Willard (2003)

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

Released 13-Jan-2004

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Audio Commentary-Filmmaker Commentary
Featurette-Making Of-The Year Of The Rat
Featurette-Rat People: Friends and Foes
Music Video-'Ben' - Crispin Hellion Glover
Deleted Scenes-10
Alternate Ending-Original Ending
Alternate Ending-New Ending (Long Version)
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots-3
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 96:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Glen Morgan
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Crispin Glover
R. Lee Ermey
Laura Harring
Jackie Burroughs
Kim McKamy
William S. Taylor
Edward Horn
Gus Lynch
Laara Sadiq
David Parker
Ty Olsson
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Andrew Dorfman
Shirley Walker


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Greek
English Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Based on the 1971 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the book Ratman's Notebook, Willard tells a story that is not suitable for those with a nervous disposition towards rats.

    Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) leads a sad and lonely life, living at home with his cruel and sickly mother (Jackie Burroughs), working for the boss from hell (R. Lee Ermey), and with no friends or bright prospects for the future. He seems a harmless enough young man, if a little strange and not overly cheerful, but we soon learn that there is rather a lot of anger, hatred and regret seething inside him.

    After a brief introduction to the misery that is his life, we switch to Willard's attempts to eradicate some rats in his cellar. It seems the rats aren't as stupid as some pest control companies imagine, and it turns out to not be quite as straightforward as he'd hoped. Upon finally catching a white rat with something akin to fly-paper, Willard can't bring himself to kill it, and instead he befriends it and in turn becomes emotionally attached to the huge family of rodents in the basement.

    I don't want to give too much away in regards to the complicated relationships that develop in his little rat world, but there are two standout rats; the white rat he first befriended (Socrates, as he names it), and a huge brown one called Ben. These two seem to almost represent the gentle, quiet man inside Willard, and the angry, vengeful one

    Events in Willard's life start to take some turns for the worse, and he begins to use his army of rats as a means of power over people he sees as his enemies. Thrown into all this is a new temp at his office, Cathryn (Laura Harring), who feels for Willard and tries to befriend him. Sadly, her role has been cut down to such a small one that it almost seems now as if she's just an afterthought.

    I had quite mixed feelings about this movie. On the whole it struck me as being very well done, with an interesting tone; a mixture of quirky, dark humour and just plain creepiness. I confess I'm quite a fan of a lot of Glover's work, and I'm still not totally sure whether he's just plain strange in real life, or if he's just excellent at playing these sorts of characters (my suspicions are that it's actually a combination of the two). His performance in this movie is perfect for the role, and he really does carry the film for the most part. However, support from such a great actor as Ermey certainly doesn't go amiss, and even with the small part she has, Harring does a great job as well.

    However, when all is said and done, I just felt a little disappointed with the conclusion. It seemed a bit rushed, and with very little that was actually conclusive. During one of the extras on the DVD, the Director gets upset with a test screening response which claims that the film "lacks any point". Now although I certainly wouldn't go that far, I think I can see what the test audience member was getting at; things do just seem a little unsatisfying all round, and as such the movie didn't work for me as well as it could have.

    If you like Crispin Glover and, like me, think that he doesn't do enough acting jobs these days, then this is certainly worth a viewing. Also, I'd say people that have a penchant for slightly quirky movies which investigate human psychology and throw in a bit of dark humour (and lots of well trained rats), would also get quite a bit of enjoyment out of this. It's not your standard Saturday evening viewing though, and if you have a phobia of rats then don't even go near this DVD!

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    This video transfer is a pleasure to watch. Despite not being bright and colourful, it sets the mood perfectly for the film, and is presented in pristine quality.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, 16x9 enhanced, which is very close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

    The image is very sharp, with details being very visible on surfaces and faces. Blacks are solid, and shadow detail is spot on, which is very important for a movie that takes place so much in dark, shadowy settings. Be warned though that you won't want to watch this on a bright afternoon with sunlight reflecting off your TV set!

    Colours are certainly not bright and cheerful, with large portions of the film being in dimly-lit and colourless surroundings. Even the exterior shots are somewhat dull in their colour. However, these colours are used to set tone very effectively, and the few scenes in the supermarket, with bright lighting and colour, contrast so well as to be a jolt to the viewer. Also, the colour of Willard's office is such as to make you feel depressed before you even meet his boss. There are also some interior shots within the crumbling old house that are deep and rich, with beautiful lighting. On a technical level all colours are accurate, and there is not a hint of bleeding or chroma noise to be seen.

    Artefacts of any sort are absent from this transfer.

    There are 3 subtitle streams; English for the Hearing Impaired, Greek, and English Audio Commentary. I sampled the two English streams and found them to be almost word perfect, with the commentary subtitles having the name of the current participant in brackets at the start of a line. One thing to note is that there actually isn't a menu option anywhere to select subtitles for the commentary, so you either need to select "English for the Hearing Impaired", and then run the commentary, or you can use the subtitle button on your remote during the movie.

    This is a dual layered DVD, but the layer change doesn't take place during the feature itself. This makes a little more sense when you realise that the extras run for longer than the movie.

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

Audio

    We're given an excellent Dolby Digital EX soundtrack on this DVD, and for a type of film where you might not expect something of this standard.

    There are 3 audio tracks on this disc; English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s), and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). I listened to the 5.1 track and the commentary.

    Dialogue was clear for the most part, but with the occasional line from Glover being a little hard to pick up (such as during the final scenes of the movie). This was more to do with the state of his character than the transfer itself.

    The music by Shirley Walker was a perfect, quirky blend of full orchestra with accordions. It suited the film to a tee, and was used to good effect in heightening the mood. There's also a remake of the song Ben sung by Crispin Glover (the original song was apparently written for the 1972 sequel to the first Willard), which showcases his singing talents.

    Now in the unlikely event that you might have read my bio, you'll know that one of my audio likes is extensive immersive use of the surrounds that is subtle enough for you not to suddenly notice whenever your surrounds have kicked in out of nowhere. This transfer is an excellent example of what I mean, since it draws you into the film from the very opening credits, and will have you believing that you're actually surrounded by rats. I wondered how much of it was due to the 6th speaker of the EX format, but I sampled some parts of the movie with my receiver set to 5.1 output, and found it to be almost as good. Sounds of rats, cellar noises, the patter of tiny feet, ambience, and music will all be making use of your rear speakers throughout the full runtime.

    The subwoofer is not used as extensively as the surrounds, and there really isn't as much of a call for it, but when it is needed it really gets put to good effect. Lifts, basement noises, dramatic moments, and music will all keep your subwoofer from falling asleep.

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

Extras

    This disc provides us with a very substantial extras package. How they squeezed all this onto one disc without having the feature's video and audio suffer is a credit to New Line. I guess the lack of multiple colours or fast action scenes during the movie would have helped somewhat.

Menu

    Menus are 16x9 enhanced, are animated and have music looping in the background. They really set a creepy tone for the film to come, but you can't skip the animated transitions between different menus, which I always find to be an annoyance.

Audio Commentary - Glen Morgan (Director), James Wong (Producer, 2nd Unit Director), Crispin Glover (Actor), and R. Lee Ermey (Actor)

    Not a bad commentary, with information coming from one or more of the participants pretty much all the time. Ermey is not actually present with the others at the time of recording, but his comments are edited in at the appropriate moments.

    Glover and Morgan do most of the talking, and they do give a lot of information about ideas/themes in the film, origins of the story, the actors involved, working with rats, effects shots, and so on. There's also a number of indications that the Director is still a little sore about the way the film was received, since there are multiple comments about the test screening process, the changes that the studio required, and people just not getting the film for what it was.

    Certainly worth a listen if you enjoyed the movie.

Featurette - Year of the Rat (73:11)

    "Featurette" doesn't seem like an accurate description of this extra, since it's almost feature length! This really is one of the best making-of documentaries I've ever seen. If you think of the excellent The Beginning documentary on the Star Wars - Episode I DVD, and then think "more in-depth", you'll have some idea of what to expect.

