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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Mothman Prophecies: Special Edition (2001)

John: I think we can assume these entities are more advanced than us. Why don't they just come right out and tell us what's on their minds?
Leek: You're more advanced than a cockroach. Have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?

- Richard Gere, Alan Bates

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: June 17, 2003

Stars: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton
Other Stars: Debra Messing, Lucinda Jenney, Alan Bates
Director: Mark Pellington

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (terror, some sexuality and language)
Run Time: 01h:58m:21s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 043396093263
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- C+BB+ B-

DVD Review

In the late 1960s, the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia was subjected to a 13-month period of bizarre happenings that ensured it a place in the history books of the weird. Residents reported multiple sightings of a giant red-eyed winged creature (or man, depending on who you talk to) that became dubbed the "Mothman." In addition to that, there were reports of strange noises coming from out of nowhere, phone interference with no apparent source, nonsensical phone calls to wrong numbers, weird lights in the sky, and the presence of mysterious "men in black" claiming to be government investigators, yet never identifying themselves to residents (in fact, this case was one of the originators of the "men in black" phrase). Many people claimed that this unusual, paranormal activity was accompanied by messages from "somewhere else," giving them unusual insights into the future, usually via disembodied voices. Journalist John Keel found himself inexplicably tied up into these events when he decided to write an investigative book about the phenomena entitled The Mothman Prophecies. While debates will endlessly go on about the validity and writing skill behind the book (which is a strange account of Keel's journey from disbelief in the supernatural to becoming convinced there is something "else" out there while receiving anonymous "prophecies" about future events), his book has inspired a whole sub-culture to the mysterious phenomena movement, in the same way that the events in Roswell, New Mexico did 40 years ago.

At this point, I will refer the reader to the two previous reviews of the film The Mothman Prophecies for a very good reason: I agree with both of my writing colleagues and can't add much more in terms of the film itself. It is a much better-than-average thriller about the "unknown" and the sense that something else is out there controlling things beyond human understanding. There's no gore or elaborate special effects; instead it relies on our purely human emotions to get across the frightening aspects. However, my contribution to this weird series of reviews of the film is more of a critical nature, because while I agree that the film is certainly chilling and effective, it is, however, almost completely unrelated to book upon which it claims to be based and the real-life events in Point Pleasant. While it is true that the actual book is not particularly focused on the Mothman events themselves, the details of the film are completely fictionalized, despite the fact that John Keel's true experiences in Point Pleasant (in which he claims he was followed, spied on, and generally harassed by some greater conspiracy) would have made a much more interesting movie.

The most frightening, chilling, and unexplained portions of what really went on in Point Pleasant are mysteriously absent. Instead of a look of the community under siege from all sorts of bizarre happenings, things are basically focused on the made-up story of a single man who claims to be receiving accurate predictions of disasters from someone named "Indrid Cold." The real core of the fear and terror behind Keel's book was not so much the struggle to figure out what bad things were going happen in Point Pleasant, but the paranoia of what was going on around him, all of which is conspicuously missing in this film interpretation. Instead, what we have here is a real-life series of events chopped up, re-organized, and re-focused into a story with new characters and situations, but only partially based on the "true account" aspects. The most befuddling aspect of this approach comes in a section in which the central character consults with an author of a book examining future prediction. The expert (well played by Alan Bates) maintains that all throughout history people have reported Mothman-type creatures and that moths were considered spiritual entities in some cultures; however, the reason the Point Pleasant creature was dubbed "Mothman" was a reference to a Batman character. In other words, the name has no connection to some world culture of moth spirituality and such, so why add that into the mix?

For me, Mothman Prophecies is a conflicting experience. The movie was extremely well made and, even if you know nothing about the real-life case, you'll likely be enthralled by its craft. However, I'm also confused and disappointed at the weird, mostly fictional approach to telling the story when the real events are, by far, more interesting. Usually writers have to spice up "true stories" to make movies out of them, but in this case, it's almost as if they reduced reality down. Perhaps the most unsettling thing, when all is said and done, is the fact that the mysteries behind what exactly went on in Point Pleasant are still unsolved, and yet impossible to ignore.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Overall, the film is a bit on the grainy side with compression artifacts often popping up in a few places where the cinematography is particularly elaborate. Many different approaches to the visuals are used in the film from different stocks to digital effects and such in order to, presumably, creating a disorienting experience. While this is successful as an emotional technique, the transfer sometimes doesn't keep up too well and you will see some heavy source grain in many shots, especially towards the beginning. Still, it's nothing major and certainly doesn't diminish the movie in any significant way. Otherwise, the film looks fine with special attention paid to black-level which is essential given the fact that so much of the film takes place in creepy, dimly lit locations and at night. The photography is gorgeous.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mixes are very pleasing, but yet surprisingly subdued, which is a good thing. The sound design is clearly an important part of the film, and that's where the sound mix really comes in. As the film is very dependent on weird noises and hard-to-localize effects, the use of all the speakers is done in a very productive and useful way. Additionally, the effectively dark and strange musical score by producers/composers "tomandandy" (as they are known) is appropriately subtle. On a few occasions the dialogue seemed a bit harsh compared to the rest of the soundtrack, but it seemed due to the mixture of on-set dialogue and post-production dialogue in a single scene.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Mark Pellington
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. "Halflife" music video
Extras Review: This new 2-disc set isn't an extravaganza of features, but might be good for those who want more than was offered on the previous DVD edition. The film itself is accompanied by a commentary by director Mark Pellington, and it's a very good track. He busily discusses all sorts of elements about the film from virtually every aspect of production. He talks very much about his approach to the movie, the technique, and how he collaborated with others on the production to get everything the way he wanted it, but he doesn't hesitate to point out what he feels are his own flaws. Interestingly, though, there's very little discussion on how the storyline and script came about.
The second disc contains a documentary entitled The Search for the Mothman, lasting roughly 40 minutes. Viewers might remember this show when it originally aired on television to promote the movie. It's a heavy-handed, Unsolved Mysteries-type program that examines the Point Pleasant enigma by interviewing many of the real people involved, including John Keel. It's not a bad show, but it's got that cheesy kind of television aura to it where it goes a little overboard to make things either scary or menacing, and it features a few slightly silly reenactments. This is followed by two featurettes in which Mark Pellington discusses his ideas and motivations both going into the project and then coming out of the project; both were recorded on home video at different times.

There are five deleted scenes also presented, but be aware they lack full audio and effects. The deleted scenes really add nothing to the movie, so it's easy to see why they were removed for time considerations. One scene, however, would have been nice to see restored into the film: a sequence in which John Klein (Richard Gere) spends an evening with the townsfolk on top of a large hill watching the mysterious lights that appear above the town. There are no effects, though.

Along with some trailers for the film, there is also a music video (directed by Mark Pellington) for the song Halflife by Low, which is featured in the film.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Mothman Prophecies is an unsettling thriller that tells an interesting story, but the divergent path it takes from the real-life events may turn off those hoping for a clearer document of the Point Pleasant mysteries of the late 1960s.

 


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