Stir of Echoes (1999)

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Released 3-Oct-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Audio Commentary
TV Spots-3
Music Video-Moist: Breathe
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 95:05
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:47) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Koepp
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Kevin Bacon
Kathryn Erbe
Zachary David Cope
Illeana Douglas
Liza Weil
Jennifer Morrison
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music James Newton Howard


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/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
Italian
Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Returning to this film is like coming back to the bar to console an old friend who has just been unfairly sacked, or has just lost his car in a rigged game of poker. Rather than repeat my plot synopsis for the rental version of Stir Of Echoes, I thought I would start anew and see if my writing has improved any over the slightly more than six months since I looked at it. Even since then, the film has come under attack from those who want to unfairly compare it to The Sixth Sense, with little regard for the fact that the novel this film is based upon predates that awfully boring film by a good half-century. I don't think I even need to get into comparing the acting abilities of Haley Joel Osment versus Zachary David Cope, or Bruce Willis versus Kevin Bacon, for that matter. Stir Of Echoes is the clear winner because rather than beat its publicity campaign chest at us, it seems to remind me of this quote in a My DyING BRIDE song: "Down silent avenues, I live on..."

   Anyway, the plot is an exceedingly simple one that, rather than trying to dazzle us with painfully obvious twists, simply gives the actors a direction to move in as they do a splendid job of entertaining us. Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is your average blue-collar man in a small Chicago suburb, living with a wife by the name of Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and a surprisingly endearing young son by the name of Jake (Zachary David Cope). As is strongly implied during the opening, Jake has the ability to see and communicate with departed spirits. As I have mentioned before, this is not made the entire focus of the film, and the film is made all the better for it. Instead, this is just one of the genes in the pattern that make up one of the most cerebral and frightening true horror films that has been produced in Hollywood during the last thirty years.

    From an introductory day at the Witzky household, we follow Tom to a neighbourhood party where he allows his sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas) to hypnotise him on a dare, thinking that nothing will happen to him. Unfortunately, the exact turns out to be true, and Tom awakens with an unquenchable thirst, as well as persistently recurring visions of a dead teenaged female who continually appears in his living room. When the Witzkys find they are in need of a babysitter, Jake suggests that they contact a young woman by the name of Debbie Kozak (Liza Weil), but when something Jake says to Debbie riles her, Tom discovers that the young woman he's been having visions of happens to be Debbie's sister, Samantha (Jennifer Morrison). As Tom slowly loses his mind, and Maggie tries to discover why Tom and Jake have been acting progressively stranger, the question of why this dead young woman is haunting Tom begs for an answer. Of course, the old saying about being careful what you wish for as you may get it applies in spades here, as Tom wants Lisa to help him get rid of the visions, while the young woman who is the subject of his visions wants something far more important.

    If you've read my review of the rental version of this disc, then you already know how I feel about this film, but for those who don't, I shall issue the following recap since I like to think I have matured as a reviewer since then. Basically, I feel Stir Of Echoes warrants the same comparison to The Sixth Sense as Tron, Total Recall, or a Doctor Who serial called The Deadly Assassin warrant to The Matrix: the former blows the latter so far out of the water that it should be embarrassing for those who made the latter. Sometimes having the artistic sensibilities to know who is the creative one and who is the hack is more of a curse than a blessing, but if you don't mind a film that is genuinely frightening with a child actor who is genuinely endearing as opposed to a film that is annoying with a child actor who is, well, annoying, then Stir Of Echoes is for you.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Before I begin, I'd like to start with a general comment that the last comparison between the rental version of a Fox film (X-Men) and its eventual sell-through counterpart wasn't favourable, with the sell-through version suffering from increased aliasing. By contrast, the sell-through version of Stir Of Echoes is an improvement upon its rental counterpart. I made several notes while watching this transfer, less than a third of which were complaints, with this being one of the best Fox transfers I have seen all year.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. As a result, the scene compositions look much more natural than the rental version of the disc, where numerous shots had a decidedly cramped feel to them. This is in spite of the fact that the rental version was supposedly Full Frame, which goes to show that the only way to present a film is the way that the director intended.

    The transfer is very sharp, with an excellent rendering of all fine details at all times, which is important in this case because of all the little things that the viewer has to be clued in on while the narrative keeps right on going. The shadow detail is also very good, which is a great help because this is a very, very dark film with a lot of the action taking place at night or in nearly pitch black conditions, such as whenever Tom is hypnotised. There is no low-level noise present in the transfer, either, which is another plus that makes me pity anyone who tries to view this film on the Very Hazy System.

    The colour saturation in this film emphasises dull greys and browns to quite an extent, reflecting its setting in a low-rent neighbourhood of Chicago, but there are also some very bright sections such as in graveyards or outdoor parties. The transfer manages to squeeze every last drop of vivid brightness out of the film, even in such scenes as when Samantha appears to Tom, where a filter appears to have been applied in order to make Jennifer Morrison's skin look as pallid as is possible. Needless to say, there are no instances of smearing, bleeding, or composite artefacting.

    MPEG artefacts were never noticed in this transfer, which is no surprise when you consider that the bit rate rarely falls below seven seven megabits per second. Funnily enough, however, only 5.1 gigabytes of the RSDL disc's capacity is used, which means an awful lot of slack space that could have been used to increase the bitrate of the soundtrack, put in a DTS soundtrack, add more extras, or possibly even all three. Oh well, I guess smart decisions about the use of disc space are next on the drawing board. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some telecine wobble that was mild, but persistent through the first two minutes of the film, and another bout at 33:22 that was both brief and mild. The latter example can be partly blamed upon camera wobble, as this shot involves an extremely rapid pan across the set. Aliasing was very mild, with picture frames at 38:25 and guitar strings at 46:15 being the worst examples, and these are very much blink-and-you'll-miss-it instances. Film artefacts were slightly more plentiful than I would like for a 1999 film, with several prominent marks on the picture noticed occasionally, in addition to a moderate amount of small marks.

