|Year Of Production||1990|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (56:09)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Frank Marshall|
Warner Home Video
Harley Jane Kozak
|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|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
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.
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.
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.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Richter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)|