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DVD International presents
"I wonder how he would feel if... if he knew I was watching..."
DVD ReviewIn the early days of the video game industry, when computer graphics were limited to simple blocks and lines, many designers envisioned the "ultimate" video game as something like an interactive movie, complete with Hollywood-style production values. The appeal is obvious - who wouldn't want to be Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker for a few hours? - but despite decades' worth of advancing technology, implementation of the dream remains problematic. Early attempts like Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair proved that high-quality visuals could compensate for limited interactivity, but the form's evolution stalled shortly thereafter. The "interactive film" industry has yet to produce its Great Train Robbery, despite some high-profile trains arriving at the station courtesy of Tom Zito's Digital Pictures, Readysoft and the good folks at DVD International, publishers of the latest example, Point of View.
Producer/designer Rob Landeros and writer/director David Wheeler take a more adult approach here, dwelling on dark themes of psychosis, violence, and twisted sexuality. The story concerns Jane Bole (Stephanie Von Pfetten), a lonely artist with a dark secret who develops a voyeuristic obsession with Frank (Chris Bradford), her neighbor across the street; subplots deal with date rape, exhibitionism and other such matters. The presentation is divided into twelve chapters, each consisting of scenes selected and arranged by the DVD player based on the viewer's answers to a number of "exit poll" questions following each chapter. These questions are thought-provoking, often personal in nature, and they fit the movie's style appropriately. While this technique allows for more sophisticated story branching than has generally been the case in the past, it's also a bit frustrating; it's nearly impossible to tell how one's choices affect the unfolding story. The DVD liner notes emphasize that Point of View is not a goal-oriented activity, but the approach thwarts one's natural desire to explore the story completely.
Of course, this criticism presumes that the viewer has the stamina to watch the entire film even once. Point of View falls prey to the primary limitation of interactive entertainment - it's not enough of a movie to engage the viewer in the cinematic sense, but there's not enough interactivity to make it seem like a game. The "exit polls" become an unwelcome interruption after a while, and viewers may resort to picking random answers just to get the movie going again. The movie itself is hamstrung by the dynamic editing requirements of the technology. Individual scenes are usually well handled if occasionally overlong, but pacing is clumsy and the story never builds up a full head of steam. Designed to be rearranged "on the fly," the story necessarily stays "fuzzy" to some degree. This intentional ambiguity forces many scenes to be so generalized as to be uninteresting (for example, do we really need to listen to an ENTIRE song performed by Frank's nightclub band?)
To give credit where it's due, Landeros and Wheeler bring some worthwhile new ideas to the table. In addition to the "exit polls," each chapter break also provides a variety of optional, user-selectable "Interludes." These include "Encounters," in which characters speak directly to the camera about their feelings and reactions to the events of the previous chapter, and "Explore" topics, which allow the viewer to more closely examine props, print materials and other relevant background information. This is genuinely innovative stuff, bringing a book-like depth to the production, and I can think of many mainstream, linear movies that would benefit from this type of supplementary material.
Unfortunately, low-budget physical production values and a queasy balance between entertainment and interactivity keep Point of View from achieving its commendable goals. Ultimately, it's an ambitious attempt at a genre whose viability is questionable. The technology and the very concept of the "interactive movie" remain unproven at this writing, but those interested in the possibilities could do worse than to check out this latest attempt. (The stated running time stated is a gross approximation - viewer choices and the amount of time spent exploring the "Interludes" may produce significant variation.)
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: An interactive film requires more footage than a conventional movie, in order to cover the plot contingencies and alternate endings inherent to the form. Point of View was shot on Digital Betacam video, using natural lighting in many scenes, in order to keep costs down. Unfortunately, the video source tends to make the production look cheap and amateurish, despite some sophisticated image composition. While the direct-to-DVD digital transfer is crisp and detailed, the source still exhibits some noise, edge enhancement and scan-line artifacts, imparting an undeserved "porno" quality to the proceedings.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Point of View is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic audio format, ProLogic-decoded to the center channel. The soundtrack is audibly low-budget, recorded "live" with near-constant rustling, boom rumble and background noise. Dialogue is generally clear, but music suffers from limited frequency range, and the disappointing mono presentation works against the "immersive" quality the filmmakers were presumably trying to achieve.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: DVD International supports Point of View with a promotional trailer (in 1.78:1 anamorphic, 2.0 mono format), a brief but insightful Making of PoV documentary (in letterboxed 1.66:1), and a series of Production Notes, describing the technical approach and pointing viewers to the official website. There are twelve chapter stops, but each stop becomes available only after the viewer has watched the previous chapter and answered the "exit poll" questions, due to the interactive, evolving nature of the presentation. A password feature permits resumption of the current version of the story at a later date, but the DVD format's inability to generate dynamic screen content makes this function extremely cumbersome to use.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsPoint of View is an interesting attempt at a more serious, adult style of "interactive movie." It does several things well, and DVD International is to be commended for pushing the envelope, but we've yet to see proof that the genre will ever work. An interesting concept remains hobbled by technology and design limitations.
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