    The English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles on this disc are about ninety percent faithful to the dialogue, with occasional variances that still allowed the point of any line to be understood.

    This disc makes use of the RSDL format, in spite of the labelling I found on my copy of the disc, with the layer change taking place at 52:47, part of the way through Chapter 8. This is just as Kathryn Erbe puts her feet down, and the layer change really sticks out like a sore thumb.



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

Audio

    When I reviewed the rental version of this disc a while ago, I noted that this film received a highly engrossing and enveloping audio transfer, one that made the film seem all the more frightening. This audio transfer is no different, with the fidelity and enveloping ability of the Dolby Digital sound stage still making this the best horror I've seen on DVD to date. My only complaint is that it is such a pity that the question of how powerful this film could be with a DTS soundtrack remains unanswered.

    There are three soundtracks presented on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second, an Italian dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second, and an English audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a rather paltry bitrate of 96 kilobits per second. I listened to the default English soundtrack, the audio commentary, and I compared some parts of the film in Italian for the benefit of the woman I've been watching a lot of films with. If you're like this woman, and Italian is your native language, you'll be disappointed to note that the Italian dub does not make use of the surrounds to anywhere near the extent of the original English dialogue, but more on this shortly.

    The dialogue in this film is exceptionally easy to understand from start to finish, even from Zachary David Cope, or when Liza Weil is hysterically screaming about her character's lost sister. It is obvious at all times that a lot of care went into making the dialogue easy to understand when the film was being made, and the DVD-Video reflects this. Kevin Bacon speaks very quietly through most of the film, and the low frequency of his voice also tends to make it sound quiet, but even he came up more clearly than usual when he was speaking. There were no perceptible problems with audio sync in this transfer.

    The music in this film can be divided into the score music, and some numbers by contemporary artists. The score music is credited to James Newton Howard, a name I am not normally impressed with. The score in this film is extremely enhancing to the film, with liberal use of extremely harrowing themes that make the film more tense than it would normally be, especially during the scenes when we learn what happened to Samantha Kozak. By comparison, the contemporary numbers that were used in this film are absolute crap, but the quality of the acting, story, and score music more than make up for that.

    A popular complaint at the time that Stir Of Echoes was released onto the rental market was that there were a lot of Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks that sounded just like stereo. My assessment of the rental disc was that it was one where your surround channels will get just as much of a workout as the stereo channels, and that has changed little on this sell-through product. Almost from the very beginning, we are treated to some extremely enveloping uses of the surrounds that draw the viewer into the action and make the experience of the film that little bit creepier. Disembodied voices, such as at 90:01, or Illeana Douglas' voice during the hypnosis sequences at 9:44 or 58:13, make the most use of the surround channels. Oddly enough, the Italian version of these sequences sees the dubbed voice only coming from the centre, which is one of the strongest cases of something being lost in translation I've seen in a while. Ambient sound effects such as rain get a good use of the surrounds at 73:01, too, and while there are a few small sequences where the sound stage becomes front heavy, they are the exception rather than the norm.

    The subwoofer was used in small amounts to support numerous sequences, such as the hypnosis sequences or the football game, but the film doesn't give the subwoofer a great deal to do. In spite of this, the subwoofer is always present to at least some degree, and it helps add to the atmosphere of each scene without making itself conspicuous.



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

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static, but it is 16x9 Enhanced. It is so nicely themed that it beats the hell out of a lot of its animated counterparts that I have seen recently.

Audio Commentary - David Koepp (Director/Writer)

    This Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack features David Koepp talking about how he decided he wanted to create a film version of A Stir Of Echoes, and it is obvious that he has a great respect for author Richard Matheson. He also mentions getting some ideas from Brian De Palma on how to keep the long dialogue sequences interesting for the audience, and some of the things he talks about are very interesting. The soundtrack is a little tinny due to the high level of compression, but David provides a great deal of insight with surprisingly few pauses when you consider he's doing it all himself.

TV Spots (3)

    This submenu contains three TV Spots for the film: "Wife" Revised, which runs for thirty seconds, "Listen" Revised, which runs for thirty seconds, and "Trailer Countdown" Revised, which runs for thirty seconds. All three trailers are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Music Video - Moist: Breathe

   This four minute and fifteen second music video is presented in an approximate 1.78:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes

   This featurette runs for five minutes and thirty-five seconds, which is not an encouraging sign. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and is basically a collection of B-roll camera footage with no annotation or narration, which is very disappointing.

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;

    Widescreen Review stated when the rental version of this disc was released in Region 4 that the Region 1 disc suffered from a transfer which left something to be desired, with some artefacts being seen in more of an amount than is the case here. If transfer quality and the usual NTSC versus PAL differences are less important than a higher-bitrate soundtrack and a handful of extras in your view, then the Region 1 disc is the version of choice. If transfer quality matters, however, then Region 4 certainly appears to be the way to go.

Summary

    Stir Of Echoes is an underrated film that entertains rather than beats the viewer over the head with hype, and it was a real pleasure to sit through. It really feels timeless despite obviously being set in a modern era, and it feels much more frightening than is the norm for standard horror films simply because it makes one feel for the characters. I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and Fox have given it an excellent transfer.

    The video transfer is as close to reference quality as makes no odds.

    The audio transfer is of reference quality; it really draws you into this film like few other horror film soundtracks can do.

    The extras are pretty poor, both in quantity and quality. Except for the commentary, that is, which is rather informative.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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