Cast Away [DVD]
Screenplay : William Broyles, Jr.
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Tom Hanks (Chuck Noland), Helen Hunt (Kelly Frears), Chris Noth (Jerry Lovett), Nick Searcy (Stan)
It is no small irony in Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away that Chuck Norland, a FedEx efficiency expert whose professional life revolves around the clock, winds up stranded on a deserted island where time is quite literally meaningless. Norland, as played by Tom Hanks, is a driven professional who is sent around the world to ensure that various FedEx offices are working at optimum capacity and maximum speed. "Don't ever make the sin of turning your back on the clock," he instructs a group of Russian employees. One night, the plane on which he is flying crashes into the South Pacific ocean, and Norland manages to survive long enough to wash ashore on a small, tropical island.
It is on this island that the majority of the film takes place, and it is testament to the acting prowess and undeniable humanity exuded by Tom Hanks that he can carry long stretches of the film literally by himself, without even the aid of a musical score. Once on the island, Zemeckis removes all extradiagetic sound, only allowing the natural noises of the island--the wind in the trees, the repetitive crashing of the waves on the shore--to fill the soundtrack. It enhances the literalness of Norland's physical isolation, constantly reminding us that there is no one else there.
For close to an hour, we watch as Norland learns to survive on his own, fashioning a tent out of his life raft, creating make-shift shoes out of his pant legs, and learning the easiest ways to crack open a coconut. When various FedEx boxes wash ashore from the crash, he opens them and makes use of their content, from videotapes to ice skates. Because we have seen Norland in action in his professional life, it is not hard to imagine that he would be a dogged survivor. He doesn't necessarily have the know-how, but he has the determination and the will.
Norland ends up spending four years on the island, and the physical transformation through which Hanks went in order to dramatize that passage of time is astounding. In something of a reverse of Robert De Niro's transformation in Raging Bull (1980), in which he went from a lean, wiry prize fighter to an overweight has-been, Hanks transforms himself from a pale, meaty professional man of the city who has obviously eaten too many rich meals and spent too much time sitting on international flights to a taut, browned, muscular survivor. Zemeckis filmed Cast Away with this transformation in mind, taking a year off in the middle of production so that Hanks could lose 50 pounds and grow out his hair and beard. The result is nothing less than astonishing, and it is nothing special effects could have produced.
Yet, the problem with Cast Away is that it doesn't have much to do with Norland once he is off the island. In the opening scenes, the film establishes his hectic, time-crunch lifestyle and his relationship with his serious girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt), who is a doctoral student. They are contemplating marriage, and right before he leaves, Norland gives Kelly a small box that is surely an engagement ring, asking her to hold on to it until he comes back. Little does she know how long it will be.
In the last portion of the film, Norland returns to civilization to discover what has changed in his absence. Although the script by William Broyles, Jr., is excellent in its existential minimalism during the island period, it falters badly at the end by missing a prime dramatic opportunity in depicting Norland's return to his previous life. Rather than showing us how he becomes reacclimated to a cushy Western lifestyle after four years spent in complete isolation fighting for his very survival, we are given a simple title card that reads "Four Weeks Later" over a shot of a clean-cut, bathed, and completely calm and well-adjusted (although still thinner) Norland on a plane.
What happened during those four weeks? What his reaction to his first human contact in more than 1,500 days? What questions did he ask? How did he get used to eating cooked food again? Did he need any psychological counseling? Did he have nightmares? How long did it take to shave off four years worth of scraggly facial hair?
Unfortunately, none of these questions are answered in the rush to get Norland and Kelly back into the same room together. Thankfully, the scenes between them are well-written and handled poignantly and realistically by Hanks and Hunt. They suggest the pain of time lost and decisions that can never be reversed, and even though the end is a bit forced in its drive to conclude on an upbeat note, it more or less works.
Despite these faults, Cast Away is still a film of notable merit. Director Robert Zemeckis, who reteams with Hanks for the first time since they both won Oscars for Forrest Gump (1994), keeps the film's visual style rather simple (except for a silly gimmick in the opening scene that depicts the travel of a FedEx package from the package's point of view). In the island scenes, he is content to let the camera lens absorb the wild beauty of nature, emphasizing Norland's smallness in the grand scheme of things. His staging of the plane crash is magnificently terrifying--it is one of the most memorable disaster sequences in recent memory.
Hanks, from whom audiences always expect a great performance, does not disappoint. His one-man show is captivating precisely because it is kept low-key. He has the occasional dramatic outbursts, one in anger when he cuts his hand while trying to light a fire, one of exuberant joy when he finally gets the first started ("I have made fire!" he proclaims to no one). Mostly, it is the primal urge to survive that drives the simple narrative, and Hanks embodies that drive perfectly.
