“We’re all put to the test. But, it never comes in the form, or at the point, we would prefer, does it?”
When The Edge made its debut in September of 1997, you would have thought it had a lot going for it. The idea of putting Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins together in a winter wilderness sounds like a pretty good idea. Audiences didn’t seem to think so. The film was gone after just 5 weeks and less than $30 million box office receipts. It lost nearly half of its screens in just 2 weeks. So, what went wrong with this movie? The answer is nothing, and everything.
What didn’t go wrong was the idea of teaming the two stars in what would be a very intimate setting featuring only the two men for most of the film’s two hours. I found their performances quite compelling. Hopkins is almost always very good, if he’s kept on a short enough leash. This one comes about as short as they get. His matter-of-fact reactions and cool demeanor create a perfect character put in less than perfect circumstances. This is the kind of thing I’ve found Hopkins does best. Alec Baldwin might not be on the same playfield with Hopkins in most people’s minds, but he absolutely holds his own here. It’s not that I think Baldwin is a very bad actor; I just have never been dazzled by the man. But an axiom in the movie business is that great actors are not just performers who can deliver a wonderful portrayal. Great actors are the kind of thespians who bring out performances from those around them greater than they might otherwise be capable, or willing, to deliver. In this case it can be said without argument that Baldwin found himself having to be on his toes at all times, and he is. This is a character study of two men and little more. And, that, my gentle reader, is what went wrong with the movie, at least in the sense of its box office success, or lack thereof. Audiences don’t always have the patience to spend this much time with good performances and little more. The film never delivers on the element of danger or conflict that is promised by both the plot and these wonderful performances.
Charles Morse (Hopkins) is a multi-billionaire. He’s on a working vacation for his high- fashion trophy model wife Mickey (MacPherson) and her fashion photographer Robert (Baldwin). They are staying at a cabin in a cold wintry wilderness for her latest shoot. Robert spies a photograph of an authentic-looking woodsman and decides he would be perfect for the shoot. He inquires and discovers he lives about 80 miles away by plane. So he decides to head out and hire the guy. He invites Charles along. Charles reads a lot and has a lot of what he calls theoretical knowledge of the wilderness, but no real practical experience. Robert figures a trip to the middle of nowhere might be a nice adventure for his wealthy friend. So the two head out in a small plane with a pilot and assistant Stephen (Perrineau). The plane collides with a flock of large birds, I think they were geese, and crashes. Since they had been redirected at the woodsman’s cabin, no one has any idea where they are. The pilot’s dead. Now the three must find a way to survive. Charles attempts to use some of that “theoretical” knowledge with mixed results. To make matters worse, Charles suspects that Robert has eyes for his wife. Interestingly enough, his last words on the plane before they crashed was a cryptic question for Robert: “How do you plan to kill me?” Now the three must deal with the elements, potential threats from each other … that’s when they see the bear. He’s a big Kodiak lookin’ fella as Jimmy Buffet once described. And once the bear tastes human flesh, I thought I saw a tinge of red on Stephen’s shirt; it stalks the two rivals as they attempt to defeat the bear and get out of the wilderness alive.
Director Lee Tamahori decides not to insult our intelligence with a lot of fluff for most of the film. As I’ve already indicated that might not have been the best financial decision he could have made. It was a good film decision, however. The movie comes from a David Mamet script that doesn’t leave a lot of room for frills. He quickly puts his characters into this amazing predicament and turns the actors loose. The result might well be one of the most underappreciated films of the 90’s. The setting provides a wonderful backdrop for this compelling human drama. The cinematography is simply breathtaking at times. Filmed in the mountain peaks of Alberta, Canada you really could not have created better atmosphere. It’s obvious that the actors did not have to divert much of their performance energy to portraying the cold temperatures and harsh elements. You get such a visceral experience from the location and real-life elements that it’s never hard to buy into the character’s situation. Mamet doesn’t allow himself to be terribly predictable, at least not all of the time. Certainly, there are aspects of the story you’ll see coming from miles away, even under the low visibility of a blizzard. The death of Stephen might be considered a spoiler by some, but any experienced moviegoer knows that’s the only way this tale could ever be told. We have to get down to the core of Hopkins and Baldwin. That’s the movie right there.
The Edge is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an MPEG-2 codec at an average 18 mbps. There are some great visuals in this movie, but it’s a shame that Fox opted for an old-tech MPEG-2 transfer and at only 18 mbps. There’s a crime here somewhere. The movie still looks good. It looks better than a standard definition DVD, but not near as good as it could look. There’s compression artifact to contend with in the black levels and other digital noise in the bright scenes. There’s no reason for it. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get any better. The film isn’t successful enough to expect a future improved version. The movie is good enough to deal with the sloppy video presentation, but Fox should be ashamed of themselves anyway. I don’t understand it, really. I’ve seen plenty of Fox Blu-rays and most use an AVC/MPEG-4 codec with bitrates between 25-35. I’ve just watched old Mel Brooks films with better transfers. Someone has some ‘splainin’ to do.
Note: Since writing this review I checked to see what others had to say. Most are calling this an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. They are wrong. I tried it on three players and the codec showed the same. More importantly, the box itself lists the codec as MPEG-2. Trust me on this one. This is an MPEG-2 codec. (The same codec used on most standard definition DVD’s, by the way).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is far more impressive. The uncompressed sound really delivers in every way possible. The surround channels offer a wide immersive experience. You can hear subtle and not-so-subtle elements from the wind and water from a stream. It’s truly a beautiful-sounding mix. The dialog is not only clean and clear, but it has a wonderful bottom to it that gives these actors’ voices such a commanding sound. The Jerry Goldsmith score sweeps in gloriously from time to time to lift your emotions and accent this truly gorgeous location. The bear roars with such authority that I know that bear is only inches from my face. Such a mismatch of great audio presentation with such a disappointing visual. I wish these two guys had gotten together somewhere.
If the box office numbers are any indication, chances are you skipped this one back in 1997 in the movies. You’re busy. I get it. No need to kick yourself for it. Now Fox has given you a high definition path to redeem the decision. Look, it’s not the worst one you’ve made, is it? But if you pass now, they’ll be no excuses. But some of you will anyway. Listen to your Uncle Gino, get it now and save it for a cold night next winter. Stick to the Blu-ray. I know some of you don’t have one yet. Oh well. This is a cool movie. “It’s a shame everyone can’t enjoy it.”