SEPTEMBER 26, 2010
It's no secret I'm a big fan of Adam Green's films, so this is a terrific week, as the long-awaited Hatchet II hits theaters just a few days after the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Frozen, which is his best film yet, and comes with a bonus features collection that puts most big-studio "special editions" to shame. Add that to Anchor Bay's usual top-notch transfer, and you have an easy purchase on either format (though the Blu is preferred, of course).
Much has been said/praised about the film, so no need to go into that in too much detail. The seemingly too simple "3 kids are stuck on a chairlift" concept makes for an incredibly effective nail-biter as well as a surprisingly moving character drama. Sure, the would-be escape attempts and wolf threats are the visually exciting, nerve-wracking bits that everyone came to see, but the movie really shines in those smaller moments when the characters attempt to cheer each other up with stories, or break down over very human realizations. I admit to tears the first (...and second, you got me) time(s) I saw the scene where Parker (the excellent Emma Bell, soon to be seen in the Walking Dead TV series) hysterically realizes that her puppy is going to starve to death and do so thinking she abandoned him and he won't understand why. I can take the frostbite and other injuries, but man, that just completely wrecked me.
But as good as she is, Shawn Ashmore totally owns the movie. He's got the biggest arc and the best lines, but he takes what could have been an enjoyable comic relief character and turns him into a true hero and fully realized character. Unlike too many of his peers, Green seemingly understood that in order for the "action" to work, you actually have to believe that these folks are real people, not movie characters. Nothing they do/say in the movie feels unrealistic. Sure they make a few dumb choices (smoking kills... your hand), but that's human, not contrived. And since the characterization is so good, you will instantly forgive some of their bone-headed decisions because you can almost see yourself doing the same thing.
And it's funny, one of those decisions (which I won't spoil, but it involves Ashmore shaking his hands as if to relieve them) was actually the choice of his stunt double during one of the more dangerous moments, something I learned on one of the two commentary tracks. One is with Green and the three actors, and they discuss their casting (Ashmore and Kevin Zegers are actually close friends in real life, which helped the chemistry immensely), the dangers of their shooting (despite stunt doubles, they did do the majority of the "action", including working with real wolves), and some amusing production anecdotes, including a story about a Q&A where an audience member thought Emma was the actual character she played, and asked her how long it took for her frostbite to heal (amongst other, even sillier but sadly more spoiler-y questions).
The other track is with Green, DP Will Barratt, and editor Ed Marx. As expected, this one is more technical, as they discuss the difficulties of shooting on a real mountain on a real chair lift, as opposed to a soundstage. Every shot in this movie, even closeups that could have easily been faked on the ground, was shot with the actors really 40-50 feet in the air, on a working chair lift. Special rigs for the camera had to be built, the actors were up there for hours on end (without any way to send coffee up or anything along those lines), and even when they wrapped shooting, they'd have to ride the chair all the way up and back down again, which took 40 minutes. Both tracks are quite enjoyable and informative, and Green admirably repeats very little information (unlike say, Mr. Eli Roth, who tells the exact same stories, verbatim, across his multiple tracks for his movies).
There is some overlap with the 90 minutes' worth of behind the scenes documentary features, however, but that in no way should discourage you from watching them. If anything, it just proves/reinforces the stuff they alluded to on the commentaries. Don't believe that they were really up there? Here's dozens of shots proving it. Think the wolves were CGI (as one moronic major publication reviewer did)? Watch the very real beasts circle around Kevin Zegers with very little to protect him. This isn't some "everyone was great to work with"/"this is the best time I've ever had making a movie" bullshit fluff piece, this is a real, detailed, comprehensive look at what it takes to make a movie with limited means and in less than ideal circumstances. It's broken into four parts, but other than the credits/thank yous at the end of each one, you can really just watch it as one long documentary about the film's making, from concept to the end of production (a 5th part, on the film's post, is available online). The 1st and 2nd are about the writing and casting, but it's the 3rd and 4th where it really shines, the type of things that they should show in film schools (not to mention to DVD producers who think their 20 minute "let's cover everything" pieces are real knockouts). Production design, 2nd unit, stunt work, camera rig problem-solving... all of these things are covered in enough detail where you can actually LEARN something from watching them. And like the commentaries, there's enough pure entertainment value to keep them enjoyable while you learn (the segment on "Schneiderman" is a wonderful little break from the norm, and Ashmore has a funny story about one of the "wolves"). The collection (done by Adam Barnick, who also did the way-above-average docs for the Grace disc) is absolutely essential viewing for fans of the film or for would-be filmmakers who aren't sure if they have what it takes to go the extra mile in order to pull off the best possible version of their film. A few deleted scenes (with optional Green commentary), the too-spoilery trailer, and a very easy to find easter egg round things out. The deleteds are all worth a look; one further explains why they have no cell phones (though I thought it was explained perfectly in the film itself, though some reviews actually claimed the movie didn't explain it at all!), and another shows a scene that they had to film just in case foreign distributors demanded more gore.
And like I mentioned, the transfer is amazing. I don't know who does Anchor Bay's releases, but they're almost always demo quality (ironic since just about all of their films are low-budget, non-studio productions), and Frozen is no exception. You might notice some crushed (grey-ish) blacks, but that was an intentional choice that is discussed on the technical commentary. Otherwise, you won't have anything to complain about here - grain levels are accurate, the colors pop when necessary, and the sharpness is impeccable - it seems like you can pause on a frame and determine whether or not that whole "no two snowflakes are the same" thing is true, because it's crystal clear enough to inspect. The audio is also top notch, in addition to Andy Garfield's terrific score (release this on CD!!!), the nature sounds will almost never stop emanating from your surrounds, but it never drowns out or even slightly obscures the dialogue. An exemplary transfer.
The "It will do for (whatever) what Jaws did for swimming" line gets thrown around a lot, but this is the rare exception where it's actually founded. It just took a minor (but still scary) injury for me to swear off skiing ever again - this movie made me wonder how I was ever able to do it in the first place. The manner in which they get stuck seems very plausible to me (in fact it DID happen, albeit not to as tragic a conclusion, in Germany just after the movie opened), and the film details what would happen as the result of every single thing I would think of in order to get down (i.e. jump). So it's a terrific movie anyway, and then you get the bonus features, which are practically worth the cost on their own. Enjoy your purchase.
EXTRAS: 9/10 (docked a point for AB not including the 5th part)