The Haunted Mansion DVD Review
|The Haunted Mansion
Theatrical Release: November 26, 2003 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG
Director: Rob Minkoff
Cast: Eddie Murphy (Jim Evers), Terence Stamp (Ramsley), Nathaniel Parker (Master Gracey), Marsha Thompson (Sara Evers), Jennifer Tilly (Madame Leota), Wallace Shawn (Ezra), Dina Waters (Emma), Marc John Jeffries (Michael), Aree Davis (Megan)
After the humongous critical and commercial success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, there were high expectations for the next ride-based Disney movie, The Haunted Mansion. Like its predecessor, it was taken from a popular “New Orleans Square” attraction, yet offered a somewhat more family-friendly experience. Though it disappointed critics and audiences at large, the movie is not as bad as word of mouth might imply.
Eddie Murphy plays Jim Evers, a real estate salesman who always seems to let work get in the way of spending time with his family. Just another example of this is when Jim takes a quick business side trip to the Gracey Manner on the way to a vacation. After making acquaintance with the spooky place’s inhabitants, the Evers realize they were brought to the mansion for a reason quite different than real estate. To save his wife, Jim teams up with his kids to brave the grim, grinning ghosts that come out to socialize.
In the vein of the 1960s Disney comedies (I can almost picture Dean Jones in Murphy’s role), Mansion adheres strictly to a “family fare” formula, and its characters and messages/morals can get a little too typical and contrived at times. Despite the uninspired script, the actors and actresses all do well with their parts. Aside from humorous references to the ride (which only those familiar with it will get), the jokes and gags are amusing, offering a few fun thrills.
Yet, there are a few highlights of the film which make it really enjoyable. Starting off with a bang, the movie boasts an inventive opening titles sequence that lists the cast while telling back story. The set design is breathtaking and atmospheric, to the point where I felt like I was inside the mansion myself, exploring it with the Evers. Terence Stamp simply steals scenes with his performance as the spooky butler. In my opinion, he is to this movie what Johnny Depp was to Pirates.
As a whole, however, I can’t picture a great majority of the film’s audience readily enjoying it. Despite its somewhat insipid nature, fans of the attraction or ghost stories should find it entertaining, as I did. If you’re neither of those, I doubt you’ll find much in this film to love, but I still recommend at least one viewing.
Arriving on a single-disc DVD package, The Haunted Mansion comes in a standard black amaray keepcase, with a cover that looks like a really bad Photoshop job. Held alongside the one-sided disc is a 4-page insert, with chapter listing & bonus material highlights, an entry for a Tower of Terror sweepstakes, and a coupon booklet for other Disney DVDs.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The movie is available on DVD in separate Pan-and-Scan (“Oh, eeew!” – Jim Evers as he opens an old coffin) and Widescreen versions. On the Widescreen version, the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This is a very fine transfer, appropriately reproducing both the rich tones and the gloomy tones of the film’s murky environment. Detail looked good, except for a few scenes that seemed a little too soft.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is just as good. For the first half of the film or so, it is largely dialogue based. For these parts, the sound was pedestrian, but accurate. However, towards the end of the film, the audio really struts it stuff, displaying great range and use of the subwoofer. Where adequate, surround sound was used effectively.
Despite the outside packaging only acknowledging a single audio commentary, there are in fact two on this disc. The first includes producer Don Hahn, visual effects supervisor Jay Redd & writer David Berenbaum, and the second features director Rob Minkoff & costume designer Mona May. All the participants are lively and fun, while both tracks carry a significant amount of information on the production as a whole. Each has their own unique information too. The first track gives attention to matters relating to the script, while the second dwells on the costumes. Commentary fans should find them worthwhile.
“The Haunted Mansion: Secrets Revealed” (12:35) is a fragmented mini-documentary that feels like a bunch of separate featurettes crammed into one. Making appearances are Don Hahn, Rob Minkoff, Mona May, Jay Redd, production designer Rob Myhre, make-up effects wizard Rick Baker, visual effects producer Lynda Thomspon, and actors Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Tilly. Starting off with the cast & crew’s praise for the original Disneyland attraction, the piece then spends time on an overview of make up, costumes, set design, and visual effects.
More in-depth than the previous featurette is “Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts in the Graveyard” (11:05). Back again are Rob Minkoff, Jay Redd, Lynda Thompson, Mona May, Rick Baker, second unit director Thor Freudenthal (no, he is not the comic-book hero that smashes enemies with a mighty hammer), second unit liaison Lolly Howe, steady cam operator Kirk Gardner, and lighting technician John Priebe. All discuss the many layers it takes to bring one complicated scene to life, from actual sets, to actors against bluescreen, costumes, and matt paintings. I found this to be the most interesting bonus on the disc.
With a name that sounds like Disney has turned its virtual games into a continuous franchise, “Disney’s Virtual DVD Ride: The Haunted Mansion” is less interactive than the ones that have come before it. Two ghost characters from the film escort you through different areas of the mansion and its graveyard. Most of it is footage of the actual sets, and the only choice the player makes is which order to visit the various areas. This made it less fun than what was possible, and somewhat cheap, but its nice to get a better look at the sets anyway.
“Deleted Scene: Emma and Ezra” (2:20) makes an appearance with no reason given for it having been cut. Instead of an entire deleted scene, it is an extension of a sequence already in the film, in which the Evers children meet two ghosts in the attic and discover a plot to capture their mother.
A few dull features round out the roster of extras. “Outtakes Reel” (5:22) is made up entirely of actors flubbing on their lines, and does not particularly induce laughs. “Superstition Music Video” (3:12) features Raven (on a Disney DVD for 45th time this year, is that right?), performing a hip-hop remake of Stevie Wonder’s classic tune. It’s kind of fitting – Stevie is blind, and Raven is blind to her own lack of talent. (Ohhhhh, snap!)
DVD-ROM ‘Enhanced Computer Features’ offer some other worthwhile bonuses. Similar to the program found on the Pirates DVD, “Morphing Ghost Host Maker” allows the user to transform a picture of his or herself into something more ghoulish. “The History of the Haunted Mansion Attraction” (12:00) dwells on the ride, while an Image Gallery houses concept art and production photos. “Haunt the Mansion Ride” is an enhanced version of the DVD Ride on the disc, with more interactivity. In addition to wallpapers, screensavers, and icons, there are printable activities for kids like coloring pages that are a nice touch.
Skippable trailers play before the menu loads for the DVD releases of Aladdin: Special Edition & Ghosts of the Abyss, and the theatrical release of Pixar’s The Incredibles. These can be found under the ‘Sneak Peeks’ menu, next to more trailers for the theatrical release of Ella Enchanted, The Haunted Mansion video game, the “Witch” book series, ABC’s “My Wife and Kids”, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. Also, within the ‘Set Up’ menu, a THX Optimizer lets one calibrate the audio and video of his or her home theater system specifically for this title.
The Haunted Mansion is a movie some will find entertaining, while its formulaic plot & characters may disappoint others. The DVD release is unspectacular and it seems like it was planned as a two-disc set, but was pared down to one. However, this package is definitely solid, with spot-on film presentation and some interesting extras. Recommended for those who liked the movie.
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