There have been a few very good original horror movies released in the past couple years. James Wan's "Saw" is one of these exceptional films that have brought much life back into the genre and added a fresh new franchise that has been previously dominated by the old and tired Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers characters. Wes Craven's "Scream" helped bring horror movies back into mainstream cinema, but films like "Saw" are redefining and cementing horror movies as very profitable endeavors.
Co-written and directed by James Wan, "Saw" is not a conventional slasher film. In fact, as the film's main character states, the villain in "Saw" is not technically a killer. He finds ways for his victims to either kill themselves or persevere and learn a painful and valuable life lesson. "Saw" is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror film. There is gore, there is blood and there is violence. However, you don't see a scream queen running in terror from a crazed, knife-wielding monster. You see intelligent and stable grown men put themselves through mortal danger and horrendous amounts of pain and agony to take part in the elaborate puzzle the villain nicknamed Jigsaw has subjected them to.
Starring the always entertaining Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon and Leigh Whannell as Adam, two men who are chained to pipes in the most horrifying bathroom every captured on film that is the dominant set of "Saw." Danny Glover has a meaty part as the former detective driven to madness in trying to prove that Gordon is Jigsaw. Dina Meyer and Michale Emerson are a few other familiar faces who lend their talents to the film. A lot happens in the rust filled tomb of a latrine and both Elwes and Whannell are splendid as two men who are pushed to the edge of reason in the twisted game of death that only one man can survive. Through the early parts of the film, Elwes seemed almost wooden in his performance, but his characters stoic act of control breaks down in the end and Elwes really shines when his character is forced with a choice that no man should ever have to face.
David Fincher's "Se7en" is one of my favorite films of all time. The Criterion Collection LaserDisc was a crown jewel of my collection. "Saw" possessed many traits that have made "Se7en" a well revered film ("Se7en" currently sits at #42 on IMDb's all-time list) that was praised by critics. The film has the same dirty and gritty look that becomes as much a dark and dangerous character as the villain. As the case with "Se7en," "Saw" has a shocking ending involving the villain and an ending that is not wholly expected. The film uses the unknown and strange and psychotic situations to shock the viewer. There is no real need for cheap jump scares or other bits of trickery that have been recycled and rehashed countless times by horror films. "Saw" is one of the more original films to have been produced in the past couple years. It has helped the horror genre become a highly respected genre that is no longer considered a haven of B-Movie throwaways or high-numbered sequels.
"Saw" is the first release I have had the pleasure of watching from Lionsgate. The first five films I viewed were all Sony's debut slate. The disc started out wonderfully with the new Lionsgate animated logo that features some nifty gears and Lion-encrusted gates. They looked absolutely incredible and stunning and got me excited for the Blu-Ray treatment of "Saw." After the initial startup, I was generally pleased by the visual presentation of "Saw." With the gritty nature of the film, the numerous darkly lit scenes and the general low-budget feel of the film, I was not expecting a visual tour-de-force. "Saw" still presented much of the visual inconsistency that has plagued all of the Sony releases. However, it was generally very good and some of the scenes were far better than I had expected. The dead body and encompassing pool of blood looked incredible in high definition. I had to freeze-frame that moment for a few minutes to take-in some of the great gory eye-candy. I found that some close-ups on characters faces and the darkly lit scenes were the biggest culprits of seemingly lower resolution of the 1.79:1 transfer.
Colors were very good. I switched between HDMI and Component video after I had initially watched the film and again found the HDMI coloring to be much more natural than the component output, which was over-contrasted and resulted in skin tones that were a bit too warm to be natural. The dark scenes had good black levels and showed decent shadow detail, but would have been more impressive had they been just slightly darker. I did see an occasional small jump in the picture as I was watching it. However, there were no visual blackouts that I had seen on the Sony releases. From my initial impressions, I would have to say that Lionsgate has their own issue with the jumpiness, but that is not nearly as annoying as the dropouts on the Sony discs.
"Saw" is presented with both a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 channel mix and a DTS-ES 6.1 multi-channel surround mix. I watched most of the film with the DTS track selected, but did switch back and forth to compare the Dolby Digital mix. Both tracks are very clean and well done. They sounded a notch higher in quality that what was present on the standard definition DVD release and I was very happy to not hear a single audio dropout that reared its ugly head during the Sony titles. The Blu-Ray release of "Saw" is the theatrical version. It contains the techno-metal soundtrack of the theatrical release. It sounds very good, though I prefer the film without the heavy tracks. Dialogue is very good and clear and intelligible even when background noise is of a higher volume. I will admit that I had hoped for more uncompressed PCM goodness, but the two tracks Lionsgate has provided for "Saw" are good.
None of the wonderful supplemental materials have been carried over the the Blu-Ray disc and that is a shame. Lionsgate is advertising on their packaging their "Interactive Menus Powered by Metamenu Techonlogy." I really like how easy these menus are to set up the disc settings for viewing. Lionsgate also has a definite theme to their releases that is pretty striking looking. There is also a small tutorial that plays for about twenty seconds before the movie begins to play. I like how the film will start playing after a few seconds, but the tutorial/advertisement for the menu could have been left as a selection from the menu. Still, shows off some of the new technology of Blu-Ray.
"Saw" is one of the valuable franchise for the up and coming Lionsgate. It is no surprise that they have chosen this film for one of their initial releases to Blu-Ray. The transfer is pretty good. It is certainly a step up in visuals and sound over the DVD. There are a few scenes that really look good and show how wonderful films can look in high-def. A few other scenes are only minor improvements over the standard definition disc. "Saw" wasn't exactly a big-budget film and I'd expect source materials are partly the culprit here. Sound is cleaner and more defined on the Blu-Ray disc, but not nearly as strong as the uncompressed PCM tracks on the Sony releases. It is necessary to remember these are launch titles for Blu-Ray and not any indication of what the format will eventually deliver. Hopefully, we will revisit "Saw" sometime down the road with some of the really nice supplements Lionsgate previously supplied and perhaps an even better picture and soundtrack.