Below (2002)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 18-Nov-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Theatrical Trailer
Deleted Scenes-3
Featurette-The Process
Audio Commentary-D Twohy (Dir), M Davis (Act), B Greenwood (Act), et al
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 101:02
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Twohy
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Matt Davis
Bruce Greenwood
Olivia Williams
Holt McCallany
Scott Foley
Zach Galifianakis
Dexter Fletcher
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Graeme Revell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German
German Titling
German Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    From time to time, a movie is released that seems as if it should have been a sure-fire success with an obvious marketing hook, but due to a general lack of effort from the studio involved just disappears under the radar. One such film is recent submarine horror Below. Directed by David Twohy, the man responsible for turning the low budget cult sci-fi Pitch Black into a major success (it earned around twice its production budget at the US box-office alone), and co-written by one of the most respected new talents around in Darren Aronofsky (writer/director of Requiem for a Dream) Below holds promise. Adding to the impressive pedigree of creative talent is the intriguing story concept - a US submarine crew in the Second World War pick up survivors from a sunken British hospital ship and head for home, only to discover that the survivors were apparently not the only thing they picked up - something far more sinister and difficult to control has taken a ride on the USS Tiger Shark. This should have been a marketing dream, with great creative talent, and an excellent story concept - so what happened? Disney, through their horror arm Dimension, barley promoted the film at all, releasing only a single trailer and some very uninspiring poster art before delaying it numerous times and finally quietly sneaking it into cinemas when no-one was looking. The result was that the people standing in the foyer of the local multiplex trying to decide what to see had no idea what Below was about. It had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stay at the cinemas, and did not even crack the $1 million mark at the US box-office - at a loss of many millions of dollars. Fortunately, it is much better than the treatment by its distributor would suggest, and although still ultimately flawed, is now available for all to see on DVD.

    Below follows the crew of the USS Tiger Shark during the second world war, opening with their receiving orders to back-track hundreds of miles to pick up survivors of a downed ship. When they arrive to take the survivors on board, they have two shocks awaiting them - one is a German ship which is probably not going to be too happy to see an American submarine, and the other is that one of the survivors is a woman. As the boat dives and turns for America, more and more things start to go wrong. Initially the crew are unconcerned, but as the problems mount, along with their costs, the tension on board does too. But what is the cause of these problems - is the boat just unlucky, or are the murmurings of a curse true? Is there something sinister at work?

    What gives Below its interest is also the thing that hampers it most - the supernatural element. The film is quite reluctant to go into full-on horror mode, and as such can never decide whether it is aiming for outright horror, or a "did we really see that" psychological thriller. The result of this indecision is that rather than being either, it is probably best described as a supernatural drama - in short, it is simply not scary enough. It is a shame that the full potential of the idea was not realised, as the claustrophobic confines of a submarine combined with the very real terrors of World War II create a perfect atmosphere for horror. Having said all that there are two or three very good jump moments within Below, but they are few and far between, and when combined with the lack of tension for the majority of the time, the end result is quite tame.

    A major positive for Below is the quality of the performances, and they provide a good base for what is actually a very interesting story. Starring a list of actors more used to supporting roles, the cast includes Bruce Greenwood (better known as J.F.K. in Thirteen Days) portraying the man in charge, Lt. Brice, and Holt McCallany (not really better known for anything - although chances are you have seen a movie with him in it) as his offsider Lt. Loomis. Both do a decent enough job of portraying men in-charge and under pressure, although both also clearly display why they have never really landed that big role. Matthew Davis does a very good job as the suspicious Odell, while Olivia Williams is a strong presence as the only woman in the movie. In lesser roles, Felicity's Scott Foley is impressive as the troubled Lt. Coors, while Jason Flemyng continues the repressed persona he displayed in From Hell as the low-class Stumbo.

    In the end, Below ultimately fails as a horror movie not because it is bad, but simply because it is not all that scary. Was that reason enough to essentially bury the film theatrically? That is probably up to individual judgement, but compared to some of the total dross that gets dumped into cinemas, Below comes out looking like an Academy Award chance. Go into it expecting an interesting and slightly spooky supernatural-themed drama, and a good experience awaits - just don't expect a horror thrill ride.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    It would be tempting to suggest that the quality of the video transfer for Below is in line with the amount of respect that Dimension have shown it to date, but it is not quite that bad. In fact, it is not bad at all - just not all that good either. Actually, at this point it is worth mentioning that the general video quality of Buena Vista titles has not been too impressive of late, with none of the last few I have reviewed receiving high honours. Is this simply because they are turning discs around faster? Is it because the general DVD-buying public care less about picture quality than home-theatre enthusiasts? Or are they maybe paving the way for a future high-definition audience? Whatever the reason, the trend is quite disturbing - I hope it is entirely bad luck on my part to have received lesser transfers.

