Our review of Cast Away (Blu-Ray), published December 22nd, 2007, is also available.
At the edge of the world, his journey begins.
Playing upon the enduring romantic myth of Robinson Crusoe, Cast Away reverses the fantasy and shows the hard reality of a modern man's life alone on an island in an enormity of vastness, separated from all that he was and all that he had. A first-class technical presentation and a second disc of extras make Cast Away a worthy addition to the DVD family.
Facts of the Case
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a man driven by time. As a FedEx executive, his mission is to shape up distribution centers by endlessly preaching and driving home the overriding importance of speed and awareness of time. His personal life with girlfriend (soon to be fiancé?) Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt) is wedged in between flights to foreign lands, scheduled within an inch of its life. Leaving her one Christmas for yet another important FedEx mission overseas, Chuck's life takes a dramatic turn. A peaceful trans-Pacific flight instantly changes into chaotic disaster when a fire in the cargo hold precipitates a headlong crash into the inky darkness of storm-tossed seas.
By luck and by fate, Chuck Noland survives the ordeal, washing up on the shore of a small, utterly deserted island. Insects and marine life, but no animals, make Chuck's isolation complete. Now faced with a life alien to him, devoid of his job, his friends, and Kelly, Chuck struggles to meet his basic needs of life. Using his own wits, determination, what materials the island provides, and a potpourri of contents from a few washed-up FedEx packages, Chuck achieves a semblance of a normal life. However, the drumbeat of time and total isolation wears on Chuck's mind, making hope and spirit rare commodities. The loneliness is so overwhelming that Chuck creates a companion from a volleyball and an enraged, bloody handprint. He now has someone to talk to, and seemingly, someone to talk to him.
Nearly four years after the crash, Chuck finds an unexpected gift of materials bumping up on shore. It awakens in him a final spark of life, a total determination to get off the island. Devoting every waking moment to the task, Chuck constructs a raft, stocks it with supplies, and hopes that it is enough to get him past the reef and terrible breakers around the island, and then out to sea to meet the unknown, the rest of his life.
As technology continues to invade even the most remote outpost on the globe, it becomes harder and harder to escape the mundane travails of modern life. A traffic-clogged commute, a frenetic working day, an evening filled with domestic and familial responsibilities, any one or combination of these can leave one wishing for peaceful isolation on an island. The perverse pleasure of Cast Away is that it takes a natural desire and pulls a grim turnabout, wordlessly demonstrating in stark detail its ultimate folly. Be careful what you wish for!
Tom Hanks (You've Got Mail, Saving Private Ryan, A League of Their Own) took a high-wire risk in accepting the role of Chuck Noland, the time obsessed, marooned FedEx executive. Cast Away is very much the Tom Hanks Show, as one wag at the IMDb noted in his comments, and if Hanks failed, there was no safety net. Indeed, during a sizable chunk of the movie Hanks must carry the film solely on his back and with very little dialogue, and that directed to himself or a blood-painted volleyball companion named Wilson. Furthermore, give Hanks his well-earned respect for being willing to both fatten himself up for the pre-crash Chuck Noland, but then to take a year off and transform himself into lean, wild-man Chuck Noland. Hanks gives this role his all, and as usual, it pays out bountiful dividends. Thoroughly human in his flaws, struggles, despair, and desperate hope, Hanks' work deserved at least the Best Actor Oscar nod that it received.
With other cast members on-screen for mere minutes at best, even Helen Hunt (What Women Want, As Good As It Gets, "Mad About You") has barely enough time to get warmed up. Her Kelly Frears serves in the role, but still, with so little screen time, her contribution is unfortunately minor. Everyone else at least blends into the landscape, neither attracting nor distracting.
The narrative of Cast Away stretches in a three act format for nearly two and a half hours, but given the tasks for it to accomplish, this is time reasonably well-spent. Act I, a mere twenty minutes or so that sets up Noland's frenzied job and his relationship with Kelly Frears, does what it needs to do for the rest of the film to succeed, but the execution is imperfect. I hesitate to recommend adding length to a film such as this, but given the importance of Noland's love for Kelly Frears in Act II and Act III, the relationship is given only superficial screen time. Act II, Noland's existence on the island, is as engrossing a piece of storytelling that I have seen in a long, long time. Told with few words, but with a masterful understanding of the practical and psychological demands of enforced wilderness isolation, screenwriter William Broyles Jr. (Planet of the Apes, Entrapment, Apollo 13) deserves high praise here. Act III, resolving the aftermath of Act II, does drag on a bit long. Some judicious editing would have come in handy there.
