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Warner Home Video presents
Of Unknown Origin (1983)

"A rat? There's no rat here. There's no mice here. There's no rat in this house!"
- Bart Hughes (Peter Weller)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 31, 2003

Stars: Peter Weller
Other Stars: Jennifer Dale, Shannon Tweed, Kenneth Welsh, Louis Del Grande, Keith Knight, Leif Anderson
Director: George P. Cosmatos

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:28m:52s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 085392432622
Genre: suspense thriller


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

DVD Review

Borrowing more than a mere thematic page or two from Hemingway's The Old Man And The Sea, director George P. Cosmatos' (Tombstone) outstanding man vs. rat opus Of Unknown Origin has finally come to DVD, and that is one title I can now scratch off my wish list of movies I hoped would one day get released. This is a perfectly constructed little nail biter, and it is wickedly suspenseful and even has frequent bouts of gallows humor that keep the whole thing from collapsing in on itself under the weight of some of the more absurd plot points.

Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) is a wealthy Wall Street executive who lives in a fashionably immaculate restored brownstone with his beautiful wife Meg (Playboy Playmate Shannon "only-in-the-movie-about-10-minutes-but-still-has-time-to-shower" Tweed) and their young son Peter (Leif Anderson). Bart is on the fast track for a big promotion, and when his wife and son go out of town for a couple of weeks, it presents the perfect opportunity for him to finish a big project thrown at him, and simultaneously advance his career accordingly. The problem is that a huge rat has decided the Hughes brownstone is the ideal place to live, and this sets the stage for a series of progressively more intense showdowns, as the four-legged intruder slowly puts more and more demands on Bart's psyche, and consequently his work life. It then becomes an all-or-nothing scenario, as Bart becomes increasingly more crazed and obsessed about destroying the rat, and reclaiming his home.

Weller does a great slow burn as the gradually unhinging Bart, and when at one point he suits up with a makeshift set of homemade armor, wielding a bat full of spikes, it all seems perfectly natural. He gets a lot of screen time by himself locked alone in the brownstone, and mutters aloud comically, screaming wild threats at the unseen rat, who always seems one step ahead of him. Weller somehow manages to make Bart's descent seem genuine and believable, as he does in a scene during an important business dinner, where he spouts gobs of disturbing rat facts that quickly forces the rest of the party to lose their appetites and begin to question his sanity.

Cosmatos really delivers the goods here, earning a great performance from Weller and generating a solidly built and well-constructed thriller, even under occasionally silly conditions such as the rat's seemingly superhuman thinking. He employs long, menacing rat shadows on the walls of the brownstone, and more than a few scenes featured a lengthy pink tail just disappearing out of sight as the camera slowly pans across a room; in short, creating a fun, but equally suspenseful bump-in-the-night thriller where survival and priorities butt heads. The obvious Hemingway nods (Spencer Tracy in The Old Man and the Sea even shows up in the background on a television) are there, as are the more apparent and none-too-subtle parallels between the rat and "the rat race."

Most people only think of Ben and Willard when they think of the definitive "rat" movie, but consider Of Unknown Origin. It's the real deal.

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

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Nice job by Warner Bros and WAMO on the clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for this nearly forgotten thriller, and while this is not a reference disc by any means, the presentation is clearly better than most low-budget films from the early 1980s have fared. Colors and fleshtones are pleasing, appearing natural and evenly balanced, with surprisingly strong, deep blacks. Minimal grain, with very little in the way of dirt or specking, is paired with a wee bit of shimmer, but otherwise a very solid transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The only real bummer about this release is that there wasn't a remixed surround track (even 2.0 would have been nice), and instead all that is offered is the original English mono track. I guess it is just not a "big" enough film for such treatment. Don't get me wrong, on its own it is just fine, presenting clean, discernible, understandable voices, with no hiss or crackle. but for a film so steeped in rat noises and the sound of things scurrying off camera, the experience could have been greatly enhanced with an expanded mix. But I guess you can't have everything, and in defense of Warner Bros, the mono track provided here is more than serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by George P. Cosmatos, Peter Weller
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Of Unknown Origin sports a new full-length, scene-specific commentary from George P. Cosmatos and Peter Weller that appears to be two tracks edited together, with the participants having been recorded separately. I'm not a big fan of these cobbled type commentaries (too many silent gaps), but this one is a fairly decent one, with Cosmatos dominating the track with a wealth of location stories (Montreal doubling as New York), casting and even the marketing of the film (thriller or horror?), which was a great source of controversy when it was released. Weller chimes in periodically, commenting on specific scenes, and while he doesn't offer the same level of insight as Cosmatos, he has an easy, listenable delivery.

The disc is cut into 23 chapters, and also includes a theatrical trailer, filmographies, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Here's one of those little-known thrillers from the early 1980s that has not lost a step, in terms of generating not just suspense, but humor as well. Peter Weller goes mano-to-claw against a marauding rat who has taken up residence in his tony townhome, and as the faceoff continues it becomes clear that there can only be one victor.

Warner Bros and WAMO have done a fine job on the image transfer, and have even included an occasionally fruitful George P. Cosmatos and Peter Weller commentary track.

Recommended.

 


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