Stir Of Echoes (Rental Version)

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Details At A Glance

Category Horror None
Rating ma.gif (1236 bytes)
Year Released 1999
Running Time 95:04 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director David Koepp
Artisan Entertainment 
Fox Home Video
Starring Kevin Bacon
Zachary David Cope
Kathryn Erbe
Illeana Douglas
Kevin Dunn
Conor O'Farrell
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI Rental Music James Newton Howard

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    A warning to all who aren't aware of my propensity to go off the deep end in complete fashion. The following plot synopsis contains comments that will almost certainly offend you if you enjoyed The Sixth Sense, and the subsequent review also contains comments that may not quite be completely palatable. Having said that much, when I saw this film at the theatre, I wanted to issue the following memo to M. Night Shyamalan: you're not a horror or drama director, you're a tryhard. When you wake up to yourself and realize that you cannot direct a good or original horror or drama film, I'm very certain that you're going to go and become a tryhard something else.

    In case everyone else is wondering why I opened my review that way, this is the film that The Sixth Sense tried so hard to be and failed so miserably. In case you try to tell me that The Sixth Sense came out first, the Richard Matheson novel A Stir Of Echoes has been in publication for approximately forty-five years now, and this film follows it reasonably faithfully except for the end. As the blurb on the front cover states, this film goes places that The Sixth Sense just didn't dare. It has a more credible lead actor in the form of Kevin Bacon, a far more appealing child actor whom I didn't want to hit with a brick after the fourth reel, and a story that wasn't quite so bleeding obvious that I had it all worked out in ten minutes. The film begins pleasantly enough, with Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) living the life of your average blue-collar worker in your average blue-collar town with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), and his son Jake (Zachary David Cope). Jake is seeing apparitions at regular intervals, but this is a minor plot point that doesn't become the entire focus of the film as was the case in the inferior imitation. Instead, things focus more on Tom and how he comes to understand what his son is seeing for the first half of the film.

    At a party, Tom agrees to be hypnotized by his sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), with his scepticism providing him with an assurance that nothing is going to happen to him. Unfortunately, Tom is quite incorrect in this belief, and he too starts seeing apparitions at regular intervals, much to Maggie's distress as well as his own. The difference between Tom and Jake is that Jake can calmly and quietly communicate with the departed spirits that he sees, but Tom cannot. When the Witzkys suddenly find themselves in need of a babysitter, they enlist the services of Debbie Kozak (Liza Weil), but something Jake says to her riles her so badly that she takes him to the train station to see her mother. It seems that Debbie has a sister named Samantha (Jennifer Morrison) who disappeared some time ago, and both Tom and Jake are having visions of her. As Tom becomes more driven to understand the visions he is having, and hopefully get rid of them, his friends and family think he is progressively losing his mind, but he is discovering a dark secret about the place he lives in.

    The only fault of this film is that the novel's ending was left out in favour of a more typically Hollywood ending, but this one fault is overridden by the rest of the film. It is quite easily last year's most overlooked horror story, running numerous rings around The Sixth Sense and even giving atmospheric classics like Candyman a good run for their money in terms of story development. This is one of the few films that have made me jump up in my seat, and not because I was the only one in attendance during the theatrical session (a memo to Artisan: try using your money to distribute good films like this one instead of crap like The Blair Witch Project). Sit back, open a can of your favourite intoxicant (trust me, you're going to need it), and enjoy the fruits of whatever your local rental store charges, because it will be money well spent.

Transfer Quality


    It seems to be a curse for me, because more than half of my favourite films are distributed in this Region with formatting that makes me want to throw things at the screen. In this case, Stir Of Echoes has been panned and scanned into the ratio of 1.33:1, a noticeable difference from its proper ratio of 1.85:1. It is obviously not 16x9 Enhanced. According to the information I have been given, this is a rental release of the DVD, so hopefully the sell-through version will correct this rather grave mistake.

    The transfer is extremely sharp, bringing the picture to life in a way that just isn't possible with any other medium except the original theatrical presentation. The shadow detail is excellent, with plenty of discernible detail and movement in the darkness, which is a good thing considering how much of this film takes place in the dark. There is no low-level noise in the picture.

