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DEAD CALM ($20) is a terrific thriller that proves that a great director needs no more than three talented actors to make an unforgettable movie. The plot of DEAD CALM is simplicity itself, a couple sailing out in the middle of the ocean come across another boat in distress and make the mistake of picking up the other ship's lone survivor. DEAD CALM stars Sam Neill as John Ingram, a naval officer who takes his distraught wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) out to sea on small private yacht, so the two of them can try to work past the tragic death of their young son. While sailing around the Pacific, John and Rae encounter Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane), the sole survivor from a slowly sinking schooner. Nearly delirious from his ordeal, Hughie claims that his traveling companions died from botulism, which left him unable to manage the ship. As a naval officer, John feels compelled to investigate the sinking craft before it goes down. Unfortunately, John discovers the truth about Hughie's precarious mental condition too late to stop the psychotic from making off with Rae and leaving John on the sinking schooner. DEAD CALM is a slick and engrossing thriller that is brilliantly directed by Phillip Noyce. Noyce makes the most of the cramped quarters of the yacht, beautifully contrasting them with the vastness of the open ocean, showing that his characters truly have nowhere to run.

Warner Home Video has done a great job with their DVD edition of DEAD CALM. The film is offered in both full screen and wide screen presentations, however without its scope framing in place, DEAD CALM becomes an exercise in frustration. For its wide screen presentation, Warner has given DEAD CALM a new 16:9 enhanced transfer that puts a fresh face this decade old film. The image is clean and offers a very good level of detail. Bright daylight sequences are especially pleasing; appearing crisp and highly defined. The interiors of the boat also look quite good; although there are times that film grain becomes noticeable in low lighting. Color reproduction is very good, with many strongly saturated hues and very natural looking flesh tones. There are no problems with either chroma noise or color bleeding. Blacks are very accurately rendered and shadow detail is generally good, but there are a few scenes where it is somewhat lacking. Contrast is good throughout the presentation, however the sunlit sequences where the blazing white light of the sun is used to backlight the actors proves to be especially well rendered on the DVD. Digital compression artifacts are held in check most of the time, with only a couple dark sequences betraying their presence. 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack decodes to standard surround and is an example of a better matrixed track. Plenty of atmosphere emanates from the active rear channels, while the forward soundstage delivers clean dialogue and distinct sound effects. Bass reproduction is fairly solid and Graeme Revellís musical score is well integrated into the sound mix. As good as this matrixed Dolby Surround track sounds, I am sure that a new 5.1 channel discrete mix could have enhanced the overall impact of DEAD CALM. A French language soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles. The interactive menus include some sound effects, but are a rather basic affair. Through the menus system, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

DEAD CALM is a solid, entertaining thriller that been given a solid, basic DVD release. Warner Home Video has priced DEAD CALM to sell and the disc is well worth acquiring. Recommended.


Dead Calm (1989)



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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