CAST AWAY - DVD review

...the three stories are so fragmented and disjointed from one another they seem to be playing on different screens.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

The combination of Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, and director Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") had to spell "box office," and it did. Besides all that star power, "Cast Away" offers us three motion pictures in one: A love story, an adventure story, and a human-interest story. It's your basic money's worth, even if the three stories are so fragmented and disjointed from one another they seem to be playing on different screens. Fox Home Entertainment and DreamWorks present all of this in a special two-DVD set, with extras that even include a featurette on the film's most important costar, Wilson the volleyball. What more could you ask for?

In part one of the film, Hanks is introduced as Chuck Noland, a hard-driven, over-stressed management-level employee of a large (and quite well-known) international delivery service. Probably never in the history of movies have we seen such a lengthy promotional for a real-life business. The company's name, logo, trucks, offices, and warehouses are given prominent and extensive display in practically every scene. Whoever in the delivery company was responsible for securing this much product placement in a Hollywood film should have been promoted to president of the corporation on the spot. Anyway, Hanks is beleaguered by work in an introductory segment that seems to go on forever (about twenty-three minutes, actually), but he finds comfort in his ever-loving, ever-faithful girlfriend, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt). Hunt is her usual feisty, frisky self.

Part two, the tropical isle segment, is what people will undoubtedly remember the most from the film, but it's the least credible. Hanks' character is sent to Malaysia, where on the way his plane crashes into the vast waters of the South Pacific. Not to worry: In the middle of the ocean Hanks swims ashore on an uninhabited, unmapped, pinpoint of an island. What are the odds? Here, he survives by his wits alone for, again, what seems like forever, with only a volleyball for company. What are the odds? Then, in desperation he builds a raft, sets out to sea, and like finding a lost wedding ring at the bottom of the Mariana Trench comes upon a ship before he runs out of drinking water. What are the odds?

I liked part three best, even if it belongs in a different movie house altogether. When he finally returns home, he finds things have changed considerably. For one thing, he's lost a ton of weight. For another, he's learned to slow down and take his time about life. But I digress. The really important change concerns Kelly. And for once Hollywood doesn't wimp out with a typically gooey ending. Zemeckis has the courage to avoid a pat resolution, providing, instead, a final ten minutes that almost make us believe the whole rest of the movie was worthwhile.

Hanks is, understandably, the main reason for watching the film. Like few other actors he seems as much at home with light comedy as with serious drama. In "Cast Away" it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two situations, but Hanks does his best to bring it all off with a straight face. He deserved his Academy Award nomination, for being willing to lose so much poundage if for nothing else. Although I was rooting for Geoffrey Rush in "Quills," I have to give Hanks credit for making his character's desperate and often farfetched situations nearly believable.

The next good reason for watching the film is to enjoy the special effects. They are used more sparingly than in most of Zemeckis's previous efforts, however, which have frequently been special-effects extravaganzas. The effects come off well, primarily in the story's middle section, where the harrowing crash of the jet airliner and the thundering island storms are exceptionally powerful. The last reason for watching the film is that ending I alluded to earlier. It's melodramatic, to be sure, but it makes you think, well, maybe this was a pretty good film after all.

Fox's picture measures 1.74:1 across a standard-screen TV like my Sony XBR400, but the keep case claims 2.35:1. I'd say there's a discrepancy here. Nevertheless, the image is projected in anamorphic widescreen, if your set can reproduce it properly, and it's quite sharp, colorful, and detailed. Some minor grain, either in the print or in the transfer, was hardly a problem, and moiré effects were almost nil.

The sound, though, is even more impressive, nothing short of spectacular, in fact, and THX mastered, like the picture. From the opening credits on, the five main speakers plus the subwoofer are kept in constant motion. The airplane smashing into the ocean and the hero's underwater survival episode may become standard demo fare at your house when friends and neighbors stop by to see what's up with your home theater. In the event you don't have Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS capabilities, Fox have also provided a set of regular Dolby Stereo Surround tracks to enjoy.

Given the popularity quotient of "Cast Away," Fox and their partner, DreamWorks, have packaged the film in a Special Edition, two-disc set. Naturally, the first disc contains the film itself, an audio commentary with director Zemeckis and other crew members, thirty-two scene selections, a THX Optimode group of audiovisual tests, English and French spoken languages, and English and Spanish subtitles.

The second disc contains the bulk of the goodies, and there's a whole boatload of them, to be sure. Here we get a twenty-seven-minute HBO First Look documentary, "The Making of Cast Away," featuring numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes pieces of information. Next in order of importance, there's a forty-seven-minute Charlie Rose interview with Tom Hanks that may hold interest for some viewers, especially fans of Hanks. Then, there are three featurettes, ranging from thirteen to twenty-six minutes each: "Wilson: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra," "The Island," and "S.T.O.P., Surviving As A Castaway." The latter is the most fascinating, as several survivalists talk about how to get along if one is stranded in the wilderness. The "Wilson" thing is the most pretentious, in which the sporting orb takes on the pop symbology of a minor deity. Next, there's a series of Special Effects vignettes, with the special effects supervisors commenting on the plane crash scene, the climbing-of-the-mountain scene, the whales scene, etc. Each segment is about two or three minutes long. Following that are various image galleries, including ones for conceptual artwork, illustrations, and assorted storyboards.

The second disc concludes with two theatrical trailers, both in full frame, oddly, and ten TV spots. Fox/DreamWorks surely offer more here than one could reasonably be expected to take interest in, so it's time to pick-and-choose for the most part. One of DVDTown's readers wrote in the Forum that he wasn't so much interested in the quantity of the extras provided on supplemental discs as he was in the quality of the material. To be honest, I wasn't much interested in any of the "Cast Away" bonus items, but maybe I was just overwhelmed by the scope of the enterprise.

Parting Thoughts:
As a film experience, "Cast Away" hardly bowled me over. Nevertheless, there is no questioning the value one gets from its triplex plot line and its bounteous extras. Besides, the title is catchy. Not only is Hanks a castaway, he's cast away, like away from his job, away from his girlfriend, away from society, away from himself by the end. So, there you have it: A good title, good acting, good effects, plentiful bonus features, three mediocre stories, and a volleyball. And they say 2000 was a bad year for films!


Film Value