Review Date: November 13, 2002
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 9/3/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
In 1973, from the perspective of the public, there was only one horror film, and that movie was The Exorcist
. For months, this was the number one movie; and to this day, my hometown in Fort McMurray, Alberta has never done better business than what it did with The Exorcist
. The movie was a phenomenon, grossing over 165 million domestically (which is over 600 million in today's market). What is this significance of this? With the success of The Exorcist
the market for the macabre was crowded out, so even though Friedkin's film did colossal business, most other horror films that year were left in the dust. Don't Look Now
was another horror film that year dealing with the supernatural, but it was ignored initially, but today has garnered somewhat of a cult following. Paramount has given this film the DVD treatment, so let's look now at Nicolas Roeg's erotic thriller.
Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie
and Donald Sutherland
, respectively) are a happily married pair, with a couple of kids. John sits at his desk studying pictures, while Laura relaxes on the couch. John then notices a trickle of blood escaping from a picture of his daughter's head. Subconsciously knowing that something is wrong, he rushes outside and finds his daughter lying still in a small body of water outside the house. He jumps in and gives her CPR, but it is no use…she is dead.
Time passes, and the Baxter's try to cope with this tragedy, and despite their facades of happiness they conceal a considerable amount of grief. Laura seems to have been particularly affected by the trauma. While dining out one day though, Laura's spirits are lifted when a blind woman and her companion inform her that her daughter is still with them, and that she loves them dearly. The blind woman has the ability of second sight, and her imagery brings an unprecedented sense of relief to the ailing Laura. She meets with the two women again, and they tell her to leave Venice immediately. When the Baxter's discover that their son, away at boarding school, is injured, they take the psychic's words seriously and head away from Venice for a couple weeks to be with their son.
Laura leaves early, and John, now separated from his wife, begins having one harrowing experience after another. He begins seeing his wife alone with the two mysterious women, and thinks that she has been kidnapped. Remembering that Laura told him that the psychic believes that their little girl is still very much alive, John begins to see his little girl in her red raincoat running the streets. Does John too have second sight, or are these images of his daughter products of his paranoia? All is revealed in the film's shocking conclusion.
Don't Look Now
is a product of two very important film movements that categorized the early 1970's, cinema verité and "adult" film. The former is a movement popularized by several documentary filmmakers of the time, which put an emphasis on realism. The movement can be classified as using the techniques of zooms, rather than cuts, to stress realism. It was interested in not only the whole, but also the intimate; so while the human body was important, true meaning came from the emotions of the face. Don't Look Now
features the technique to a T, with several initial shots of Venice becoming, through the zoom, close-ups of faces and objects. Roeg wanted his characters to be as realistic as possible, despite the supernatural themes of the story, and achieved this through obeying with the boundaries set forth by the cinema verité movement.
The other key influence in this film is the "adult" film movement, which began in 1972 when Gerard Damiano's porn film, Deep Throat
, became one of the highest grossing films of the year, beating out most of Hollywood's major motion pictures. The movement reached its height in '73 when Marlon Brando became the first major Hollywood actor to be featured nude and in several sex scenes in Bertolucci's controversial classic, Last Tango in Paris
. On the heels of Tango was Don't Look Now
, which features a very explicit and very masterful sexual montage. The passion in this scene is so effective, because Roeg spends so much time creating angst and sadness for the two lead characters, that when they finally do engage in lovemaking it is like an eruption of passion sprung from sorrow. Here are two characters that despite being so consumed in their daughter's death, can still find love for one another. There relationship is a true marriage, not simply a convenient cinematic paring. There is a love in this film that could only have existed on film in the 70's.
The film is a great timepiece of the film climate of the 70's, but as a film alone in itself, it is quite good. Sutherland and Christie give great performances, coming across as utterly believable in their suffering. They are both hopeful and pessimistic, happy and sad, and their layered emotions are projected right through the screen. The cinematography is also good in presenting the decay of Venice, as if the city has died with the spirits of the Baxter family.
Being a 70's film though, the film does contain a characteristically slow pacing, which was prevalent at the time. John Baxter's search for truth and understanding is a lengthy one, and today's audience probably will not see what all the fuss is about. The plot reaches an almost stand still, as does literally Sutherland's character, when his search for his wife is unsuccessful. It is then that one realizes that this is ultimately a movie about the characters, not the story. The movie boasts claims on the packaging as being a "psychic thriller" dealing with "second sight, ESP, warnings from the dead and a mad killer", but in all truth, those looking for those qualities will be left disappointed.
The ending, despite all its notoriety, is not quite what one would expect. It is initially confusing, and does not seem to pay justice to the story. But in approaching this ending, one must remember that it is not what is on screen that matters, it is what it symbolizes. On the surface it makes little sense, but when the emotions of Sutherland's character are taken in context, it is quite symbolic and ingenious.
This is certainly not a film for everyone. The pacing is slow, the ending bizarre, and the climate of the film is suspended in the now outdated 70's. But fans of older cinema will no doubt respect and admire Roeg's sexual and dreamlike approach to the film. Those looking for horror will be disappointed, but those in search of a film with true characters amidst unearthly circumstances will leave the film with a quaint sense of satisfaction.
Don't Look Now
is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the overall transfer is decent. The print is grainy, even for a 70's film, and the colors are fairly drab and unappealing. Granted, Roeg shot the film in mostly earth tones, but it still could have looked a little sharper and a little more vivid. The bright red of the girl's raincoat is solid, if not quite vibrant, but that is really the only appealing color in the film. Blacks lack depth and the film is fairly soft as well. Considering Paramount's usually solid track record, this is somewhat of a disappointment. It looks better than the VHS, but with today's technology, that just doesn't cut it anymore.
The movie is presented in mono only, and is about as satisfying as the video. It is serviceable, and comprehensible, but really rather drab. There were times in the film where it was tough to hear what the characters were saying, but this is most likely due to the film's low budget and dated source material. This is a character driven film, so the soundtrack is pretty flat, which is to be expected. This mix will satisfy on the bottom line, and that's about it.
Considering Paramount's negligence to include trailers on their films as of late, this disc seems like a full-blown special edition. The trailer included is anamorphic and is actually quite good, but a bit too revealing to watch before the feature. Another thing worth mentioning is that the print included here is the uncut, European cut of the movie. Yes, that is right; Paramount has included the sex scene in all its uncut glory. This was most likely the best print of the film available, and an oversight on Paramount's behalf, but this may perhaps be a prelude to possible uncut re-releases of some of their other better-known films.
Don't Look Now
is a slow moving, but artfully done character study that truly represents film from the early 70's. The video is decent, but not up to Paramount's high standards, and the mono track is fairly week. The inclusion of the trailer and the uncut print is a nice change for Paramount, but for $24.95, this disc should deliver more than on the bottom line. Don't Look Now
is a good film, but given its obscurity and the mediocre quality of the DVD, a rent is probably the best bet.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C
Sound - C
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 50 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono