Not that there was anything wrong with the picture and sound of the previous Superbit release. But now Panic Room returns in a package that truly contains every imaginable extra, and then some.
The set-up is elegant and simple. Jodie Foster and daughter Kristen Stewart move into their new home in New York. The previous owner built an impregnable panic room in the upper floor. During Foster and Stewart’s first night, three criminals (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared L…to) break in, searching for millions in bonds. Yoakam and Leto are murderously dangerous. Foster and Stewart take refuge in the panic room, which is precisely where the bonds are kept. They are now trapped inside, while the villains fight to get at them.
Unlike director David Fincher’s Se7en, The Game and Fight Club, the plot is very streamlined. This has been a disappointment to some, but it fits the kind of movie this is perfectly. The point here is to get the audience biting its collective nails. The suspense is excruciating, and the film can take its place among such single-setting woman-in-peril classics as Night Must Fall and Wait Until Dark. Unlike those play-based stories, Panic Room is extremely cinematic, with Fincher’s characteristic visual flair deploying in coldly exhilarating fashion from the opening credits on.
Though the Special Edition dispenses with the DTS track of the original (Superbit) release, there is no noticeable drop in sound quality. Hell, for all the difference I could detect, the new 5.1 track might be even better. Either way, it sounds stupendous. The volume levels are strong, the music is big and threatening, and the surround effects are superb. These include such fine examples as the background noises of the city under the music during the opening credits, the swish of rain, or the perfect placement of the sounds of a bouncing ball. No complaints here.
Can you tell the difference between the Superbit transfer and this one? Damned if I can. The image is razor sharp, with no grain or edge enhancements. The lack of grain is particularly appreciated, given how much of the movie takes place in the dark. The contrasts are excellent, so the film is never murky, and the blacks are perfect. The steely gray pallette of the theatrical release is perfectly preserved.
Gasp. Wheeze. “I surrender,” he cried, buried under the weight of a seemingly endless number of features. If you have any iota of curiosity about the film left unsatisfied by this collection, then you seriously need to get a life.
Disc One, apart from a handful of trailers for other prestige films, comes with three commentary tracks. David Fincher’s tells us a lot not just about the film, but about the director himself, showing him to be a thoughtful, deeply engaged artist, whose care and love of the medium extends to a pretty thoroughgoing philosophy about everything from opening credits to the value of preview screenings. (I will no longer be surprised by the fact that Fincher’s film consistently have some of the most striking and original credit sequences in contemporary cinema.) Track 2 has writer David Koepp discussing the scripting process, and he has brought along screenwriting legend William Goldman to act as an interviewer. Track 3 has cast members Foster, Whitaker and Yoakam, recorded separately, discussing their experiences with the production.
Now things get really involved. Disc 2 takes pre-production and production as its focus. The pre-production section featurettes are:
- The Testing Phase, which shows how lenses and other equipment is chosen.
- “Safe Cracking School” – behind-the-scenes footage of the filmmakers learing the finer points of, well, safe-cracking.
Next up on disc 2 we have Previsualizations. Think of previsualization as computer-generated, animated storyboards. In this section:
- Creating Previs – Prvis Demo (with optional commentary) — here you see this process in action.
- Habitrail Film — essentially a computer-animated blueprint of the house, showing the movements for the elevator chase sequence.
- Multi-angle feature – Here you can compare visually the storyboards vs the finished film or the previs vs the film, and the audio can be 1) the raw sound from the set; 2) commentary by the storyboardist; 3) the final mix; or 4) commentary by previs outfit PLF founder and animator Colin Green.
Now the features shift to the actual production phase, and this area is further developed on Disc 3. On Disc 2, you have “Shooting Panic Room“ – an hour-long making-of documentary. Also included here is a make-up featurette.
The production features continue on disc three with a breakdown of four different sequences. You can view these in various stages: script, storyboards and video tests, on-set shooting, and the dailies.
Next, we turn to Post-Production:
- 19 visual FX featurettes (plus introduction) – These could have been packaged more reasonably as one documentary with chapter selections, but there you have it.
- Scoring – another multi-angle feature, showing the scoring of 4 cues. Watch the orchestra at work by itself or in tandem with the image of the scene being scored.
- Sound Design – a featurette with interviews with the men responsible here: Ren Klyce and David Prior.
- Digital Intermediate – find out all about colour timing. As you can see, a lot of these extras are extremely technical.
- Super 35 Explanation – if, indeed, you are getting lost in all the jargon, here’s an essay by David Prior that explains most of the principle terms.
Clearly, a veritable avalanche of information. The menu, fully animated and scored at the level of the main screen and the transitions (and with scored secondary screens) is set out like the blueprint to the house, and indicates what is on the other disks, as well as whichever one happens to be in the machine at that moment.
For once, we have truth in advertising. This is a “special edition” in every sense of the term. A fine suspense film, exhaustively analyzed.
Special Features List
- Commentary by director David Fincher
- Commentary by Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam
- Commentary by writer David Koepp and special guest
- Six featurettes on the pre-production phase
- Interactive previsualization
- “Shooting Panic Room”: an hourlong documentary on the principal photography phase
- Makeup effects featurette
- Sequence breakdowns
- 21 documentaries and featurettes on the visual effects
- “On Sound Design” with Ren Klyce
- “Digital Intermediate” and other featurettes dealing with the post-production phase
- A multi-angle look at the scoring session conducted by Howard Shore
- Plus a few surprises!