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Lions Gate presents
Dead in the Water (2001)

"I know what I'm worth. I mean, I'm prime real estate, and I will not be devalued. You must think I'm so shallow."
- Gloria (Dominique Swain)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: May 07, 2002

Stars: Henry Thomas, Dominique Swain, Scott Bairstow
Other Stars: Sebastian DeVincente, Jose Wilker
Director: Gustavo Lipsztein

Manufacturer: Advanced Media Post
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality
Run Time: 01h:28m:48s
Release Date: February 05, 2002
UPC: 658149793125
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

After watching Gustavo Lipsztein's directorial debut, it was apparent that he is someone who possesses a tremendous capability to make a great film. Unfortunately, Dead in the Water is not it. While it has all the elements of a good thriller, the concept never peaks, and its stagnant nature results in a film that is barely able to keep its head above water.

The tragic events of the film take place in beautiful Rio de Janeiro where Gloria (Swain), her boyfriend (Bairstow), and his best friend (Thomas) plan to take a relaxing day trip out on the family boat. Three's company and four's a crowd when Gloria's father insists that she allow the son of his wealthy Brazilian business partner to tag along. The kids begin having innocent fun until their sexual tension becomes heated jealousy that turns them against one another, resulting in an accidental death. Stricken with guilt, the teens plummet into a downward spiral of insanity, back stabbing, and murder.

With chapter stops titled "Napping", "Floating", and my favorite, "Looking", I feared the worst from Dead in the Water. However, Lipsztein throws a few interesting curveballs and does a decent job at holding the audience's attention. He has quite a filmmaker's eye: some of the shots of Rio's scenery are breathtaking, while his elaborate and lengthy crane shots have a creepy way of sneaking into the heart of the action. It is a tough job to maintain an interesting visual style with nothing but a tiny boat and the open sea, and Lipsztein succeeds admirably at conveying the vast yet claustrophobic surroundings. Cinematography is also noteworthy, particularly the way in which the initial bright and sunny appearance fades into a cloudy haze after the horrific events take place.

An underdeveloped script and mediocre acting unfortunately undermine all of the film's technical merits. The plodding pace paves the way for moments of extreme tension, yet any crucial suspense is severely lacking. There is little to no character development until late in the film. At the forefront, most of what is learned about these characters is that they are really horny and have an insatiable passion for money. The characters are later expanded upon near the end, but I found this backwards approach only mildly serviceable, and ultimately, a bit awkward. While the script eventually does a decent job at getting to the heart of its characters by unraveling traumatic back-stories, I was still not convinced of their motivations to commit murder. What is worse is that these characters are overtly moronic. Their repeated failure to do the obvious left me with very little sympathy for them.

A film like this largely relies on solid performances, and none of the actors sold it for me. Dominique Swain and Scott Bairstow show promise, but never quite succeed in displaying the right amount of emotion in light of their situation. Henry Thomas has proven himself a capable performer, but here he often seems to be concentrating more on cashing his E.T. royalty checks than on the moment at hand.

Even though Dead in the Water is a letdown, it has been created by an incredibly competent filmmaker. Gustavo Lipsztein has clearly learned many interesting techniques from great filmmakers and incorporated them into a style all his own. While I can not wholeheartedly recommend Dead in the Water, I am looking forward to the next effort from this talented director.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer reveals pleasant surprises as well as startling deficiencies. The pluses and minuses can easily be broken down into three categories:

The Good:

Color saturation is wonderful and exceeded my expectations for this direct-to-video release. The cool water blues and tropical orange hues were strong enough to remind me that I desperately need a vacation soon. The picture is free from aliasing, pixelization, and many other irritating video-based artifacts. The overall image has a natural film-like presence and a smooth overall appearance.

The Bad:

I did notice minimal edge enhancement, in addition to a minor amount of film artifacts. Fleshtones at times look a tad red, which is not just from the actors' prolonged exposure to sun. Black level is acceptable, yet somewhat murky and washed out in comparison to the latest and greatest transfers.

The Ugly:

The anamorphic aspect ratio is approximately 1.85:1, but the original aspect ratio of the film is 2.35:1! This awkward framing decision is absolutely baffling, and could account for why I felt that the entire film exhibits an almost nauseating up close feel. Filmed using the Super 35 process, the image is not completely desecrated, but it does look unnatural throughout. No explanation is given for the lack of the original aspect ratio, which caused me to drop my image transfer grade significantly.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: While the fact that the soundtrack is 5.1 was surprising enough, what really surprised me was how much kick it has. All six channels are creatively utilized with an active surround presence and an aggressive LFE channel. The sounds of chirping birds and rolling waves can be heard from all directions, creating a realistically enveloping sense of spatiality. While the creative nature of the soundtrack is certainly praise worthy, overall fidelity is quite disappointing. I noticed a distracting presence of hiss, especially in the rear speakers. Overall, it sounds as if the soundtrack has been mixed much too hot, which not only results in frequent distortion, but a disappointing lack of dynamics as well. Dialogue often sounds excessively strident, particularly when the actors were yelling or screaming. Bass frequently appears muddy and distorted, especially during musical passages. Casual listeners may find themselves in awe of this forceful 5.1 mix, while audiophiles might find it close to intolerable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Attraction, Blood Surf
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/producer/director Gustavo Lipsztein, producers Evan Astrowsky and Jay So, and film editor Kurt Bullinger
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:32s

Extra Extras:
  1. Short Film: The Colonel's Last Flight
Extras Review: Dead in the Water contains more special features than I ever imagined for a direct-to-video release. I am a strong believer in quality over quantity, and my initial fears were that these special features would simply be a collection of uninspired garbage in order to entice potential buyers. I can humbly admit that many of my initial fears were wrong.

The first extra is the feature-length production commentary by writer/producer/director Gustavo Lipsztein, producers Evan Astrowsky and Jay So, and film editor Kurt Bullinger. Lipsztein and Astrowsky tend to dominate the commentary, while So and Bullinger offer occasional comments. They discuss many interesting aspects, such as the hardships of filming in the water and how the film was able to breathe life through the magic of editing. This is a solid commentary, and will be enjoyed by anyone who is fascinated by the art of making movies.

Following the commentary is a storyboard section covering three scenes. In a rather unique approach, the storyboards are presented in the upper left corner of the screen, with the finished film sequence appearing in the lower right. This is a pleasant method of viewing storyboards, and I was thankful that the presentation was not microscopic like so many other storyboard comparisons. This pleasant visual experience combined with the film's 5.1 audio track provides a refreshingly enjoyable section. My only complaint is it could have been a little longer.

The alternate ending is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (what a concept!), but there is no audio. Yet even with no sound, it is painfully obvious that this scene is ludicrous. For a four-minute scene that contains three minutes of a boat driving into the distance, this alternate ending proves to be about as interesting as watching grass grow.

The theatrical trailer is somewhat hidden. Instead of appearing in the special features section where it belongs, it is nestled amongst another selectable icon called Lion's Gate Home Entertainment. Presented in full-frame with 2.0 stereo surround, the trailer proves to be an effective exercise in subtlety. Watching it before I watched the main feature piqued my excitement to see the film. Also included in this section are additional trailers for two other obscure thrillers.

Next is a short featurette. This fly-on-the-wall look behind the scenes is a more noble effort than a lackluster talking-heads interview session, yet even at its incredibly brief three-minute running time it comes across as drearily pointless and drab. It would have been much more interesting to mesh this candid making-of footage with some insightful interview information.

The most noteworthy special feature is a short film titled The Colonel's Last Flight. Written and directed by Gustavo Lipsztein, this 25-minute film deals with three hapless souls who are subjected to continuous political torture in a South American prison. Lipsztein presents his material with ambition, yet much like Dead in the Water, its intriguing premise never quite takes flight. An optional commentary is also available with Lipsztein and the three main actors. Their discussion leans more towards filmmaking rather than the story line, which proves disappointing for a film that warrants justification.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

It appears that Gustavo Lipsztein may have put a curse on his first feature-length film. Dead in the Water is an ironically fitting title for a film that never appeared in theaters, and will more than likely remain in obscurity even on video. Yet for those who are curious, this is a good opportunity to see the work of a man who just might prove to be a prominent name in the film industry someday. A mildly entertaining film combined with an interesting group of special features makes this a worthy rental.


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