The Watcher is a groundbreaking piece of cinema. It takes the crime thriller film genre, employs a few recognizable stars, and proceeds to waste them by boring the absolute beejeezus out of me with performances and a story that is so holistically unoriginal that I didn’t feel good about myself after watching the film.
For the sake of plot synopsis, the movie’s concept is pretty simple. Based on a screenplay by Clay Ayers and David Elliott (Four Brothers) and directed by Joe …harbanic in his first and to this date, only, feature film contribution, an FBI agent named Campbell (James Spader, Less Than Zero) has moved to Chicago from Los Angeles, largely despondent after not being able to catch a serial killer in the area. Little does he know however, that said serial killer, a man named David Allen Griffin (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) has followed him to Chicago, and he resumes his practice. So Campbell dusts off his neuroses and helps the Chicago police try to find the killer of several women in the area, including one who will die, as Griffin says to Campbell when he sends him a picture of her. Campbell finds this stuff hard to take and relates most of it to his therapist, played by Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny).
In terms of synopsis it seems harmless enough, but the problem is that everyone sleepwalks through the process and none of them bring anything new to the table that make this thing worth watching. Spader’s dialogue is tiring, when he’s rejuvenated and asks someone to do something that they think is unreasonable, he utters a response that is just…so stupid. It’s symbolic of the film. You can see everything coming a mile away, it’s just a matter of when. Thankfully, since the film is only an hour and a half, it’s done rather quickly.
Universal releases all their titles in 1080p using the VC-1 codec, and this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation isn’t too bad. The film sports a bit more color than I would have expected and it looks sharp, but the detail of the actors is a bit muddy in parts.
The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 soundmix sounds better than expected as well, with a lot of music and low end bass to test things out in the opening minutes of the film, but from there it retreats into a comfort level that is unimpressive. Surround effects are OK but nothing special, and the dialogue sometimes sounds erratic, but you can still hear everything.
The Watcher comes to the HD DVD market with no extras. But it’s better to not prolong the pain if you don’t have to.
The Watcher is far from reference quality on HD DVD. So why is Universal releasing this now, ahead of such stalwart catalog titles like Scarface and Jaws? Beats me, although the technical qualities look nice, they aren’t demo worthy, and you’d have to watch the film as well, so I’d pass if I were you.