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Panic Room: Special Edition

Panic Room: Special Edition on DVD

A superior thriller in the “Wait Until Dark” tradition Panic Room is out on DVD again. Why? Why not?

A year after its initial DVD release, the second version of Black Hawk Down was a spectacular three-disc special edition that featured multiple audio commentaries, endless making-of footage, and a couple of History Channel documentaries. Trying very hard to recreate that great edition is a very well meaning but ultimately unsatisfying three-disc special edition of David Fincher’s Panic Room.

Originally released as a Superbit title, even as they announced its release they hinted there would be a special edition at some point in the future. Like Black Hawk Down, it features seemingly endless making-of footage; it’s just a shame it’s so gosh darn boring.

As for the movie itself, Jodie Foster stars in this David Fincher (Fight Club) outing. She's Meg Altman, recently divorced from her pharmaceutical magnate husband and beginning a new life in Manhattan with her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They purchase a beautiful brownstone home in which the previous owner has installed a “panic room,” a virtually impregnable "human vault" off the master bedroom that also houses the home's closed circuit video monitoring system, a secure outside phone line, and various other lifesaving doodads.

Wouldn't you know it, the first night the two females spend in their new digs it gets broken into by a trio of nasty men bent on robbery. Fortunately, or so she thinks, Meg catches on just in time and hustles her daughter and herself into the safety of the panic room.

The problem is, these burglars aren't your average home invaders: they're bent on stealing the contents the house's safe, which they know just happens to be in the floor of that same panic room! So while Meg and Sarah are safely barricaded inside, that won't save them because the burglars need to get them out so they can get at the safe!

It's a delicious irony, made more delicious by the fact that one of the burglars (Forest Whitaker) is an employee of the firm that built the panic room, which is why he's there in the first place. Despite showing up for the burglary, he isn't really a hardened criminal; he just wants his share of the money with no hassle and with nobody getting hurt.

But the other two guys, played malevolently by Jared Leto (the "mastermind" who knows what's in the safe) and Dwight Yoakam, aren't as concerned about collateral damage: they want the money regardless of what it takes to get it.

There are some pretty good twists and turns in the plot, and these manage to help the movie go beyond what's basically a pretty thin premise and lets the filmmakers stretch things out to nearly two hours without straining the audience's credulity or getting boring or forced.

The film's appeal is enhanced by a great opening title sequence and some very arty computer-assisted (or generated) camera shots that are nothing short of spectacular. Unfortunately, they also tend to wear thin by about halfway through “Panic Room” and that causes us to remind Mr. Fincher that it's always best to leave the audience wanting more, and as far as his spectacular CG shots are concerned, he should save some for his next film.

Still, the artistry does make the film even more watchable - and it's pretty watchable to start with.

The performances are wonderful. Foster is always terrific, and the trio of bad guys is also deliciously portrayed.

Disc one of the Special Edition features the movie in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer looks very similar to the Superbit version, but a tiny bit softer. Detail and color are still excellent, with the onslaught of black handled very well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track appears to be the exact same one from the previous release, but the dts track is gone (I guess we still need some incentive to buy the Superbit disc).

Disc one also features three audio commentaries, the first by director David Fincher. Fincher is one of those great new filmmakers who can take a mediocre movie and make it really good (Panic Room, for instance). He has a good sense of humor, which makes it easier to get through his commentary, in which he talks about everything from the casting to the visual effects. The second track is by Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam, and the third is by writer David Koepp and a “special guest,” who shall remain nameless.

Pop in disc two and you get six featurettes on the pre-production, including screen tests with the actors and cinematographer, and stunt prepping. As aforementioned, these are all very well meaning, but even for someone who likes this kind of thing they’re hard to sit through. Disc two also features an hour-long documentary on the principal photography phase of shooting the film. Let’s just say it fits on the disc nicely. There’s also a short featurette on the makeup and an “Interactive Previsualization” feature.

Disc three features 21 documentaries and featurettes on the various visual effects of the film. These are more interesting than the stuff on disc two, but only because it’s the visual effects. They’re still shot and edited so blandly that it’s almost painful to sit through all of them. The final disc also features a sound design featurette, various features on the post production, and a multi-angle look at the scoring of the film with Howard Shore.

There’s plenty of stuff in this special edition, and you can learn more about filmmaking than you ever wanted to know. But it’s best recommended for people who are strongly interested in this kind of thing. Everyone else is probably safe with the Superbit version.

Panic Room: Special Edition, from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
112 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart
Produced by Gavin Polone, Judy Hofflund, David Keopp, Cean Chaffin
Written by David Keopp
Directed by David Fincher


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