    The colour saturation of this transfer is bright and vivid. The entire film is set in a poorer district of Chicago, where the most dominant colour is a grimy shade of brown, which is rendered quite beautifully in this transfer. By the time this film is over, you will have seen shades of brown that you weren't even aware of before. The greens and blues of the film are also handled well, with plants and skies being rich and vivid. Most of the film is extremely subdued in colour terms, but when there is a flash of bright colour, this transfer handles it well enough to make me pity the person who tries to view this film on VHS.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer, with a higher bitrate keeping everything looking nice, smooth, and natural. The compression here really looks as transparent as can ever be expected of a single-layer disc and a ninety-minute film. Film-to-video artefacts were not a presenting problem during the feature, either, except for some telecine wobble during the opening credits. There is some interference present on the television screens that briefly feature in this film, but they were also present during the theatrical exhibition of this film, and cannot be blamed on the transfer. Film artefacts are also present, but only just barely at the point where they can be noticed, with the occasional white fleck appearing in the middle of the picture.


    Even if the video transfer of this film is slightly disappointing due to its format, the audio transfer certainly isn't. As a matter of fact, this particular audio transfer makes great demonstration material, with every advantage that makes a discerning viewer switch to the DVD format in full force. There is only the one soundtrack on this disc: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, encoded at the bitrate of 384 kilobits a second. Hopefully, the sell-through version of this disc will contain a commentary track, as I would like to hear about the processes by which the film was made.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, in spite of the low volume and frequency of Kevin Bacon's voice, among other things. There were no discernible problems with audio sync at any time, although some lines were obviously quite heavily processed for obvious reasons.

    The score music is credited to James Newton Howard, and this is one of his more impressive efforts in spite of extensive presence from contemporary music that (thankfully) only succeeds in destroying the mood of the film during the end credits. The horror of the story is lent a great deal of support by the music, with a number of quiet, haunting themes present at just the right moments. Occasionally, a revolting piece of contemporary pop rubbish will rear its head and mark the film down a notch, but it quickly recovers with an appropriately understated theme that consists of little more than a piano and some strings.

    The surround presence on this disc can be described as extremely enveloping, with even my rear speakers rumbling at some moments as all the music, lightning, and other such special effects are directed through them. There are no moments when the soundtrack collapses into mono, in spite of some rather slow and dialogue-heavy moments in the film. This is a great soundtrack with which to demonstrate the format to any sceptics, with plenty of precisely-directed sounds moving through the field at all times, adding to the horror element of the film in a way that is easy to appreciate. The subwoofer was also constantly active, supporting the lower registers of the soundtrack without calling attention to itself. This is a great soundtrack to demonstrate the true capabilities of the format with.


    Okay, Fox, I know this is only a rental version, but a little more effort would be appreciated. The only thing that annoys me as much as Pan & Scan is opening a transparent Amaray case is to be confronted by the absence of everything, including so much as a list of chapters.


    The menu is static, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. On the positive side, it is quite easy to navigate.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     According to Widescreen Review, the clarity of the Region 1 transfer occasionally leaves something to be desired, with minor artefacts being present in the bargain. Given that the local version of the disc does not suffer these problems, it is worth waiting for a sell-through version of this DVD, although Fox are doing us quite a disservice by presenting the film in this manner in the meantime.


    Pick anything that is wrong with The Sixth Sense, my personal favourite being its failure to deliver on its hype with its overlong, meandering stroll towards a conclusion that could have been wrapped up in ten minutes, and Stir Of Echoes will be miles ahead. Its only shortcoming is a slight cop-out of an ending that I am told deviates most disappointingly from the novel. This rental DVD is a slight disappointment, and I sorely hope that it does not reflect the sell-through product.

    The video quality is a let-down, if only because of the pan and scan treatment.

    The audio transfer is reference quality.

    The extras are non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
November 15, 2000.

Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 4:3 mode, using S-video input, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer