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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Insomnia (2002)

Insomnia (2002)

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Released 1-Sep-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Menu Audio
Interviews-Cast & Crew-A conversation with ChristopherNolan(Dir)and Al Pacino (Act)
Featurette-Making Of-"Day for Night: The Making of Insomnia"
Featurette-"In The Fog" Nathan Crowley, Production Designer
Audio Commentary-Scene specific, by cast and crew
Featurette-"Eyes Wide Open" - documentary about insomnia
Gallery-Photo-Promotional Material
Additional Footage-Deleted scenes with commentary
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 113:20
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:41) 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
Robin Williams
Hilary Swank
Maura Tierney
Martin Donovan
Nicky Katt
Paul Dooley
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $36.95 Music David Julyan

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French 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
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 is the retail release of Insomnia. You can read my review of the rental release here. For the sake of saving mouse clicks, I have repeated the rental plot synopsis here.

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 have been led to believe that 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 and 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 even before 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: Dormer guides the locals in setting a trap for the killer, who shows up right on queue, but that is when it all starts to go wrong. In the 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 Dormer, 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. To complicate matters, the bright-eyed young detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) is starting to suspect that Dormer isn't telling the whole truth.

It is a gripping story, aided by both the utterly stunning scenery (almost every shot out-of-doors features landscapes that are simply jaw-dropping in both their harshness and beauty) and some very solid performances. This is the last 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, because in this film he is the ultimate in degraded human beings - there is nothing to like about him at all. This isn't Sy from One Hour Photo who was as much a sympathetic character as a frightening and despicable one. Finch has nothing at all to sympathise with. Pacino carries the film's 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 that takes away from from the previous hundred minutes of excellent work.

This is a film that bears repeated viewings well, offering something new to discover each time. An interesting twist is that the film's final scene (after the train-wreck of an ending has done its damage) is an expertly woven journey along the line between tragic and up-lifting, finally restoring faith in the human spirit. If all this is not incentive enough to re-watch the movie, then the stunning scenery at least makes it a visually enjoyable journey.

Overall 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!

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

Transfer Quality


The rental version of Insomnia is a single-layered disc, while this retail-release is a dual-layered effort. The advantages of the extra space are obvious. This transfer is of excellent quality, and is easily the best Buena Vista transfer in quite some time, including the rental version of this film. Given that Buena Vista have been releasing transfers that fall short (and often well short) of excellent lately, this is a nice change.

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

Sharpness is superb, displaying incredible detail and helping to bring out the majesty of the stunning backdrops to the drama. The smaller actions of the characters are also conveyed without issue, and there is plenty of fine detail visible. In general there is very little in the way of grain. During the chase in the fog from 28:00 it does become quite obvious, but it is never to the point of being distracting, unlike the rental transfer. Shadow detail is also excellent, and the darker scenes (there are surprisingly many, despite the fact that the entire movie takes place during the "day") have good depth and clarity. There is no low level noise present.

Colours are also excellent. The stark white-blues of the ice fields are well contrasted by the lush greens of the forested landscape. The blue of the police cars and the infrequent colour highlights also come across without any problems. The overall effect is to give the film a very picturesque quality.

There is some pixelation on the grain during the fog-chase sequence, but other than that, compression artefacts are non existent. There is a small amount of aliasing, much less than in the rental transfer, with items such as the plane wings from 3:08 to 3:15 and the filing cabinet from 71:57 to 72:00, producing some fairly obvious shimmering, but in general it is not distracting. There are no film artefacts at all.

The subtitles are quite disappointingly different from the spoken dialogue. Since this is a drama, not much in the way of plot information is lost, but there are many whole sentences that simply do not appear in the subtitles.

This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 71:41, between chapters 21 and 22. It is quite well placed on a scene change, although still noticeable due to the audio dropout. As a final note, the chapter list on the inside cover of the DVD is incorrect. It lists 17 chapters in the movie, while in actual fact there are 31. The 17 chapter list would appear to be the rental chapter list, which was not changed for the retail slick of the movie (although the features box on the back cover was added).

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


This audio transfer is very good - generally quiet and reserved for the most part, but more intense when necessary. It delivers a subtle mix that probably won't be used as your next demo disc, but will still impress those who listen carefully.

There are two audio tracks available for selection, namely the original English dialogue and a French dub, both presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps. The additional audio commentary tracks are not available while watching the feature, due to the nature of their presentation.

Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. This film has incredible dynamic range, from quiet sleeplessness to ringing gunshots, and uses sound design very specifically to place the audience in the mind of Al Pacino's character - the soundtrack represents all these nuances without any problems. Audio sync is spot on throughout the transfer and is never an issue.

The score is credited to David Julyan, and it is an extremely effective one. Having worked for director Christopher Nolan on many of his previous projects, he is able to balance the on-screen themes with the music perfectly, making the film both a visual and aural journey.

Surround activity is not particularly dynamic, but what activity is present is used to good effect. Some ambience, such as the rattles of the plane journey and the hollow echoes of the tunnel under the cabin, are carried through the surrounds. They are also used to carry the score and some particularly unsettling sound effects, as well as the occasional directional effect.

The subwoofer has little to do, only backing up the score from time to time and kicking in for gunshots and crashing logs, but for the most part it sits idle. This is not the fault of the transfer, as the film contains very few deep bass effects.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


After the rental edition of Insomnia, a disc that contained only the film, not even a trailer or a bio, this retail version is a welcome change. Indeed, what a change it is - this disc is packed with extras and leaves almost nothing untouched. Also note that the back cover of the disc does not list most of these extras, but instead lists their sub-menu, e.g. Production Diaries.


The menu is 16x9 enhanced, animated, themed around the movie, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Featurette: 180: A Conversation With Christopher Nolan And Al Pacino (17:11)

This is an interesting twist on the normal interview segment, with director Christopher Nolan and star Al Pacino essentially interviewing each other. Topics of discussion range from Pacino's inspiration for Scarface to Nolan's directing technique. It is very much worth watching. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Featurette: Day For Night: The Making Of Insomnia (7:57)

This is far more interesting than your usual "making-of", discussing a number of aspects of the production instead of a round of back-slapping. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Featurette: In The Fog: Wally Pfister, Nathan Crowley (6:11,5:48)

Although listed twice on the menu, this is actually the one featurette (or more accurately, a collection of behind the scenes footage) with a choice of two voice-over options - director of photography Wally Pfister, and production designer Nathan Crowley. The two talk about both the footage specifically and the production in general from their own perspectives. Again, well worth watching. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

Audio Commentary - Christopher Nolan (Director) (102:16)

This commentary is a little different to the usual type of audio commentary. Using the branching abilities of DVD, the movie is played in the order it was filmed, while director Christopher Nolan delivers his commentary. The commentary itself is very interesting, as Nolan talks almost continuously about a wide range of topics, including his theories on theme and action, the visual decisions made, and the reasons for certain plot points. The presentation of the movie in production order makes this commentary even more interesting, as it is fascinating to see exactly where the actors have to take themselves on different days.

Audio Commentary - Hilary Swank (Actor), Hillary Seitz(Screenwriter), Wall Pfister (Director Of Photography), Nathan Crowley (Production Designer), Dody Dorn (Editor) (39:55)

Despite the number of participants, this commentary does not actually last any where near the running time of the film. As with the director's commentary track, this one uses branching to play particular scenes for particular commentators. Despite this, the comments are mostly not screen-specific, and are more like extended interviews with the participants (apart from Hillary Swank, who has little to say). Not quite as interesting as the director's commentary, but a welcome addition in any regard.

Featurette: Eyes Wide Open (7:30)

This short featurette covers the very real topic of insomnia, interviewing some sufferers, as well as a number of professionals in the field of sleep research. Very interesting. Presented at 1.78:1, and 16x9 enhanced (which is strange as all the other featurettes on this disc are non-16x9 enhanced at 1.33:1), and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Additional Scene (3:04)

This additional scene, available with or without a director's commentary, takes place in the motel where Dormer is staying, and is a lengthy conversation with Maura Tierney's character that gives a large dose of Dormer's history. While it was a good scene, director Christopher Nolan states in his commentary that it was taken out as it did not fit the character, which seems to have been a wise decision. Presented at 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio for both options.

Promotional Materials: From The Evidence Room

This is a two and a half minute sequence of still photographs, including behind the scenes shots, promotional material, and movie stills. Given all the other inclusions on the disc, this one seems quite pointless.

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; I owe Buena Vista an apology. With the rental version I handed them a serve for dishing up another Christopher Nolan movie without any extras, but this time around they have really delivered. Buena Vista have brought across virtually all the extras from the Region 1 version of this disc (certainly all the important ones), to make this comparison a tie.


Insomnia is a good film with a great performance from Al Pacino, and some superb visuals. A very good remake.

The video quality is excellent, with very good detail and excellent representation of the spectacular landscapes.

The audio quality is also excellent, presenting a subtly enveloping soundscape that really aids the film.

The extras are extensive and very interesting - a very good overall package. Note that, in what seems to be a rather strange decision, the majority of the extras are not listed on the back cover of the DVD, but rest assured that they are there.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Thursday, September 25, 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)

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