    This documentary was put together by Julie Ng, a film student who left film school to be a Director's assistant for this movie. She documents the whole process of making the film, covering pre-production (location scouting, meetings, casting problems), production, post-production (musical score, test screenings, re-editing to lower the rating), release, and finally the aftermath. I can't really think of anything else that could have been squeezed in here, as we also have on-set interviews with the cast and many of the crew, and lots of fly-on-the-wall footage which really gives an insight into the lives of people making a Hollywood movie. The final interview with the Director as he looks back on the release of the film, and its failure at the box-office, is almost heart-rending, since you feel like you've been through the whole process with him.

    My advice to studios is to hire more film school students to walk around with video cameras when movies are being made!

    (Note: Be aware that this featurette contains a number of spoilers for the film, so don't watch it first if you don't want to have the ending ruined).

Featurette - Rat People: Friends or Foes? (18:39)

    This featurette is a bizarre look at some genuine rodent-lovers, contrasted against interviews with those less affectionate towards the little furry critters (for example, a pest control worker and an environmental health specialist). We have interviews with people at rat shows (much like other pet shows, but with rats), members of the Rat and Mouse Club of America, and one woman who has a veritable menagerie of weird pets, including hundreds of rats.

    I was amazed to learn that there are over 100,000 rat owners in the US alone (and that's by choice - we're not talking about the millions who unwittingly own rats in their cellars), with some of them owning 40 rats or more. Freaky stuff, and not to be watched if you have a phobia of rats, but then I doubt you'd be watching this DVD at all if that were the case.

    Narration is by Bruce Davison, who actually played Willard in the original 1971 production.

    This extra is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

Deleted/Alternate Scenes (25:48)

    12 deleted and alternate scenes from the movie, presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and 16x9 enhanced. The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well, so it's an unusually good presentation of an extra that often gets very rushed treatment on DVDs. The scenes are as follows:

    There is an optional commentary for the scenes, which has the Director and Crispin Glover discussing why the scenes were cut/shortened, which bits they missed, and more talk of how test audiences wanted things sped up.

    A lot of the deleted scenes aren't really missed too much, or are just extended versions of existing scenes, but it is a shame that they removed so much of Laura Harring's material, as her character seemed a bit tacked on in the final cut.

Music Video - Ben (2:57)

    Presented in 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, this is a music video with Crispin Glover singing the song from the film. This is one weird video clip which has to be seen to be believed. There's also an optional commentary from Glover who directed the clip, in which he gives us about 15 minutes worth of information in 3 minutes. I've never heard someone speak so fast on a commentary!

Theatrical Trailer (1:50)

    Not really very representative of the type of film that is on offer here, I can see why the Director may have been a bit annoyed at the way some of the marketing was done.

TV Spots (1:30)

    3 spots lasting 30 seconds each. Again these aren't really a very accurate representation of the mood of the movie. Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

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 wouldn't classify the features we miss out on as being important. Both versions are practically identical.

Summary

    An unusual film, which I'm sure will appeal to some people, and one which I found strangely captivating. If the ending hadn't been so messy, I'd have liked it a lot more. If you're a fan of Crispin Glover then this is a must-see, as he carries the film on his more than capable shoulders. Be warned though, that despite the frequent dark humour, this isn't a cheerful story by any means.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    Audio is superb.

    For a film that bombed at the box-office, New Line have gone all out with the extras. One of the best making-of documentaries you're ever likely to see, a decent commentary, substantial deleted scenes, and the freaky short segment on rat fanatics, all combine to make this a great package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Monday, January 19, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Amy F

Comments (Add)
The song Ben was written for the 1972 sequel, titled, Ben. - REPLY POSTED
Two retail versions? 1Rental bare bones 2 with ALL extras. Saw 1 in Kmart/JBHifi. Can't find 2 . :( -
Re: Two retail versions - wolfgirv