was a satisfying experience and a pleasant surprise.

We get two endings as well with the Blu-ray release, the theatrical cut and an alternate. On the copy I watched the theatrical cut was in with the extras. It’s hard to decide which is better in regards to the film…good thing that you don’t have to! They both contain much goodness and suit the story that preceded it.

"1408" is a captivating film. What they have done here is capture what makes horror great. It’s not just about effects and big scares. It’s about fear, the human fear of the unknown. And unknown hotel rooms as well, apparently. I know I’ll never willingly stay in a hotel room with that number…well, maybe just for an hour.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this transfer is mastered onto Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. I was looking forward to an exemplary transfer from Genius here and being a recent release I think it's expected. Unfortunately this is not a very good HD transfer for many reasons. To begin there are far too many soft shots throughout this image transfer which plays havoc on the detail. The level of detail tends to blur throughout the film and doesn't remain consistent. This is a worry. Furthermore I found that the film's colors were way too hot, and peaking at times. Reds and yellows especially bled a little and mucked with the skin tones a lot. It was annoying and distracting. Blacks remain solid however, grain is minimal and the print is clean which are about the only real positive attributes this transfer has.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround presented at 48kHz/24-bit as well as a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English as well. For the purposes of the review I chose to view the film with its TrueHD track. Unlike the image the audio is incredible. The immersive nature of the track is really impressive, dialogue is clear but most importantly sound effects, directional effects, ambient sounds and score all utilize the sound space effectively to draw the viewer into the room. It's an active and occasionally aggressive track that makes good use of the bass levels as well. The mix feels balanced and natural.
Optional subtitles are included in English only.

Extras

Genius has included an audio commentary, a couple of alternate endings, deleted scenes, some featurettes, a couple of webisodes and the film's theatrical trailer as extras on this disc. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Mikael Håfström and co-screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. In this track the participants comment on the film's story, the adaptation process as well as plot elements. The director comments on the production, the cast and shooting in the room set creating the different effects for the sequences. The track includes a lot of technical information, which might bore some listeners. While it's a good track, you'd have to be a rabid fan to sit through this one all the way through.

2 alternate endings are included:

- Alternate ending #1 runs for 5 minutes 27 seconds, in this ending Mike dies in the room and months later Lily cleans out his apartment and Mike publisher Sam gets a book manuscript mailed to him posthumously.

- Alternate ending #2 runs for 5 minutes 11 seconds, and Mike is rescued from the room and months later he discovers his recorder which has a recording of his dead daughter made while he was in the room.

Next are a series of 5 deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by the film's director Mikael Håfström and co-screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, these play in a reel that runs for 11 minutes 21 seconds or can be viewed individually, these scenes are mainly extensions to scenes from the film, here we have "Contacting Lily" in which Mike tries to get in touch with Lily over the webcam of his laptop. "Wrought With Guilt" Mike is guilty about his daughter's death and argues with Lily. "I Warned You About 1408" Olin appears in a hallucination at the post office. "Tilting Room & Lily Pleads At Door" Mike tries to answer the door as Lily tries to get in. "Arriving At The Dolphin" which is a travel montage and features a cameo from the film's director.

Following that are 4 featurettes that cover "The Secrets of 1408" and include:

- "The Characters" runs for 7 minutes 59 seconds, the cast and crew comment about the film, the room being a character, their characters and working with each other.

- "The Director" runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds, the cast and crew comment on the director and how great he is and how gifted he is, another fluff piece that tells us more about how wonderful the filmmakers are and skip anything about the actual making of the film.

- "The Production Design" runs for 5 minutes 24 seconds and focuses on the design elements of the film, especially the room itself as well get a look at the process of creating an ordinary room that reveals itself as the film progresses. The participants comment on how the room is as much a character in this film as the actors are.

- "The Physical Effects" runs for 4 minutes 17 seconds, here we get a look at the use of the underwater stage at Pinewood to flood the room as well as the tilting of the room.

2 webisodes are next and are short clips made for the Internet ad campaign of the film and feature:

- "John Cusack on 1408" runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds, Cusack comments on the film, it's plot and his character.
- "Inside Room 1408" runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, and is a closer look at the room itself and why it's so dangerous and also looks at the various production elements involved in making the room come to nightmarish life.

Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: C- Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: B-

 


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