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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Panic Room: SE (2002)

"One really can't be too careful about home invasion."
- Evan Kurlander (Ian Buchanan)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 28, 2004

Stars: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto
Other Stars: Kristen Stewart, Ann Magnuson, Ian Buchanan, Patrick Bauchau, Paul Schulze, Nicole Kidman
Director: David Fincher

Manufacturer: Sony DVD Center
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language
Run Time: 01h:51m:49s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 043396026094
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Security is certainly high on the list of human needs. One of the paradoxes of modern life is that in the quest for making our lives more secure, we frequently end up making things even worse. That in turn begets further measures, and when they too backfire, the ante can well become unmanageable. While David Fincher's Panic Room plays upon this notion and could be read as a chilling post-9/11 parable, it actually began shooting well before that date.

Jodie Foster stars as Meg Altman, recently divorced from a magnate and moving with her teenage daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) into an elaborate New York City brownstone, equipped with a highly secure panic room. That appurtenance appears to be useful when a trio of burglars, Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker) and the enigmatic Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) invade the house. Unfortunately for the Altmans, what the burglars are after is in the panic room with them, and a state of siege quickly sets in as the women try to outlast the bad guys, who will stop at nothing, including murder.

Foster is always a pleasure to watch, and this picture is certainly no exception. She gives a terrific performance as a somewhat pampered and distraught woman coming to terms with the desperation of the outside world and learning to cope under the highest of pressures. She's credibly matched with Stewart, who not only pretty well resembles Foster but does creditably portrays a girl walking the fine line between the confident air of an adult and the desire to collapse back into childhood. The trio of burglars is certainly noteworthy as well. Leto's twitching characterization plays nicely off Whitaker's exasperation as the situation deteriorates. Yoakam, despite being handicapped with a ski mask during much of the running time, gives Raoul a severe nastiness that takes this thriller up a notch from potboiler into truly terrifying; one seriously believes his Raoul would kill the Altmans without even thinking about it.

But as good as the cast is, it's the camera that's the real star here. Fincher uses an elaborate jigsaw-puzzle-like set to create dazzling shots, and with the aid of significant but practically invisible CGI sends it on trips through doors, through walls, up ductwork and places you'd never imagine. Particularly amazing is a lengthy Wellesian tracking shot all through the house as the burglars try to make their way in. It's a tour de force display of visual talent, and it's not the only memorable onscreen display. The color is almost entirely drained out of the picture, giving the proceedings a particularly ominous tone.

Fincher is no stranger to creating suspense on film, and his experience doesn't let him down here. Pacing is everything in a drama in such a confined space, and everything works like clockwork and never gets dull. The script is slightly guilty of pouring things on a bit, making Sarah a diabetic (of course trapped without her medication) and Meg somewhat claustrophobic. That just seems like overkill, though mercifully the latter point is played down somewhat. Nonetheless, this is a masterfully realized picture that seems to have been rather underappreciated on its original release.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks terrific. There's plenty of fine detail and texture, which is pretty surprising for a film mostly shot in the dark. There are a couple moments of aliasing, but edge enhancement is hardly noticeable, partly no doubt due to the fact the visuals are so low contrast. But shadow detail is quite good, black levels are excellent and the minimal colors beautifully reproduce the theatrical experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 sound is highly immersing, with plenty of convincing directionality and active surrounds. The presence of dialogue, foley effects, and music are all excellent. The sound is clean and predictably free of hiss and noise. While some might bemoan the lack of a DTS track, this DD 5.1 track is very fine indeed.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Midnight Express, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove
4 Documentaries
27 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director David Fincher, 2) writer David Koepp with William Goldman and 3) stars Jodie Foster, Dwight Yoakam and Forest Whitaker
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:51s

Extra Extras:
  1. Essay on Super 35mm
  2. Sequence breakdowns
Extras Review: When David Fincher sets out to make a special edition DVD, he doesn't kid around. Disc producer David Prior has been responsible for many of the best special editions out there, and Panic Room may be one of the best from him. Other than a couple of extraneous trailers, there's zero fluff here, with three discs jam-packed with intriguing goodies. Disc 1 features three commentaries, all of which are worthwhile. The weakest is that of the cast, since they were recorded separately and they tend to repeat what others have said. Frankly, I heard all I wanted to about Foster's pregnancy during filming since everyone treats it as new information. I'd much rather have had Foster handle the entire track: she proved in Contact that she could do so easily. But it's still entertaining nonetheless. Fincher gets into the real nitty-gritty of filmmaking, while Koepp and veteran screenwriter William Goldman have a fascinating discussion about scriptwriting philosophy and practice. It's hard to convince someone to check out three full-length commentaries, but if there were a disc to do so, this is it. For Spanish speakers, all three commentaries are subtitled in Spanish (as are all the materials on the other two discs).

The remaining discs are full of documentaries and featurettes shot for the DVD. There's not a single bit of electronic press kit fluff or HBO First Look self-love fest. The lengthiest documentary, on the shooting of the film, runs a hefty 52 minutes, while extended segments delve into the testing of lenses and filters, the visual effects that make up The Big Shot tracking through the house, and on the sound design. Twenty-seven featurettes are mostly devoted to the visual effects, and as the technical folks wax very technical, onscreen definitions and explanations of what they're talking about helpfully appear to make the talks understandable. I've seen a lot of CGI featurettes in reviewing, but these all held my interest, and I was truly astonished by how much of the film was actually achieved through completely invisible CGI techniques. There's more too, with sequence breakdowns, storyboard/previsualization comparisons, a talk with guys who actually install panic (or 'safe') rooms, an essay by Fincher on the use of Super 35 film, and a look at Howard Shore's scoring sessions. It's a package that rivals the legendary Lord of the Rings sets for quality and content. The more impatient may be distressed by the ornately animated menus, but that's a pretty minor complaint.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

A visually amazing piece of work, with a superb cast, supported by first rate transfers and a ton of excellent extras. A must buy.


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