Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Dark Harbor (1999)
"Are your hands dirty, Alexis?"- David Weinberg (Alan Rickman)
Stars: Alan Rickman, Polly Walker, Norman Reedus
Other Stars: Sasha Lazard
Director: Adam Coleman Howard
Manufacturer: Todd-AO DVD
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual situations
Run Time: 01h:24m:10s
Release Date: 2000-04-11
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewDark Harbor is set in the rain and fog of Maine, where David Weinberg (Alan Rickman) and his wife Alexis (Polly Walker) are bickering on the road, running late to catch the ferry to their isolated island home. Spotting an injured young man (Norman Reedus), they stop to assist him and miss the ferry. Through a series of apparent coincidences, the young man ends up spending the weekend at the Weinbergs' home, where a dark and ultimately fatal romantic triangle evolves.
Dark Harbor tries very hard to be a great movie, and it succeeds in some ways, with strong performances from its leads. Rickman's generic American accent has no identifiable regional origin, but he successfully conveys the intensity beneath the surface of his otherwise restrained character. Polly Walker is attractive here, with the strength and range to cover her character's openly emotional, occasionally self-contradictory behavior. Norman Reedus as the unnamed "Young Man" delivers an understated performance in the film's most difficult role—he has to create a credibly seductive character while made up to resemble a newly-risen George Romero zombie for much of the film.
Filmed on location in Maine, Dark Harbor has a convincing sense of weather, water and isolation, and the production values never give away the film's presumably low budget. David Mansfield's classically influenced orchestral score has an old-fashioned feel that fits the proceedings quite nicely.
Director and co-writer Adam Coleman Howard deserves credit for taking three initially none-too-likeable characters and making them more sympathetic as we get to know them better—this is a major structural risk, and he manages to pull it off. But the films plot progresses awkwardly and slowly—it gives us too much information in some scenes and hides too much in others. This makes some of the "surprises" entirely predictable, while others come from so far out that they just seem contrived. Dialogue is generally well written, but it doesn't always move the plot or character development forward, and some scenes feel padded despite the 84-minute running time (do lovers need to romp on a beach, in a boathouse AND in a field in a single afternoon?). In many ways, the film feels like an "old chestnut" stage melodrama modernized—it's not as intellectually challenging as it wants to be, and its conservative pace grazes too slowly over sparse ground.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - P&S|
|Original Aspect Ratio||no|
Image Transfer Review: The film has been reformatted to a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Heavy grain is visible in dark gray areas of several shots and the print has quite a few dirt flecks for its age, but the DVD transfer is otherwise solid, with good detail and no compression artifacts visible in the film's frequent fog and rain. I'd have fewer objections to the aspect ratio if this film had been shot for a 1.33:1 open-matte transfer, but the image appears to be cropped down from a 1.85:1 original, damaging the film's composition and knocking this grade down significantly.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Dark Harbor features English-only Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtracks. Dialogue has some very minor distortion, probably due to "live" on-set recording, and is restricted to the center speaker. The film's score reaches dramatically and frequently into the surrounds, but sound effects are oddly limited to the front soundstage aside from some atmospheric rumbles and thunder. The 5.1 track is disappointing in this regard, as at least two great opportunities to use split surrounds are ignored. In fact, I couldn't hear much difference between the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks—dialogue clarity was not significantly better in the discrete six-channel configuration, though bass was stronger. A competent soundtrack transfer overall, but the 5.1 mix is disappointing.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Adam Coleman Howard
Extras Review: Dark Harbor features a full complement of the standard extras:
The disc features clear, nicely animated menus with music and some full-motion video elements, though their visual tone and coloration are more cheerful than seems appropriate to the film.
Director Adam Coleman Howard provides a screen-specific audio commentary on the making of Dark Harbor, his second film. He sounds young and enthusiastic, which sometimes lends a "Look, Mom!" quality to the commentary as he points out plot points and technical details with plenty of film-school buzzwords. Howard seems to enjoy pulling back the curtain to reveal his secrets, although some moments don't come off as successfully in the finished film as he intended. A somewhat self-congratulatory but still enjoyable commentary.
The film's trailer is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame ratio with Dolby 2.0 surround sound; it's a solid, tightly edited promo that makes the slow pace of the actual film apparent in contrast.
Cast and Crew Biographies/Filmographies
Cast and crew profiles cover 4 cast members (Rickman, Walker, Reedus, and Sasha Lazard, who is only briefly seen but apparently related to co-writer/producer Justin Lazard), and 4 of the production staff (writer/director Adam Coleman Howard, writer/producer Justin Lazard, producer John N. Hart, Jr. and producer Jeffrey Sharp). The biographies are well written and the filmographies are up-to-date as of early 2000.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsDark Harbor has its good qualities—there is talent here, but the film moves slowly and never becomes deeply involving. It's worth a casual viewing, probably a "renter" for most. The DVD is generally solid with no major defects aside from the pan-and-scan full-frame transfer.
Dale Dobson 2000-05-14