“Two years ago my son was taken from me. Since then I’ve lost everything: my job, my marriage, even my life. But I came back, and the dead came with me.”
Ever since the hugely successful 1999 film by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense, it was only a matter of time before the idea would spawn copycats both in film and television. The phrase, “I see dead people” became a cultural icon. It was a highly effective scene from a clever and refreshing movie. Unfortunately, not all of its spawn have carried on the same level of quality. Haunted falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. Cancelled after only 11 episodes, it never had the chance to make much of a mark during its short television run. It has been quickly forgotten. One has to ponder if the show would even have found its way to DVD at all if not for the fame its star would find on the mega-hit Lost. The way Phase 4 Films handled this release, I think the answer to that question is a resounding no. More on that later. But, it’s appropriate that Matthew Fox’s fame would be the justification for bringing back this dead show from the grave, because, it’s Matthew Fox who pretty much carries the weight of the series. Even his command performance could not save the series from descending swiftly into television obscurity.
“On the operating table Frank (Fox) is declared dead, but then is miraculously revived. Afterwards, however, Frank begins to have strange episodes. He hears unusual noises and sees people who aren’t there, including the suspect he killed, and realizes that he’s still connected to the world of the dead. Frank is desperately frightened, until he comes to realize that his hauntings can help him solve cases and save lives, and may ultimately help him solve the mystery of what happened to his son.”
That’s pretty much the premise for this series. Frank was clinically dead, and now he can communicate with the dead. For a private investigator, this is a skill that can really come in handy. It’s easier to solve a murder when you can talk to the victim. Of course, it’s not going to be that easy. Frank’s communication is often limited to vague symbols and cryptic phrases that rely on his own investigative skills to solve the puzzle, and hence the crime. Much like the current hit The Ghost Whisperer, the dead don’t seem to want to just lay it out in simple easy-to-understand terms. Just once I’d like to see a ghost tell our detective that it was Mr. Mustard who did it with the candlestick in the study. Why these spirits aren’t so clear is the biggest mystery of all. We know that they are capable of such normal dialog, at least in the Haunted universe, because Frank is often pestered by the crook he whacked throughout the show. Simon (Mann) carries on considerably detailed and articulate conversations with Frank all the time. There’s even an episode where Frank is able to carry out a love affair with one of his ghosts. Of course, if it were that easy, there wouldn’t be much drama, now would there?
The series features a rather strong list of supporting characters and performers. While Fox still has to carry the weight of it all, he does get some help. Russell Hornsby plays Marcus Bradshaw. Marcus is Frank’s ex-partner from the force and his inside contact in the department. Lynn Collins stars as Jes, his ex-wife and an attorney in the District Attorney’s Office. She supplies the tender touch to the show, while also allowing for conflict when Frank finds himself in trouble with the law. Michel Irby is Dante, who knows Frank’s secret and attempts to help him put some of the symbols he is receiving into perspective. That role originally appeared to belong to a blind character named Henry played by exceptional talent Richard Knepper. Knepper has been an important part of two very successful shows himself. He was T Bag in Prison Break and Samuel Sullivan in Heroes. He only appears in the pilot, and it appears he was originally going to have the Dante kind of relationship. For whatever reason, he was not to reappear. A big loss for the short-lived series.
Each episode of Haunted is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Here’s where I have to be very critical of Phase 4 Films. They placed all 11 episodes on just 2 discs. That’s 5 hour-long episodes on one and a ridiculous 6 on the second. With that kind of crunch, you can guess that compression artifacts haunt this release far more than any ghosts. There are a handful of scenes that are just downright not watchable. It would have cost about 22 cents, including production costs, to add a third disc. Someone just didn’t care, and this video presentation is simply horrible.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is as dull as the image. You can hear the dialog fine, but there is no atmosphere or ambient life to this presentation.
We’ll never know exactly where the series was heading. It seems quite obvious that a strong mythology was being crafted. Unfortunately, it was gone before the show could catch its stride, so that this collection will feel very unfinished and fail to satisfy in the end. Too bad, really. I would have liked to see at least a glimpse of where they were going. Combine that with the carelessness in which this release was handled in the video department, and I don’t see any reason to rush out and pick this one up. It’s sure to be found in the discount bins at some point in the not too distant future. We’ll never know what was in store for Frank, making this a perfect example of the axiom that “sometimes it’s not what you see, but what you don’t see”.