There is no question as to why Stephen King has reached the level of popularity he has over the years. He writes with brutal and sometimes touching honesty, and regardless of the subject matter, focuses on humanism within the protagonist, first and foremost. The majority of his literature can be broken down into one of two thematic trademarks. The first of which involves the supernatural within the individual, and how they react to it within society, exhibited in such novels as Carrie, The Dead Zone, and The Green Mile. Focusing still on the supernatural, the second of King's major fixations involves the inanimate, inert constructions dealt with by humans everyday, and what may happen if they are given life. Novels like Christine, The Shining, and Maximum Overdrive demonstrate King's latter thematic fascination. Both his narrative prototypes work wonderfully on their own, but surprisingly have rarely been combined.
Rose Red represents one of the few King stories to mesh plots of his two standout themes, and was brought to life for television by the creative team behind another Stephen King work, Storm of the Century. Presented initially as a mini-series aired only months ago, Lions Gate Entertainment presents Rose Red in its full 253 minute run time spread over two DVDs. Packed with supplements and a 5.1 surround track, this sounds like the ideal disc to a potentially great film. Let's open the doors, walk on in, and take an in-depth tour of Rose Red.
The film opens with young Annie Wheaton (Kimberly J. Brown) coloring as she listens to music. The music, being not quite loud enough, needs to be turned up, so Annie does so...using her mind. Although autistic, she possesses a great psychic talent, subsequently ushering a storm of rocks on a nearby house containing the dog that bit her. Flash forward 10 years later, and Dr. Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) is wrapping up her final psychology lecture for the year. During the summer, she plans on hosting a retread to the infamous Rose Red, an old mansion with a dark history. In this retreat, she wishes to gather a group of people with psychic talent to "reawaken" the house's supernatural abilities.
If she does manage to bring the house back to life she will be able to write countless novels and papers documenting the haunted nature of the house that so many have previously denied. Dr. Reardon eventually assembles a dream team of psychic talent, with little Annie as the captain and the only person mentally strong enough to elicit paranormal behavior in the house. A conniving reporter and jealous professor stand in her way, as they try and ruin her chances at credibility with the press and the university.
After hours of exposition, the participants are finally brought to the mansion, and a lengthy tour ensues. Much like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, there is a dark past at Rose Red, consisting of deformed children, missing people and its rumored ability to grow new rooms and change its shape. The group discovers some bizarre rooms, one of which consisting of a floor with a mirror image, and another with an apparently never-ending hallway. Things work as planned for Dr. Reardon, as Annie's telepathic talent appears to have wakened the sleeping giant known as Rose Red. One by one mysterious things happen, as the psychic team begins lessening its numbers. Now fully awake and with psychics on its menu, Rose Red looks to skip the appetizers and go straight for the main course, Annie. It is up to Dr. Reardon and her team of psychics to see to it that Rose Red wilts and destroyed once and for all. Every rose has its thorn, and its up the psychics to determine whether their lives are pricked away or not.
Clocking in at a little over 4 hours, Rose Red takes its time in building a considerable back-story for both the characters and the mansion itself. Long establishing shots are used to set the perfect tone for the film, which is one of a looming paranormal threat. Nothing, and no one is safe, and these developing scenes help prepare the viewer for the chaos that is to come. Events and plot points are revealed with ease and fluidity, and the overall pace of the film is slow, but never boring. Serious time is devoted in the earlier portions of the film to establishing relationships between the psychic crew Dr. Reardon assembled, allowing the viewer to develop some sort of care for the characters. The first half of the film is nicely handled, and it is a shame that the film deviates into a mere haunted house movie during the final hour.
As soon as Rose Red is awakened, the carefully crafted back-story is thrown out the window (no pun intended), as does logic, as the characters serve as mere victims for the building's consumption. For a bunch of such talented individuals, it is almost laughable how they all seem to venture off onto their own for whatever reason, despite dually noting that they had to stick together. The description and time devoted to Dr. Reardon's obsession with the mansion and Annie's coping with her talents during the first half of the film are utterly wasted towards a tired and clichéd ending. As ambitious as the first half of the film was, the latter half just never clicked, but all is not a complete loss.
The acting was generally first rate, with some fine performances all around. All of the psychics do a good job with one another and make for an entertaining bunch of people. Nancy Travis does her best impersonation of Vincent Price from House on Haunted Hill, keeping the film buoyant with her interest and passion for Rose Red. Better yet is Matt Ross as the annoying pessimist of the group. His humorously cynical and wry commentary are both funny and at the same time the most logical of all the characters. As good as Ross and Travis are though, Julian Sands clearly steals the show as psychologist Nick Hardaway. He bounces off the rest of the cast with his sly and literate wit. Even in times of panic he always maintains a glint of playfulness in his eye, suggesting to the audience that he there for a good time. He keeps things lively, often acting as a catalyst for confrontations, and helps bottom out a winning cast.
