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New Line Home Cinema presents
Willard (2003)

"There's one thing you will never understand Willard. Business is a rat race. Promise or no promise, I will not allow myself to be devoured by all of those other rats because of you!"
- Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: October 26, 2003

Stars: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey
Other Stars: Laura Elena Harring
Director: Glen Morgan

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, some sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:40m:16s
Release Date: October 07, 2003
UPC: 794043641923
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+AA- A-

DVD Review

Pity poor Willard (Crispin Glover). He lives with his demanding, invalid mother (Jackie Burroughs) in an oppressive, crumbling old house, has no friends, and is painfully shy around women. At work it's even worse—his boss, Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey), has taken over the manufacturing company built up by Willard's father, yet still avails himself of every chance he gets to insult and abuse Willard.

But Willard has another thing to worry about. There are rats in the basement, and Mother demands that he take care of them. His first attempt, with spring traps, fails miserably when all the traps are mysteriously tripped without catching their prey. His second attempt, with glue traps, succeeds—he discovers a white rat, its feet stuck in the sticky substance, desperately trying to escape. Taking pity, Willard frees the rat, names him Socrates ('cause he's so smart!), and feeds his new friend. It isn't long before he's caring for the entire ever-increasing rat population in the basement, and teaching them tricks—such as "rip it up!"

So things are looking up. Not only does Willard have an instrument of revenge at his disposal, but he's also made friends with the new girl at work (Laura Elena Harring). But there's a rat in the ointment, by the name of Ben—he's huge, jealous of Willard's love for Socrates, and is constantly popping up unexpectedly and threatening Willard's newfound happiness.

Producer James Wong and director Glen Morgan have worked together in a number of capacities, most notably on The X-Files and 2000's excellent Final Destination, but this is Morgan's freshman effort as director. There's a lot to like about the film—the sets are appropriately dark and oppressive or bright and seedy, and the lighting and cinematography are both good. Crispin Glover was born to play the role of the neurotic, lonely, obsessive Willard, and R. Lee Ermey as his boss is one step removed from the contumelious drill sergeant he played in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. And Shirley Walker's score, at times reminiscent of parts of Bernard Hermann's music for Psycho, together with the excellent sound design, contribute immensely to the film.

Despite all it has going for it, Willard just isn't that good. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, its pacing is off, and events seem rushed. There are too many silly jokes, such as references to "the rat race" in the dialogue, compromising whatever atmosphere of tension or fear the film might otherwise have had. While using a portrait of Bruce Davison (star of the original 1971 version) as Willard's father might go unnoticed by most viewers, the other major reference to the earlier version—playing the Ben theme on a television—is clumsily handled by having a cat just happen to land on the right button of the remote control!

In the end, Willard is just too tame. Apparently unnerved by the low scores that the first, R-rated version received in its test screening, New Line opted for a new PG version with a happy ending (which got even lower scores). As seen in the deleted scenes on the DVD, the R-rated version was more brutal, bloodier and more visceral, and in the end, would probably have been much more effective.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: In keeping with New Line's history, this is an excellent transfer. Much of the film is dark, so the excellent shadow detail is more than welcome. In the brighter-lit scenes in Willard's office, the sickly pea-green shades come through brilliantly. Skin tones are at all times correct, there are no compression artifacts, and there is absolutely no edge enhancement. Bravo New Line!

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The excellent video transfer meets its match in the excellent 5.1 audio transfer. Shirley Walker's score comes through extremely well, with a bright, lush upper end, and deep bass. There is lots of surround activity, and this reviewer found the scurrying rat noises coming from behind him to be particularly unnerving!

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
10 Deleted Scenes
2 Alternate Endings
Screenplay
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Glen Morgan, producer James Wong, and actors Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermy
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video - Ben by Crispin Hellion Glover with optional artist commentary
  2. Rat People: Friends or Foes?-Real Rat Documentary
  3. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: The commentary, with director Glen Morgan, producer James Wong, and stars Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey is merely okay. There's a lot of discussion about filming in Vancouver and the various locations, mention of some of the in-jokes in the movie, and some of their past history. But Glover doesn't seem to be able to say much more than "I like this scene" or "I'm proud of this," and it's pretty apparent that Ermey's comments were recorded separately and spliced in.

Most of the deleted scenes are from the first, R-rated version of the film, and don't really add a lot, except a couple of expletives. But there are some gorier scenes, a couple of alternative endings, and one scene that more fully explains the friendship between Willard and Cathryn, and they are all nearly-finished scenes, as opposed to low-resolution clips from the editing deck. The music video for Ben, with Glover both in front of and behind the camera, is both weird and oddly amusing, and is one of the highlights of the extras. The theatrical trailer and TV spots are pretty much standard issue. There is extra DVD-ROM content as well, but I'm not willing to install yet another piece of software on my PC in order to view it.

Rat People: Friends or Foes, narrated by Bruce Davison, is a look at rats seen from the viewpoints of both their real-life fans and their distractors. The former win out over the latter for sheer craziness, such as the rat lady of Chicago (license plate RAT LDY1), who keeps over 200 rats, as well as 40 plus other animals, and proclaims that if she could teach her rats to "rip it up," she would. And let's not even mention the lady locked in a custody battle with her husband over the frozen corpse of their former pet!

The longest extra is a making-of entitled The Year of the Rat. Filmed diary-style by student filmmaker Julie Ng, it's almost as long as the feature itself, and covers everything from training the rats, the difficulty in finding an actor for the lead role, the evolution of the score, to New Line's ever-increasing desperation to find a version of the movie that would test well. In one particularly excruciating scene, director Glen Morgan reads a summary of the overwhelmingly negative comments from one of the test screenings.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

A boy and his rat. A boy and lots of rats trained to kill. New Line's new version of Willard shows what can go wrong when a mother-dominated, neurotic guy with no social skills and a thirst for revenge makes friends with vermin. Although the transfer is great, the film is disappointingly tame.

 


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