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CAST AWAY

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt
Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Audio:  DTS ES, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Surround  (English and French)
Video:  2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Subtitles:  English, Spanish
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  143 Minutes
Release Date:  June 12, 2001

“We live and die by time.  And we must not commit the sin of turning our back on time.”

Film ****

Debuting last Christmas, Cast Away was a success with both critics and audiences alike.  Yet despite this, it was almost totally ignored at Oscar time, garnering very few awards.  Tom Hanks, although nominated for Best Actor, lost to Gladiator star Russell Crowe (due to the absurd view that even though Hanks had given the best performance, it’s generally better to spread the awards around).   

Hanks plays workaholic FedEx executive Chuck Noland, who rushes through life, constantly chasing deadlines and battling to stay one step ahead of clock.  Although he’d like to make more time for his girlfriend Kelly (Hunt), his job is his main priority.  Then, on one fateful Christmas Eve, his plane goes down somewhere in the Pacific.  Forced to make do on a deserted island, Chuck discovers that life on the island is anything but the romanticized tales of island adventures and that he now faces a new timetable of endless days with little to occupy himself.  

Watching Cast Away, I was reminded what an incredibly versatile and naturally talented actor Tom Hanks is.  While his Oscar winning turns in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump are sure indicators of his talent and powerful screen presence, it was really Cast Away that proved to me that Hanks is so brilliant that he can carry a film totally by himself. 

In fact, one will be surprised to notice that there is nothing to keep the viewer occupied for over half the film (no score, no animals, and no other actors) beyond Hanks and a volleyball named Wilson, who Hanks’s character makes you earnestly believe is a major character in the film (so much so that people were wiping their eyes when Hanks loses him, just as they would for another living character’s death.  I was amazed that Hanks not only brings life to his own characters, but creates life where there is none).     

This is undisputedly Hanks’s film and one more indication to me that the Academy Awards is becoming a mockery of its former self.  One is left to wonder, “who else but Tom Hanks could have made this movie a success?”  

Hanks’s tour de force performance, along with Robert Zemeckis’s brilliant direction, make Cast Away not only a triumph, but an incredibly poignant story of the inextinguishable human spirit.

Video ****

Although many scenes on the island have been intentionally filmed to make the island look worse than it is, so as to make Hanks’s suffering seem realistic (the film would lose some of its believability if the island looked like Club Med), there are some instances, especially when Tom climbs the summit, that the anamorphic transfer really has a chance to shine, with colors that are so beautiful that the viewer is left stupefied.

The blues of the ocean are deep, and the different shades of the water are surprisingly discernible.  Flesh tones throughout the film are very natural looking, but especially so on the island, when Hanks’s tan looks completely natural.  As well, the scenes that were shot using the “day for night” process, i.e.- filmed during the day but corrected with a computer to look like night, are filled with natural blacks that look terrific.

Audio ****

Incredibly pleased when I heard that the film was going to include both DTS ES and Dolby Digital EX, I eagerly popped in the disc.  Thankfully, the Academy made a wise decision when they nominated Cast Away for Best sound.

From the frightening plane crash, to the subtle sounds of the island: wind blowing, waves crashing, fire crackling and Wilson (why does he talk so much?!?!?), sound is picked up with amazing clarity on both tracks, providing an constant immersive  environment.

The .1LFE track is not left out, providing very deep moments at points, especially during the plane crash, which really gives the subwoofer a much-needed workout.  My only regret was I wasn’t able to hear the sounds that might have come from a second rear center channel, as I don’t own one yet.

All in all though, this is a more than adequate track that I found little to complain about.

Supplements ****

Hearing that the disc had four hours of extras, I wondered if Fox was including the film’s commentary as part of the four hours.  I soon found out that this was not the case, and that Fox had assembled an incredible array of supplements.  

Included with the film on the first disc is a commentary by Director Robert Zemeckis, director of photography Don Burgess, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas and sound designer Randy Thom.  A big fan of Zemeckis, I was eager to hear his thoughts on the film, having heard his great commentary on his earlier work Contact.  Again, his comments were informative, as well as those of his crew, who were also given ample chance to speak on the commentary.

Flipping to the second feature-laden disc, an HBO “First Look,” “The Making of Cast Away,” it is a better than average overview of Cast Away’s production, from Moscow in January 1999 to the Fiji Islands in March of 2000.

Next were three featurettes, the first being “S.T.O.P.: Surviving as a Cast Away,” which contains detailed interviews with three professional “survivalists,” as well as writer William Broyles Jr., who tells of his involvement with the three men and how it led to certain sections of the movie.  The second featurette, “The Island,” is a pretty self-explanatory featurette that explains what went into choosing the island, what were some of the challenges involved, and how they were overcome.  Finally, the third featurette, “Wilson: The life and death of a Hollywood extra,” is a rather cute addition about what went into choosing Wilson, how cast members felt about the character, etc.

Following that are the “special effects vignettes” which feature commentary by Visual effects Supervisor Ken Ralston and Co-Visual Effects Supervisor Carey Villegas.  Broken down into “The Plane Crash,” “The Island Revealed,” “Climbing the Mountain Top,” “The Wind Changes Direction on the Island,” “The Raft Goes Over a Big Wave,” and finally, “The Whales,” this is my favorite feature on the disc and the one I found the most engrossing.  It is truly incredible how many special effects were used in Cast Away and made so well that they are barely noticeable unless pointed out.

Under the heading “Video and Stills Galleries,” a “Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery,” as well as Storyboard galleries on “Losing Wilson,” “Raft Escape,” and “Plane Crash,” is included.  Also contained under the heading of “Stills galleries” is extensive “conceptual artwork” and “illustrations and storyboards” on many aspects of the film. 

Finally, rounding out the extensive package are ten TV spots and two theatrical trailers in 4:3, as well as a great Charlie Rose interview of Tom Hanks.

Phew!  A superb job by Fox!

Summary:

Need I say more?   Fox is at their best with a wonderful disc chock full of supplements, two punchy audio tracks, and a lush anamorphic transfer for under $30.  Add to that that the film is a fantastic drama starring Hanks and directed by Zemeckis, and this is a must-have for your collection.  Highly recommended.