Stephen King must be solely responsible for an acre of deforestation a year in legal pads and typewriter pages alone. I have heard it said that he writes at least ten pages a day, including holidays. A quick check of IMDB shows that he is credited for writing 106 television or movie stories, at least in part, since “Carrie” in 1976. While no writer – as I well know – can hit a home run every time they put pen to paper, King’s “good to crap” ratio is far superior to that of the majority of the novelists working today.
His stories are so bankable to Hollywood that even short stories are often developed into television shows and feature films. Such is the case with “1408”, King’s second film about a haunted hotel. (The first was, of course, “The Shining”, a classic horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick.) The plot is vintage King; an author of books about haunted hotels checks into a room at the fictional Dolphin Hotel in New York, and finds that the hotel owner that begged him not to spend the night in the room may have known what he was talking about after all.
Let me just stop for a moment and say that I don’t like John Cusack as an actor. I never have. Having said that, he gives a fantastic performance here, in an extremely difficult role. For the majority of the film, Cusack is the only actor on screen, and has to pull the audience through the story solely by talking to himself and interacting with objects. However, the film never drags, and I didn’t lose interest for a moment. His efforts here easily display some of his finest work as an actor.
Of course, once Cusack’s character enters the room and the haunting begins, he quickly finds out that removing himself from the room is impossible. I was absolutely thrilled to find that the character explores every logical possibility for escape. I am always so frustrated when I watch these kinds of films and the protagonist doesn’t attempt the most logical method for removing themselves from the situation they are in, such as when victims run upstairs instead of out the front door, or are trapped in a room and never try to go out the window. Happily, that is not the case here.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality this film overall. Though the story follows pretty conventional rules for this type of film, the script is well-written, and aside from a mildly-annoying detour toward the end of the film, it ends on a fantastic note. This is that rare combination of a thriller that works without gore or excessive language that will probably appeal to a wide audience.
Of course, there are two different versions of the film included in this set. The standard theatrical version, and the unrated Director’s Cut. The Director’s Cut is the preferred versionin my opinion, though there is not a lot of difference between the two options. For the most part, the longer cut is the version of the film turned over to the MPAA, before changes were made to help it get down to a PG-13 rating. The theatrical version is fine, but the longer edit adds just a little bit more detail, making the story that much more involving.
I was very pleased with the quality of the audio presentation on this disc. Surround speakers are used very well, as they fill in the sound field in loud scenes, and provide eerie sound cues off screen during quiet segments. These speakers do a great job of complimenting the subwoofer signal as well, which is utilized extremely well. Bass tones are rich and deep, and sound absolutely beautiful. They perfectly support the rest of the audio, while not overpowering it. There are also some excellent subtle moments added in for the discerning ear, as very quiet sounds and tones are ever-so-subtlety folded in to create an excellent sense of “did I just hear something, or was it in my mind?”
Video quality is also first class, with a wonderful palette of rich colors displayed on the screen. Many of the images are able to convey a mood solely through the colors on the screen, which was very impressive. Black levels are fantastically deep and detailed, and I didn’t see any instances of bleed-over or blooming whites.
As far as the film itself, I was impressed with the movement and framing of the camera. The shooting style is very smooth and graceful early in the film, and becomes slightly more sporadic as the madness in the storyline begins to grow. Also notable is the wonderful framing used in the film, as the cinematographer finds just the right angle to direct the viewers eye exactly where he wants it to be focused in the frame. It is masterful camera work, reminiscent of Hitchcock, and it’s a shame we don’t see this kind of skill in more movies these days.
After sitting through a ton of trailers and even a couple of commercials, the only extras on disc one of this set is a couple of webisodes, which are nothing more than mini-press kits aimed at building interest in the film before its release in theaters. There is really nothing of value included in either one of these short segments.
There is a commentary by Director Mikael Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski included, but only on the Director’s Cut version of the film. The track is really well done, and all members contribute a lot of interesting entertaining. All three of them are really bright people, which is so refreshing to find in Hollywood these days. I would actually suggest that viewers watch the Theatrical Cut of the film first, then watch the Director’s Cut with the commentary.
Five deleted scenes are included, with optional Director’s commentary. I love it when commentary is available on deleted scenes, as it is so easy to get lost on what you are watching otherwise. The extras wrap up with a segment called The Secrets of 1408, which is a collection of several mini-documentaries compiled from the footage shot on the press junket and from the electronic press kits.
It is unfortunate that this film was the victim of bad marketing by the studio. Clearly, a lot of money was spent to sell the film, but the trailers that popped up everywhere worked against the viewing experience in two ways. First, the film was sold as a horror film. While there are certainly horror elements to the film, as it is essentially a ghost story, the plot really follows the conventions of a psychological thriller. The room doesn’t necessarily impose its will on the main character, as much as the character manifests the evil from his own subconscious.
The other problem with the trailers is the all-too-frequent issue of the trailer needlessly showing way too much of the film. More often than not, I find that teaser trailers do a much better job of selling new films than the full trailers do. By the time I sat down to watch this movie for the first time, I already knew what was going to happen in many of the most impactful scenes. Surely marketers can find a better way to sell these films than by just showing viewers the best moments in advance.
Though it would have made for a more entertaining evening if it had arrived in your DVD player without advanced notice, this is still a well-made psychological thriller. The audio and video are superb, and the story is solid. This is definitely worth a rental, and some would even enjoy a purchase. I know I will be happy to view it again in the future.