Even in his darkest moment or when he is reduced to holding conversations with a volleyball on which he has painted a face with his own blood, there is never any doubt that this man can and will survive. It is not because there is anything special about him, but rather it is because of his very lack of specialty. He is simply a member of the human race whose basest drive is stay alive no matter what.
|Cast Away: Special Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital EX 6.1 Surround|
DTS ES 6.1 Surround Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (DD & DTS 6.1, 2.0) |
|Supplements|| Audio commentary with director Robert Zemekis and crew |
HBO First Look: "The Making of Cast Away"
Interview with Tom Hanks on The Charlie Rose Show
Six special effects vignettes
Three storyboard-to-film comparison galleries
Behind-the-scenes photographs and concept art gallery
Two theatrical trailers
10 TV spots
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Although the packaging says that Cast Away is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image on this disc is actually correctly framed at 1.85:1. That rather glaring typo aside, this is an utterly gorgeous anamorphic transfer. The THX-approved image is crystal-clear and very film-like, with strong, well-saturated colors, natural-looking flesh tones, excellent contrast, and deep, rich black levels and exquisite shadow detail. The night scenes benefit especially from this extraordinary transfer, as we get to see an exceptional level of detail and texture.|
|The soundtrack is available in both Dolby Digital EX 6.1 surround and DTS ES 6.1 surround mixes, both of which are truly outstanding. This is one of the first six-channel DVDs, and those with the most up-to-date equipment can take full advantage of the separately encoded center surround channel. Even those with a 5.1 set-up will be astounded by both soundtracks, which are some of best I've heard in a long time. The action sequences, such as the plane crash and Chuck's eventual escape off the island on a raft barreling over crashing waves, are appropriately loud and booming, with solid use of the low-frequency effects channel that thunders, but doesn't overwhelm other aural details. However, where the soundtrack truly shines is during the hour when Chuck is completely alone on the island. With very little dialogue and no extradiegetic music, it is a superb example of the use of a multiple-channel soundtrack to create a naturalistic, truly enveloping aural experience, from the precise crackling of the fire, to the waves crashing on the beach, and so forth. Composed of exquisitely detailed layers of natural sounds, the soundtrack is compelling without drawing overt attention to itself. All the channels are used to great effect, with superb imaging and creative directionality. This is a reference-quality soundtrack.|
| Fox has released Cast Away as a two-disc DVD set with a wide variety of supplements. |
The only supplement on the first disc (which also contains the movie) is an audio commentary by director Robert Zemeckis, cinematographer Don Burgess, visual-effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Cary Villegas, and sound designer Randy Thom, all of whom were recorded separately and then edited together into an impressively cohesive whole. Because so many people are involved in this commentary, they cover many facets of the filmmaking process, which gives a better sense of what a collaborative enterprise it was. Their comments are fairly screen-specific, although many of them tend to talk in broader generalities that are not directly related to what is on-screen at that moment.
The second disc opens with a half-hour HBO First Look documentary, "The Making of Cast Away." This is a good look at the behind-the-scenes challenges faced by the cast and crew, and it emphasizes the unorthodox method of making the film over more than two years, with one year off in the middle for Tom Hanks to change his appearance.
Also included are three featurettes. "S.T.O.P.: Surviving as a Castaway" focuses on screenwriter William Broyles, Jr.'s first-hand research into methods of survival by doing it himself in the Sonoran desert in northern Mexico with Steve Watts, a prehistorian at the Schiele Museum of Natural History, David Holladay, a stone-age living skills specialist, and David Westcott, education director of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. This half-hour featurette includes extensive interviews with the four men, as well as some amusing photographs of them during the extended survival-training excursion. "The Island" is a 14-minute featurette that is primarily narrated by Mary Morgan, the location manager who found Monu Riki, the small, uninhabited Fiji island on which the movie was made. She also takes us on a brief tour of the production village that was constructed on the island (which was a good hour-and-a-half-long boat ride from civilization). Finally, there is the 13-minute "Wilson: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra." While amusing, this is definitely the weakest of the three featurettes.
For those who are upset that Tom Hanks is conspicuously missing from the commentary track on the first disc, the second disc includes an episode of The Charlie Rose Show on which he appeared. Rose always conducts good celebrity interviews, as he guides the discussion beyond the surface level covered on the morning talk shows. In the 47-minute interview, he and Hanks discuss in-depth how Cast Away evolved as a project and its unique challenges, as well as Hanks' career in general and other projects with which he has been involved.
The six special effects vignettes are short (most run about one and a half minutes), but they give a good glimpse at how some of the extraordinary visuals in the film were created by computer-generated imagery and models. Narrated by visual-effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Cary Villegas, they cover six sequences in the film, including the plane crash, the scene where Chuck climbs to the top of the island and looks around, and the whales.
More behind-the-scenes supplements include a gallery of storyboards for three sequences, which includes a side-by-side comparison of individual storyboards with corresponding isolated stills from the film, as well as a final-sequence comparison. There is another gallery of behind-the-scenes photographs and concept art, but unfortunately it is presented as a moving slide show with music, so it's harder to control the pace.
Finally, the disc includes two original theatrical trailers in full-frame and 10 TV spots. THX OptiMode test signals are also included.
©2001 James Kendrick