This DVD and Judge Naugle went into a cave. Only one of them came out. (Hint: Judge Naugle is still reviewing for DVD Verdict.)
Beneath heaven lies hell.
Like throwing a random bone to a weary dog, every once in a while Hollywood likes to release one of those "a bunch of people trapped in a tight space while being hunted by drooling monsters" movies to satisfy horror fan's appetites. The newest version, The Cave, hit theaters at the end of summer 2005 and landed with a thud. The Cave makes a return engagement on DVD care of Sony Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
The Cave opens decades ago in Romania's Carpathian Mountains where explorers discover a church built upon a giant underground cavern. After blasting, the explorers tumble into the cave, sense an evil presence and…
Cut to 2005: Esteemed Dr. Nicoli (Marcel Iures, Mission: Impossible) gathers a crack team of professional cave divers—led by the experienced Jack (Cole Hauser, 2 Fast 2 Furious)—to explore the seemingly untouched underwater caverns. The team includes tough girl Charlie (Piper Perabo, Coyote Ugly), Top Buchanan (Morris Chestnut, Half Past Dead) and an attractive scientist (Lena Headey, The Brothers Grimm), among others. As the team swims deeper and deeper (i.e., miles) into the maze of caverns, they find themselves trapped after one of the teammates meets a deadly and explosive fate. Forced to find their own way out (as one character notes, "we're not going out the way we came in"), Jack must lead his friends and colleagues to the surface before the carnivorous cave creatures find them.
Pinpointing what is wrong with The Cave is like shooting giant mutated fish in a barrel: Hollywood greed. Studio execs are so intent on making oodles of money they'll churn out a movie from a specific genre and suck out everything that makes it distinguishable. The PG-13 rating has been a curse for horror buffs lately; to keep the money rolling in, studios have been neutering what should be fun, gory grizzle machines into tyke-friendly muck. It's like renting a porno flick that's been edited as an in-flight movie.
The Cave has a good albeit unoriginal premise: a bunch of hapless explorers trapped in an enclosed area must escape before 1.) the supplies run out and 2.) giant slimy beasties devour them for breakfast. Okay, so we've all seen this before and done wildly better. The Cave gets bonus points for adding a slight twist (when a character is bitten he starts to mutate) but quickly loses them for not following through on a few storylines. What happens after you've finally mutated? Do you become the monster? Do you just have weird looking eyes and superhero-like hearing capabilities? Don't look to The Cave for answers; it's a movie more concerned about showing you really cool underwater cavern footage than character development or linear storytelling.
The first half of The Cave is intriguing. I didn't know what was going on and found the tone somber and enthralling. Then the movie starts to fall apart with MTV-style editing that never allows the viewer to understand what was going on during the action sequences. For some reason filmmakers think that the audience would rather see .95314957 seconds of a shot—repeated sixteen dozen times—than actually get a good look at what's happening on-screen. During one of this DVD's bonus features we're given close-ups and still shots of the monsters and they look pretty cool. Too bad the makers of The Cave never go out of their way to show us their handiwork. Most all of the monsters are kept under wraps—tight wrap, as if they were phone taps for the White House—until the very end, and even then you never quite know what they are.
None of the actors (all of whom appear to have just walked off a Cosmo cover shoot) are given much to do, save for Cole Hauser as the leader with a glint in his eye. Hauser is a likable star but only when he's got the right script in front of him (see his better, funnier work in the classic Dazed & Confused or as the heavy in xXx). Morris Chestnut, a promising bright star when he made his break through film Boyz n the Hood, tosses out any credibility he once had by starring in Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid in 2004 and The Cave in 2005. Director Bruce Hunt's only previous work was as a second and third unit director on The Matrix trilogy; he scores no bonus points for his murky camera work here. Though the film is competently made, much of the action is indistinguishable due to heavy editing and dimly lit cave sets.
I like monster movies, and on that level I can give The Cave a very mild recommendation. Yet I can't help by think how much better it would have been had the filmmakers geared their film towards the proper audience: it's a bit too scary for little kids, not scary enough for teens on a date, and not gross enough for the die hard gore hounds. In the end it leaves no one happy. Lesson learned? Let's hope so.
The Cave is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Though it's hard to tell what's happening in many scenes, that's not the fault of this transfer—overall, Sony has produced a sharp, attractive picture. The predominant color scheme here is either blue or black, without much in between. Dirt and grain are absent, though, considering how dark this movie is, I wouldn't have been able to tell anyhow.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. The mix is heavy and bombastic when it needs to be. There are plenty of moments of swelling music and screaming actors/beasts/animals to give this mix a real boost. During the time when there isn't a lot of mayhem there is plenty of ambient background sounds (dripping water, echoes, etcetera) to be heard. Also included is a Dolby 2.0 mix in French, as English and French subtitles.
There are a few extra features for fans to browse through. Fans can listen to two commentary tracks, the first by writers Michael Steinberg and Tegan West and the second with director Bruce Hunt, one of the film's producers, and the special effects manager. Overall the commentaries are enlightening if you liked the film; otherwise, casual viewers can skip this experience. Also included are two featurettes; "Into the Cave" is an exploration of real life cave divers and how they ended up working on a major Hollywood movie, and the second ("Designing Evolution: Tatopoulos Studios") is a brief look at what it took to bring the monsters to life and includes interviews with special effects maker Patrick Tatopoulos. Finally there are a few bonus previews for other Sony DVDs and films.
The Cave is nothing more and nothing less than a mid-level B-grade monster movie. Take that as you will. Sony's work on this disc is adequate for the film.
This movie works best as a rental before a purchase.
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• Two Commentary Tracks
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