Arachnophobia (1990)

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Released 4-Sep-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 105:03
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:09) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Frank Marshall
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Jeff Daniels
Julian Sands
Harley Jane Kozak
John Goodman
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music Trevor Jones


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 4.1 L-R-LS-RS-Sub (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired
French
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    In space, no one can hear you scream, and it may not be all that safe in the water, but at least you can choose not to go there. Now we have a "monster" film that plays upon our fears of the everyday, in our very own environment and there is no escape.

    Arachnophobia begins in the unexplored jungles of Venezuela where a team of research biologists headed by James Atherton PhD (Julian Sands) is searching out new animal species. In so doing, they stumble upon the isolated home of a particularly large and aggressive, not to mention peculiarly mean and intelligent, strain of spider whose bite results in instantaneous death. A demonstration of this ability is provided very early on in the film, in a scene that actually had my wife (who has a morbid fear of anything that buzzes, creeps or crawls) in fits of laughter. Naturally enough, one of the spiders hitches a ride back to the old US of A to begin a better life and takes up residence in the home of Dr Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak), who have just moved to the peaceful town of Canaima to begin their own new lives of bliss.

    The spider very soon meets an obliging local arachnid and, before you know it, hundreds of baby spiders looking all the world like Huntsmen are spreading out into the township. Of course, all these progeny have their parent's ability to kill with alarming speed, and townsfolk start dropping dead in a pattern that more than alarms Dr Jennings. Having lost his only patient, unknowingly, to the little nippers, he gets locked in a bout of verbal head-butting with the established town doctor, Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones) about the cause of these deaths until Metcalf, too, is struck down.

    With the evidence gained from the victims' autopsies Jennings realizes he is way out of his depth and contacts Atherton, the acknowledged worldwide expert in spiders, for help. The story really gets into its stride at this point as the true nature of the danger become clear and plans are laid to seek out and destroy the spiders' central nest.

    The memory that sticks with me most about this film is the grin on my face at the end of it. In fact, it gave much the same feel as a good roller coaster ride. Although the last few minutes will have you squirming in your seats, there is nothing in this film that would cause it to be classified it as "horror". The director (Frank Marshall) has gone out of his way to soften the deaths of the victims, and while the tension is built up in a series of spikes it is quickly relieved, normally by some very effective humour. In this regard, John Goodman steals the show as the local pest exterminator, Delbert McClintock. His work here is almost sufficient on its own to turn the film into a comedy, with a stream of one-liners delivered with a ridiculously straight manner.

    Arachnophobia has the confidence to never take itself seriously, thanks I imagine to the incredible depth of talent residing within its makers. Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg (the uncredited second unit director) had by this time worked together on a plethora of film projects, over a period spanning a decade. Their delight in providing the viewer with such wholehearted cinematic fun seems to be sadly lacking in many more recent filmmakers.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The disc is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, effectively the same as its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is generally crisp and clear, although I did think that some of the interior scenes (in Dr Jennings' home) appeared just slightly softer. This tended to add to the nice, homely feel of the place, in stark contrast to the spider's lairs. By necessity, much of the film is set in either partial or complete darkness, but never lost image detail. Low level noise was never apparent. One thing that struck me during the opening credits was that there seemed to be a degree of haziness over the entire image. Given the location (flying over some pretty moist-looking jungle terrain), I concluded that this was just some minor condensation on the camera casing, and probably couldn't be helped.

    Colours were well-rendered, particularly in the early scenes in the Venezuelan jungle which showed up with rich contrast. Jars of tropical butterflies collected by the biologists and the general postcard backdrops exhibited some stunning, fully saturated colours. This couldn't quite be translated into the small American township where most of the film is set, and where whites and creams seemed to predominate. However, colours remained realistic and lifelike throughout.

    Minor scratching was evident in the opening frames of the film, but seemed to disappear for long stretches at a time once we got past the first reel. They appeared in mini "explosions" thereafter but were not disturbing. Otherwise there were no artefacts seen. The slightly softer image quality referred to above has helped in avoiding any aliasing with the image.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change coming at 56:09. My player produced a significant pause and some heavy line patterns on the screen at this point, making it clearly intrusive.

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

Audio

    I can recall seeing this film for the first time in the cinema, back in the days when I first started harbouring ideas for a home cinema (must have been the very early days of Pro Logic, or earlier) and thinking that this would be a prime contender for inclusion in my library. The reason? The opening credit scene contains some gorgeous pan flute music totally filling the listening room. All of that came flooding back when I wound up my system to view this disc.

    There are three audio tracks. The default is the English DD 4.1 track, with mono surround channel (L-C-R-S-Sub). There is also the choice of French and Italian, each with the same configuration as the default but with no LFE channel. I listened to the English track and sampled the other two. Other than the dialogue itself (and the lack of the LFE channel), the tracks appear to be identical.

    Dialogue was universally clear. There was never any problem with audio sync, and occasions in which looping was clearly used still sounded fresh and natural.

    I referred above to the impact of the music on me personally. Trevor Jones has put together a very effective, and at times rather sweeping, score for this film. He has even tried to emulate the great master, John Williams, in coming up with a suitably creepy motif for the spider, along the lines of the shark theme from Jaws. This heightens the tension of the picture without leaving any great memories.

    The surround channel is used quite aggressively for the opening music and more especially in the jungle scenes where it recreates all of the fine audio detail of insects and assorted creatures moving and flying about you. Later on it becomes much quieter as the film becomes more dialogue-based.

    The subwoofer kicks in with some useful support to the musical score, and is used to enhance the more eerie scenes leading up to spider attacks and the like. All in all, the speaker is used quite competently.

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

Extras

    This space intentionally left blank.

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;     You will have to weigh up the advantages of each. Personally, I would go for the 16x9 Enhanced PAL transfer.

Summary

    This is a fun, well made, although certainly never great, film. The disc delivers what seems to me to be a faithful replication of the film, one that I could happily see myself spinning up once a year (or two). Just don't buy it if you're really scared of spiders!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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