Stephen King fans will also enjoy the in-jokes littered throughout the film. The rock storm and the use of the name "Sissy" are clever references to King's first novel, Carrie. The rock storm was scrapped in the film version of Carrie due to budgetary concerns, and Rose Red offers visuals that Carrie fans had to do without initially. There is also a trademark cameo by King himself, playing his typically simply bystander sporting goofy big eyes, which was good for a laugh.
As far as the design and visual structure of the film is concerned, this aspect is surprisingly well realized. For a TV movie the sets are beautifully elaborate, the special effects well done, and the visuals nice and stylish. As mentioned previously, considerable time is attributed to creating atmosphere, and the production values help keep everything believable and interesting. Creating a house with seemingly endless stairwells and hallways, or special effects shots of swarming bees are no easy tasks, and they are both handled very well throughout the film.
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Overall, Rose Red is a good miniseries, but could have been much better. Stephen King himself stated how he wished for the film to be "the Moby Dick of haunted house movies", and it certainly had the potential to be it, if it were not for the clichéd second half. Regardless of its poor finish, Rose Red still contains great production values, entertaining performances, and manages to keep up interest the entire way through. One can't help but feel left down though, considering its richly plotted first half.
Shot directly for television, one would expect Rose Red's visual presentation to be lacking compared to most modern Hollywood releases, and that it does…but not by much. Presented in 4:3 full screen, as it was broadcasted, the transfer benefits from strong colors and depth. It looks very three-dimensional at times, and there is no bleeding or distortion to dampen the rich color scheme. The transfer is generally clean and clear throughout, as textures and detail appear very refined. There are however, minute instances where grain is evident during darker scenes, but this, for the most part, is an anomaly. There are several dark scenes in the film, but oddly only a few of them appear grainy and soft. There are no artifacts present, and aside from the few grainy sequences, the shadow depth and black tones are very solid. Overall, this transfer is great, easily betters the transfer used for ABC's initial run of the mini-series.
Not unlike the visual transfer, Lions Gate has produced a superb audio track, sure to work out even the most prestigious of home audio setups. Contained within the disc is a Dolby Digital 5. 1 track, presented in English, French and Spanish, and it is a very aggressive mix. The track is always forceful throughout the film, providing engulfing directional movement and surround effects. Most notable is the helicopter at around 11 minutes in and the bees at the 1 hour 12 minute mark. Although slowly paced for the first couple hours, there are still some good action scenes with excellent sound and bass throughout. This track also exhibits expansive sound from all audible levels and is a very full sounding track. For a miniseries, this track just doesn't get any better.
Rounding off the disc, Lions Gate has included a fair number of supplements for this "Deluxe Special Edition." The first, and most substantial extra is a full-length screen specific audio commentary with director Craig Baxley, costume designer Craig Sterns and special effects supervisor Stuart Robinson. All three of them deliver plenty of anecdotes and information about the film, from pre-production to the final product, and appear very professional. This commentary is a bit on the dry side, as the contributor's voices remain mostly quiet and monotone, and not quite entirely personal. There are a fair number of gaps, especially on the second disc, but for 4 hours, this is a lengthy but always informative track that will surely please fans.
Next up is a very comprehensive 50 minute documentary entitled "Bad House: The Making of Rose Red." Several aspects of the films production is covered, with interviews with most of the cast in crew, with Stephen King in particular. King is entertaining, if a bit cocky, mentioning his liking for the miniseries format, ABC, his cameo, and his intentions of the script. Considerable time is spent talking about set design and location, as well as special effects. The actors also delve into the motivations of their character as well as look back on the late actor David Duke who passed away during filming. Full of potent information, this is an entertaining, if a bit promotional, documentary.
A 20 minute ABC special feature named "Unlocking Rose Red, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" is also included on the disc. The feature further fleshes out the back story about Rose Red, acting as if it were a true exposé of mansion. It is somewhat mundane for those who have already sat through the miniseries, but is well produced nonetheless.
Also included is a short Storyboard sequence, featuring excerpts from three scenes in the film. Two windows are featured side by side, one containing the storyboards and the other containing the actual scenes in the film. They can be played individually or all at once. There is a short Art Gallery featuring a lucky 13 pictures included as well. Rounding off the disc are trailers for Rose Red, Storm of the Century, Monster's Ball, American Psycho 2, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, and The Dead Zone (which looks great!). The Rose Red trailer can be accessed by selecting the Lions Gate icon on disc one, while the rest can be accessed by doing the same thing on disc two. The menus are simple but nicely done as well. Overall a nice set of supplements that answer all the questions anyone could ever wonder about the production of Rose Red.
Rose Red, despite King's aspirations for it to be "the Moby Dick of haunted house films", is a decent miniseries with lost potential. The performances and direction are top-notch though, and compared to King's other miniseries efforts, this is one of the better ones. The audio and visual presentations on this disc are phenomenal for a made-for-TV production, and the supplements are expansive and interesting, exposing a plethora of information about all the elements of production. Lions Gate has delivered the goods, and fans of both Stephen King and haunted house stories should give this a purchase.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A
Supplements - B+
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