    This transfer is presented in the slightly cropped aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the theatrical ratio was 1.85:1), and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    While generally sharp, the transfer still has a lacklustre feel. There is no real reason for it, but the best way to describe it is that it seems a little "flat" - lacking in vibrancy. Grain bobs up from time to time in the "outdoor" scenes (and is far more horrendous than anything actually in the movie from 3:01 to 3:08), but is generally kept to a minimum. Shadow detail is only sufficient, and shadows are mostly large expanses of dark with no real depth to them. There is no low-level noise.

    Colours are quite drab, but then again, there is not all that much to work with in a movie set for the most part under the sea in a metal tube. Where there are the opportunities for highlights - eyes, hair, some clothing, etc, the brighter colours are never overstated.

    The extreme grain as mentioned previously from 3:01 to 3:08 does cause some pixelization, but as far as artefacts go that is it. There is no aliasing to speak of, no film artefacts, and no other compression artefacts. If the transfer only had some vibrancy to it, the almost total lack of artefacts would be a cause for celebration. As it is, the transfer is simply not good enough to reap the benefits of the good work done keeping the artefacts down.

    The subtitles are a very good effort, being almost word-for-word accurate, rendered in an attractive font, well paced, and easy to read.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 61:02 during Chapter 10. The placement could have been better, as it is quite obvious even without sound, but it certainly could have been worse - it is a minor distraction only.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is a very good audio transfer, almost making up for the shortcomings in the video. It may not be a U-571 style soundtrack, but it should be remembered that this is a very different movie, with very different aims. For what it is, the audio is excellent.

    There are three audio tracks present on this disc. The first two are the original English dialogue, and a German dub, both in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 kbps). The third is the English audio commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (at 192 kbps).

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. There are no issues with audibility of dialogue over effects either, which is quite pleasing given the extensive use of sound to create an atmosphere. Audio sync is spot on throughout the transfer and never causes a problem.

    The score is credited to Graeme Revell, and is a competent effort. There is nothing here that is particularly memorable, but it does a good job of backing up the on-screen action. Perhaps a more aggressive score could have been used to ratchet up the tension during the film, but it probably would not have worked.

    Surround activity is very impressive. The surrounds come alive with all the noises of being under the ocean. On more than one occasion, I was turning at an unexpected sound only to realise it came from the movie soundtrack. A very pleasant listening experience indeed.

    The subwoofer is used intelligently, adding backing to the effects that call for it, and sitting silent otherwise. There are a few occasions here that will drive the subwoofer to a good, wall-trembling, level.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    While not plentiful, the extras package presented for this disc is surprisingly good given the film's theatrical release treatment and box-office results.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 enhanced, static with animated intros, and themed around the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (2:21)

    Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, this trailer is rather ineffective. With a trailer like this, it's surprising that anyone went to see the film at all.

Deleted Scenes

    This section features three deleted scenes as follows:     This is a relatively interesting collection of deleted scenes, with the latter two being quite decent action sequences, cut to keep the horror feel, and to avoid trying to turn the movie into an action film. All scenes are presented at 1.85:1, are not 16x9 enhanced, and are available both with and without audio commentary by director David Twohy in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround.

Featurette - The Process (12:25)

    This short featurette mostly consists of a video diary taken by director David Twohy during the filming of Below at Pinewood Studios in London. While relatively interesting, its short running time prevents it from ever going into any real depth. Presented at 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio.

Audio Commentary - David Twohy (Director), Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Zach Galifianakis, Nick Chinlund (Actors)

    While not too bad, this commentary does tend to suffer from the "too many cooks" problem - as most commentaries with this many participants do. There are a number of unfinished thoughts, and the participants are constantly talking over the top of one another. On the upside, there are very few moments where there is no talking.

R4 vs R1

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

    From all accounts, there are no differences between the Region 1 and Region 4 versions of this disc.

Summary

    Below is a good supernatural drama, with a few scares thrown in for spice. It is not particularly thrilling as thrillers go, but it is still far better than many of the films that receive considerably nicer treatment by distributors.

    The video quality is average - the transfer is a little flat and lifeless, more than having any specific problems, which is a shame as it is completely free from artefacts.

    The audio quality is very good indeed. It features some rather vigorous use of the surround channels, and delivers bass where necessary without overdoing it. Very pleasing.

    The extras are not exactly plentiful, but still more than would be expected for a film that fared as badly as Below did at the box office.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Wednesday, August 13, 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)
AllZone4DVD - Chris E

Comments (Add)
Not Really a Horror Picture... - Dark Lord (Bio? We don't need no stinkin' bio!)
pitch black - Johnny Wadd (i am bionic) REPLY POSTED
Any news on when this is available for sell thru? - Christopher