NUMBER 23, THE - Blu-ray review

...starts with a promising idea, allows it devolve into chaos, and, finally, grinds it into the trite and mundane.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

The clarity of the picture and the dynamics of the sound on the Blu-ray edition of 2007's "The Number 23" are steps up from the comparatively soft image and sonics of the DVD. Combine that with at least half an intriguing movie, and you get something you might enjoy watching, at least part of the time.

When I first saw "The Number 23," I couldn't help remembering the little 1998 film from Darren Aronofsky called "Pi." That was the offbeat story of an eccentric mathematician who was slowly going mad while hunting for numerical order in the universe in the number for pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, approximately 3.1416 to infinity. I rather enjoyed the Aronofsky film, and its similarities to "The Number 23," although superficial, are apt. "The Number 23," you see, is also about a man becoming obsessed by the implications of a mathematical integer.

The differences in the movies, though, are more striking. First, a bigger-name director, Joel Schumacher ("St. Elmo's Fire," "The Lost Boys," "Flatliners," "Falling Down," The Client," "Phone Booth," "The Phantom of the Opera") helmed "The Number 23." Second, two bigger-name actors, Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen, star in it. And, third, the budget for "The Number 23" would have financed about 500 movies like "Pi." Yet, for all that, "The Number 23" carries its plot through to such an exaggerated conclusion that it ruins everything it builds up so carefully in the beginning. In that regard, the little indie "Pi" is the better film.

"The Number 23" concerns a very ordinary man named Walter Sparrow (Carrey), a dog catcher working in the suburbs for the Animal Control Department. One day his wife, Agatha (Madsen), buys him a secondhand novel she happens to see in a bookstore, a novel called "The Number 23" by Topsy Kretts. It's all about a fellow named Fingerling who becomes obsessed with the number 23, and the most surprising thing about the book's character is that it seems to reflect the real life of Walter himself. The more Walter reads, the more convinced he becomes that the book's main character is really him. Coincidence?

Then, the book introduces Walter to the number 23. Now, before long it seems like everything in his life adds up to 23, and it starts Walter thinking: His name, his birthday, his driver's license, his social security number, even his address all add up to 23.

Even scarier is that in the book, Fingerling is a killer, and it's then that Walter begins to have terrible nightmares. The number begins to consume his life and warp his mind. Not his wife, not his teenage son (Logan Lerman), not even a family friend (Danny Huston) can persuade Walter that the business of the number is all in his mind, that it's all just an elaborate sport for paranoid delusionals, or that it's all simply a big, clever game, like the so-called "Bible Code," where you can find whatever you want in it.

Nothing stops Walter's phantasms. He becomes possessed by the number, and he begins to see schemes and conspiracies all around him. He even takes a hotel room with the number 23; the number is coming to get him.

All for the good. The movie's first half holds up reasonably well, even if it seems repetitious at times. I especially liked the slow decline of poor Walter into fantasyland, and I liked Schumacher's darker and darker tone as Walter gets nuttier and nuttier. I felt a small distraction, though, at the beginning where Carrey is exploring the character and looking for the role; I wasn't quite sure if the actor were doing the character for laughs or not. But Carrey soon enough finds the characterization and gets down to serious business.

It's halfway through that the movie falls apart. By the second half, the story takes an abrupt right turn and suddenly becomes a noir mystery thriller, at which point its gets spacier, spookier, and a whole lot sillier. The plot becomes more melodramatic and muddled, finally following no logic and making almost no sense whatsoever.

When the denouement arrives, it is too contrived, too convenient, and far too unlikely to satisfy one's curiosity. Worse, the revelation comes much too soon, leaving too long for its concluding explanation, which is an even further let-down. It's all a decided disappointment, given the decent buildup we've experienced and the payoff we've anticipated.

In all, "The Number 23" promises more than it delivers. And, worse, it can't seem to make up its mind what it wants to deliver, either.

New Line engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec to preserve the movie's 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p high definition. The image comes off remarkably clean and sharp in most medium and long shots, although a few close-ups are rather soft. When it's good, it's as crisply delineated and well defined as any picture I've seen in high def, and when it's not, it's no worse than ordinary. It is still a very dark film, however, and you will notice a slightly dull veiling in any number of dimly lit scenes.

The audio arrives via DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 (and a regular lossy core track for folks who cannot play back the lossless audio), which is quite impressive for the most part. Sometimes, though, it gets more than rambunctious for its own good. The music is often too loud relative to the dialogue, and everything comes blasting out at the listener with a huge dynamic range and impact. The bass is strong, deep, and taut, too, yet can also be so prominent it occasionally becomes distracting. The surrounds hold out until the second half of the film before they really start coming to life, and then their sounds can be effective.

The Blu-ray disc carries over all of the extras from the DVD, with a few HD flourishes of its own. To start things off, the disc includes both the unrated, extended version of the movie (101 minutes) and the R-rated theatrical version (98 minutes). Then, on the theatrical version there are "Focus Points," a series of pop-up video segments that allow the viewer to see options that go beyond the film. "Fact Track Trivia" presents a number of informational pop-ups throughout the theatrical version; and a director's commentary by Joel Schumacher accompanies the theatrical version as well. Then, there are sixteen deleted scenes, about fourteen minutes' worth, with an alternate opening and ending. Next, in high def, there is a twenty-five-minute documentary, "The Number 23 Enigma," where a group of mathematicians provide the amazing math behind certain "mystical" numbers. And after that are "The Making of the Number 23," twenty-two minutes; "How to Do Your Numbers," all about numerology; and "Creating the World of Fingerling," eleven minutes on the look of the film, the sets, locations, CGI, etc.

If that weren't enough, there are twenty-three scene selections (of course) for both versions of the movie; a widescreen theatrical trailer; a counter for elapsed time; English as the only spoken language; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
"The Number 23" starts with a promising idea, allows it devolve into chaos, and, finally, grinds it into the trite and mundane. Certainly, the movie has its good points, Jim Carrey's and Virginia Madsen's performances, for example, and the story's basic premise, and some eerie, David Fincher-style atmospherics. But ultimately it can only frustrate those viewers who invested so much time in its first half. What could have been an intriguing psychological drama turns into a mediocre crime thriller. Oh, well....

My thinking is that I'd give the first half of the movie a 7/10 rating and the second half a 3/10, averaging out to the 5/10 rating you see below. Nevertheless, with the BD's above-par sound and picture, you might just enjoy it for its audiovisual qualities alone.


Film Value