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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Panic Room: Superbit (2002)

"I spent the last 12 years of my life building rooms like this specifically to keep out people like us."- Burnham (Forest Whitaker)

Stars: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Kristin Stewart
Other Stars: Patrick Bauchau, Ann Magnuson, Ian Buchanan
Director: David Fincher

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:51m:49s
Release Date: 2002-09-17
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Constructed for wealthy city dwellers who desire an extreme degree of security within their lavish homes, a "panic room" features the highest level of protection. Once closed, the thick steel door is virtually impenetrable. The small, claustrophobic space contains food, water, flashlights, a first-aid kit, and other items necessary for a lengthy stay. Surveillance cameras are placed throughout the house for a clear look at intruders via monitors, and a separate phone line is available to call the police. Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) have just moved into a house that includes such a room. On their first night, they will closely discover both the benefits and shortcomings of this security device.

Separated from her wealthy husband Stephen (Patrick Bauchau), Meg Altman has moved with her pre-adolescent daughter into an impressive city house to start a new life. Unfortunately, they are unaware of a large amount of cash hidden somewhere in their new residence. Three men are aware of its existence, and they have appeared on this night to steal it. The Altmans' unexpected arrival throws their plans into disarray, and the trio of mismatched criminals must discover a new method for taking the money. The panic room plays a pivotal role in this conflict, which becomes a suspenseful and possibly deadly game of cat-and-mouse between the two forces.

The intruders are led by Burnham (Forrest Whitaker)—a mild-mannered guy who desperately needs the money to keep his life together. He is not a cruel man and does not want to hurt the Altmans, but he may have no choice. Whitaker does an excellent job inspiring sympathy for his character while keeping him flawed and realistic. On the opposing side is Raoul (a nearly unrecognizable Dwight Yoakam), a detestable man whose macho attitude may jeopardize the entire operation. The jittery, fairly unintelligent Junior (Jared Leto) stands between the two forces but lacks the fortitude to solve any problems. This group differs considerably from the usual heavies of the genre and makes the conflict more enthralling. Instead of a simpler "good vs. evil" battle, the human nature of the villains (especially Burnham) lifts the tension considerably.

Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) has garnered considerable acclaim for his unique visual style that makes even the dullest moments energetic. The camera is constantly moving through the structure and provides the audience with an original viewpoint towards the action. In the past, Fincher has utilized this method to keep us guessing about what is actually occurring on the screen. In Panic Room, he follows Hitchcock's method and gives viewers all of the information to heighten the suspense. While Meg grapples under her bed for her cell phone, we know that the intruders have almost reached the room. This manner raises the anxiety to almost unbearable levels and generates spellbinding cinema.

Nicole Kidman originally was set to play Meg, but she pulled out of the production due to a nagging leg injury. Jodie Foster steps in wonderfully and delivers a surprisingly deep performance within a limited scope. This genre material does not require considerable emotional weight to succeed, but her skills enhance our connection with the character. Kristen Stewart also does an excellent job in her first major role and never reverts to the typical patterns of young actors. Their mother-daughter relationship has limited screen time to develop, but a few key subtleties make the connection believable.

Panic Room has received some disparagement from critics and viewers because they believe it does not compare favorably to Fight Club in the creative sense. Detractors have called it a mediocre genre film that offers few original elements. Sure, it may be entertaining, but where is the big twist ending? I understand these criticisms, but strongly disagree with their overall sentiments. Fincher has taken the conventional thriller and turned it on its head. Meg Altman may be the protagonist, but she spends more time reacting to Burnham and Raoul than making her own decisions. As I mentioned earlier, the characters are not the usual archetypes who act in a predictable fashion. The ultimate result is a clever film that engages us without pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Unlike many of the other "Superbit" editions, this release is the first DVD version of the film, so I do not have any past transfer for a definite comparison. Regardless, this picture is nearly pristine and offers a remarkable level of image clarity. Much of the film takes place at night within the dimly lit house, but the usual grain does not exist here. Fincher's inventive camera movements and angles look even more impressive when seen through this top-notch medium. The improvements made over your average DVD will be even more noticeable on high-end equipment. However, even the average home viewer should enjoy the pristine nature of this feature.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Panic Room includes both DTS and 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfers. Both maintain the high level of suspense and present the claustrophobic atmosphere effectively. The DTS version is slightly louder and more complex, with sounds emanating clearly from all sides of the sound field. I would hesitate to label it one of the best audio transfers available, but it does rank among the top echelon. The dialogue is always understandable, and the excellent score springs powerfully throughout the room. The 5.1-channel is also very good, and it should not disappoint in any way.

This disc also contains decent 2.0-channel Dolby Surround tracks in English and French.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Although it features wonderful audio and visual transfers, this release suffers considerably from the lack of extras. I imagine that a two-disc special edition will appear some time in the future. For now, all we get is the theatrical teaser trailer and filmographies. The teaser begins with narration about the panic room, then provides about a minute of suspenseful scenes. No dialogue from the movie appears anywhere on this preview. The filmographies give the expected lists for the main stars, director David Fincher, and writer David Koepp.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

Nearly the entire running time of Panic Room takes place within a single house during one rainy night. This smaller scale allows the actors to more clearly define their characters realistically. David Fincher and the impressive cast have taken potentially run-of-the-mill material and created a memorable and touching story. This Superbit edition offers wonderful transfers, but lacks any extra features to enhance our knowledge.

Dan Heaton 2002-09-29