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DreamWorks presents
What Lies Beneath (2000)

"You had an affair with a girl who threatened to kill herself, and now there is a presence in our house."
- Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: February 26, 2001

Stars: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer
Other Stars: Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton, James Remar, Miranda Otto
Director: Robert Zemeckis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language.
Run Time: 02h:09m:47s
Release Date: January 30, 2001
UPC: 667068640625
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C+B+A- B

DVD Review

Whether we like it or not, it has become a trend in Hollywood that substance has a tendency to lose out to style. More often movies have such a unique look and feel to them, but get bogged down by bad performances and a pedestrian screenplay. Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath is the latest film to suffer from this disturbing trend. Paying homage to master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock (including lifting a whole subplot from Hitchcock's Rear Window), Zemeckis, for the most part, does a nice job. But the script and an uncharacteristically poor performance by Harrison Ford make the film less than what it could be.

Dr. Norman Spencer (Ford) and his wife Claire (Pfeiffer) enjoy their lives on a beautifully picturesque lake in Vermont. When Claire and Norman send their only daughter away for college, things start to become strange. Claire begins to suffer from the boredom and emptiness of not having her daughter with her, and Norman devotes his time to his work as a dedicated geneticist. So, while her Norman is away during the day, Claire spends time working in her garden and trying to solve a mystery next door. After their new neighbor (played by Otto) disappears, Claire starts to suspect that she is haunting their house. Doors open on their own; faces appear in the bathtub water; picture frames and a computer game start to have minds of their own. And while Norman thinks she's having a breakdown, Claire believes she is the victim of a haunting. And her psychiatrist (Morton) and best friend (Scarwid) encourage her to attempt to make contact with the spirit.

While the information above fills only an hour of the film, it is the best part. Like other popcorn thrillers, this film takes a turn at the midway point and all credibility is lost. Lines of dialogue spoken earlier in the film come back into play with some consequence and a single sentence in a forgettable conversation will be brought back up when it is needed. It is one thing to be able to predict the next scene in a movie; but when one can tell the ending nearly forty minutes before it happens, it is entirely another. While the script isn't up to par, the direction by Zemeckis is. What Lies Beneath was made during a break in shooting the blockbuster Castaway, not bad for a director that has had 2 one-hundred-million-plus films in one year. The pacing, editing, and cinematography of the film are all equally well done, and the score by Alan Silvestri is nice in its subtlety. Most scores in a picture such as this would give us the obligatory "stinger" (a loud burst of music or a swell that ends in a scare on screen), but Silvestri refrains from the obvious and his score is nice in its effectiveness.

Harrison Ford chose to make What Lies Beneath because he liked the way his character had a darker side, yet he turned down the role of Judge Robert Wakefield in Steven Soderbergh's film Traffic because of its darker side. I kept thinking of that while I was watching What Lies Beneath: that Ford thought that his role as Norman Spencer had more appeal than that of the character in Traffic is beyond me, and he comes off completely wooden in this performance. Pfeiffer on the other hand does a fine job as Claire, as she has to play two sides to one character (it will make sense when you see the film) and does well going between the two.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: DreamWorks presents What Lies Beneath in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The main problem with the image transfer is that it suffers from too much softness in some of the indoor scenes. Detail and black levels are consistently fine. And although there are a few moments of grain and the previously mentioned softness, the sharpness of the print is very good. This isn't among the best from DreamWorks, but it is still better than the best from other studios.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Offered here are both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surrounds mix and they are each very similar. While the surrounds aren't as active as one might want from a thriller, the front soundstage and .1 LFE channel do a good job of heightening the suspense. This is one of the first DTS or Dolby Digital tracks I have heard that actually benefits the film the louder you play it. Silvestri's score comes off sounding very well, and the dialogue sounds clear and natural.

A Dolby 2.0 mix is also available for your listening pleasure.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Robert Zemeckis and producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke
Packaging: other
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: For a film that made as much money as What Lies Beneath did, I am shocked that this isn't a feature-loaded disc. The most notable feature is a commentary with Robert Zemeckis as well as producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. Primarily a celebration for the film, there are a few moments where Zemeckis talks about the Hitchcock references, and some of the interesting camera angles employed. There are some noticeable gaps in the track and the three are in love with the film a bit too much, but it is still a nice track.

The HBO First Look documentary is nothing more than a thirty minute promotional piece, although there are a few interesting facts about Zemeckis and some nice interviews with the cast and crew. The theatrical trailer, cast and crew bios and production notes round out the special features.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

What Lies Beneath is far from the best film of the year, but it is worth a look. I keep thinking about the bathtub scene late in the film. For those five minutes, this film is as tense and exciting as any thriller has been in a long time. Yet that is only 5 minutes out of nearly 127. The splendid audio and video transfers coupled with a short, but nice selection of extras makes this disc worth a look. Recommended as a rental for the curious, and a must buy for fans of the film.


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