Insomnia (Rental) (2002)

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Rental Version Only
Available for Rent

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 113:20
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Christopher Nolan
Alcon Entertainment
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Al Pacino
Hilary Swank
Robin Williams
Maura Tierney
Martin Donovan
Nicky Katt
Paul Dooley
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Rental Music David Julyan

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, only by teenagers.
Annoying Product Placement Yes, "ViewSonic" jumps out at me every time.
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

This movie is a re-make of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, starring Stellan Skarsgard. While I have not seen that film, I am lead to believe this adaptation quite closely follows the plot lines, but alters the motives of the characters. When Christopher Nolan, fresh from much critical success with his previous film Memento, was sent a tape of Insomnia with the offer to direct a re-make, he jumped at the opportunity. As well as a talented director, this movie boasts Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, and Al Pacino as the lead cast, making it a very interesting film before even exposing any negative.

Set in the fictional town of Nightmute, Alaska, the story follows LA detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino), who has been sent, along with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), to the sleepy Alaskan town to help out the local detectives - who usually encounter nothing more troublesome than drunks - on the case of a brutal bashing murder of a teenage girl. Initially, things seem to go well, and Dormer leads the locals in setting a trap for the killer, who shows up right on queue. But then things start to go wrong, and in a very thick fog, Dormer does something that he will come to regret. Blaming his actions on the escaped killer, Dormer continues to work the case of the murdered girl, but his conscience starts to get the better of him, and between that and the 24-hour daylight - the midnight sun - he cannot sleep (and therein lies the title). As the days go by, and sleep still eludes him, local crime author Walter Finch (Robin Williams) becomes the main suspect - until he tells Dormer that he witnessed what happened in the fog, and that he wants Dormer's help to escape justice, or he will talk. What should be an easy decision for Dormer is anything but, as now he has gone days without sleep, and maybe, just maybe, the bright-eyed young detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) is starting to suspect that Dormer isn't telling the whole truth.

This is a very gripping plot, and it is aided by both the utterly stunning scenery (almost every shot out-of-doors features scenery that is simply jaw-dropping in both harshness and beauty), and some very solid performances. This was the final in Robin Williams' "trilogy of evil" (three films in a row in which he played thoroughly nasty individuals, the other two being Death To Smoochy and One Hour Photo), although it was the first to actually hit Australian shores. It was almost as if he was building up for this role in the first two, as in this film he is the ultimate in degraded human beings - there is nothing to like about him at all. This isn't the Sy from One Hour Photo who was as much a sympathetic character as a frightening and despicable one. Finch has nothing at all to like about him. Pacino carries the films lead role well, although his "insomniac" doesn't really seem all that different to his normal characters, while Hilary Swank is convincing as the green detective who worships the ground Dormer walks on.

This movie has one major problem, however - the ending is a complete catastrophe. With less than five minutes to run, the film unravels completely, and we get an ending that almost seems to be a stop-gap. It is as if the writers simply could not come up with a way to finish the film that was workable, so we have the tacked on rubbish that is there now. It is a real let-down and takes away from from the previous hundred minutes of excellent work.

Overall, however, Insomnia is very much worth seeing. It is really just a very bright film-noir. See it for the breathtaking scenery, the good story, and the solid performances. Enjoy it for its attention to detail and ability to compose scenes that are very memorable. Just don't be disappointed by the ending - you have been warned!

Finally, if you are interested in seeing this movie but are yet to do so, I recommend not reading the back-cover blurb, as it contains what I would consider to be a large spoiler.

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Transfer Quality


The video transfer presented for Insomnia is at times impressive, but is generally let down by a few recurring, and annoying, problems.

Presented at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

Sharpness is extremely good, and is one of the most impressive aspects of this transfer. The shots of Alaskan scenery are detailed and lush, while all the important action is crisp and clear. Grain is not normally a problem, however when the fog rises at 25:04, the level of grain becomes quit disturbing, and serves to bring the viewer out of the experience somewhat. It only lasts for that sequence - around ten minutes - but it is certainly far from desirable. Shadow detail is almost as good as the sharpness, and the darkly lit scenes (of which there are few, due to the constant daylight) come across very well indeed. There is no low level noise.