The anamorphic transfer is first-rate. A crisp and clean picture with excellent detail, you should be able to count the hairs on Tom Hanks' head during his many close-up shots. Though Cast Away purposely avoids showing the island as a tropical paradise, scenes of undeniable natural beauty, such as azure seas, lush green vegetation, and stunning sunsets still demonstrate delightfully rich color saturation. In all other respects, save for an occasional blip, this is a feast for the eyes. In fact, the transfer is so good you should have little trouble picking out which "night" scenes were actually filmed in daytime and then heavily filtered.
The audio track, whether your choice is DTS or Dolby Digital, will rock your world. Paradoxically, it is in the quietest of details that the worthiness of the audio is most apparent. From Chuck Noland's arrival on the island, the sound is deliberately mixed without background music and with a subtle atmosphere. The smallest, most delicate crunch of sand upon sand, the whisper of wind flowing through vegetation, the slow pounding of the tides, the sounds of Noland's environment come through with vibrant, natural clarity. Lest you think your speakers don't get a workout at higher power levels, rest easy. The FedEx plane crash that maroons Noland is a sonic treat for all ears and all channels, including paint loosening low frequencies, and rivals the famous train scene from The Fugitive for its home theater system "showoffability." Sound effects pan smoothly through the channels and Alan Silvestri's (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact, Stuart Little) score, when allowed, flows and fills the room.
When you get a second disc to house all the extras (aside from the commentary track), that is generally a good sign that you have a legitimate special edition on your hands. Overall, this is a solid Special Edition, though not quite as deep or awe-inducing as the best. The commentary track, featuring director Robert Zemeckis, director of photography Don Burgess, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas, and sound designer Randy Thom, is certainly packed with technical and production details. However, nearly two and a half hours of those details gets quite dry, without Tom Hanks or a livelier bunch to keep things a little more energized.
The heart of the extra content is three of the sub-half hour featurettes, each providing insight and depth into a particular subject area. "Wilson" goes into the psychology of Chuck Noland's island companion, which springs from the very human need for companionship. "The Island" surveys the exhaustive location search, negotiating a two-year exclusive lease with the Fijian tribal owners, the true geography, flora and fauna of the island, how the crew interacted with their environment, and more. "S.T.O.P: Surviving as a Castaway" looks into the process of wilderness survival and how this reality dictated the evolution of William Broyles' script. (S.T.O.P. refers to the survival mnemonic for Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.) Each is a solid package, entertaining and informative, and among the best featurettes I have seen. The other "Making of" featurette covers much the same ground as the three other featurettes, though in a more abbreviated fashion and with additional coverage of the overall process of bringing the idea of Cast Away to reality.
Continuing through the second disc, the interview between Tom Hanks and Charlie Rose (for the latter's eponymous television show) is simply engrossing. Charlie Rose is a fine interviewer who draws out Tom Hanks, discussing not just Cast Away as a whole, but the inner emotional life of Chuck Noland, as well as the broad strokes of his career and his approach to his acting craft. However, the flesh tones are horribly off, giving both Rose and Hanks very ruddy complexions.
The special effect vignettes are six short film clips, with commentary by visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston and co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas, showing how the magic of CGI made so many of the shots in Cast Away possible. The storyboard-to-film comparisons, still galleries, and concept art are welcome bonuses. I particularly liked that the production stills are presented as a continuous video set to Silvestri's score. The ten TV spots and two theatrical trailers for Cast Away finish off the extra content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As many commentators have complained, the main trailer for Cast Away does a splendid job of totally spoiling the film. Though I was able to enjoy the movie in the theater regardless, I know that many people would not be so fortunate. If you have any idea of showing Cast Away to family or friends who have not seen it, then by all means, don't show them the trailers until after seeing the whole movie.
Thoughtful, moving and even educational at times, Cast Away ($30 retail) is solid, well-crafted and well-acted entertainment that offers excellent value for the money. If you don't wish to buy, you simply must at least rent.
Thoroughly and completely acquitted on all counts. The Court thanks 20th Century Fox for continuing to repair its now-distant reputation for DVD indifference.
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