Colours are excellent. From the lush greens of the Alaskan forest, to the blue of the police cars, the rendering is smooth and natural.

There is only one compression artefact present in this transfer, and that is some fairly obvious pixelization on the fog from 25:04, but in all fairness the increase in grain combined with the swirling fog serve to make a video compression nightmare, and the fact that it is handled as well as it is could almost be commended. Aliasing is also a problem, as it occurs frequently and quite obviously, starting with the plane wings from 3:08 to 3:15, and continuing throughout, mostly affecting indoor scenes, but also playing havoc with some panning shots outdoors as well, such as on the railing next to the road at 100:23. On the upside, there are no film artefacts at all in this transfer.

The subtitles are generally accurate, although every now and then a sentence is re-structured to make reading it simpler. This mostly affects Al Pacino's dialogue, which given his acting style is not really surprising.

Despite the label on the packaging that states this is a dual layered disc, it is not - it is single layered, and therefore has no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio transfer is one that does exactly what it needs to, and in quite an impressive fashion, but it still leaves a feeling that it could really have done just a little bit more.

There is one solitary audio track on this disc, and that is the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 Kbps).

Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, and is one of the things this soundtrack does best. It must be said that the audio mixing is very well done overall, as the use of incidental sounds is quite important to the story, yet it never interferes with the dialogue.

Audio sync is a mixed bag, starting out quite badly for the first few lines of dialogue (at 3:54), but these are possibly looped. Later however, there are moments (such as at 97:40) where the sync does seem to be out, and there are no real explanations. Mostly, it is quite good, although if watched closely enough it does give a feeling of being ever so slightly wrong.

The score is credited to David Julyan (and he manages an actual credit this time too, after missing out for no apparent reason in Memento), and as with his work in Christopher Nolan's previous film, is extremely good. It may not be particularly noticeable, but it suits the mood perfectly, and works well to build both tension and a sense that something just isn't quite right.

Surround use is the biggest disappointment in this transfer. For the most part the surrounds lie dormant, never really conveying any ambient noise, while the score is very much frontal. The only real use the surrounds get is for a few well designed sequences that track Dormer's descent into sleep deprivation, and while these are quite impressive, the lack of use at other times makes them feel slightly forced.

The subwoofer on the other hand is extremely good, backing up effects noises where necessary, as well as the score, and for some of the designed sounds used, really gets a chance to rattle the furniture.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


A football team dining on a single piece of toast would leave more extras than can be found on this disc - there isn't even so much as a trailer. And so the trend for Christopher Nolan films in Australia continues, after the largely bare-bones Memento disc was shown to be the (very) poor cousin to the UK and US editions, Insomnia suffers the same ignominious fate.


The menu is static and silent, although it is 16x9 enhanced, and themed around the movie.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on; The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on; Once again, Disney has seen fit to leave the Region 4 version of a Christopher Nolan film trailing so far behind its American counterpart that there really is no option as to which one to choose. Is that a little unfair, as this is a rental disc? Well, if we take the case of Memento, when the sell-through version finally came out, it was identical to the rental. Now to be fair to Disney, rights issues would have clouded the matter, as Memento is owned by Sony in the US, while Insomnia is owned by Warner Bros. The challenge for Disney, now, is to get the rights to those extras and present them so that Australian audiences do not have to keep turning to importation to get these films. They managed it - albeit belatedly - for films such as Starship Troopers, so why not these films?


Insomnia is a very competent psychological thriller that leaves a lasting impression. Unfortunately, it drops the ball big-time with the ending.

The video quality is generally good, although there is one sequence where grain and compression artefacts become a problem, and aliasing is a constant presence.

The audio quality is sufficient to enjoy this film, but it could have been quite a bit better in terms of surround use.

Extras? What extras? There are none. Not even a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
An absolutely brilliant movie - Geoff (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
The UK R2 has the same extras as the R1 and it too is owned by Disney . . . - Bradavon
This film is a remake of a Norweign film . . . - Bradavon
Thematic consistency ( *** spoilers for Memento *** ) - Anonymous
Audio distortion on R1 version of Insomnia. - Ben H (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Insomnia 2002 - does R4 include all R1 extras? - capone (they're some fine antibiotics you got there..) REPLY POSTED