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The Ruins: Unrated DVD Review

The Ruins movie poster The Ruins

Theatrical Release: April 4, 2008 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: Unrated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Director: Carter Smith / Writer: Scott (B.) Smith (book & screenplay)

Cast: Jonathan Tucker (Jeff Dean MacIntyre), Jena Malone (Amy), Shawn Ashmore (Eric), Laura Ramsey (Stacy), Joe Anderson (Mathias), Sergio Calderon (Lead Mayan), Jesse Ramirez (Mayan Bowman), Balder Moreno (Mayan Horseman), Dimitri Baveas (Dimitri), Patricio Almeida Rodriguez (Taxi Driver)

Buy The Ruins from Amazon.com: Unrated DVDR-Rated Theatrical DVDUnrated Blu-ray


By Aaron Wallace

In a conversation about Hollywood's leading funnymen, Ben Stiller is among the first names that come to mind. In a conversation about producers of horror films, he's certainly the last.
But believe it or not, Stiller has added that very title to his resumé with The Ruins.

Just from watching it, you'd never know that Ben Stiller was involved in this movie. It's not particularly funny, after all. It's also not particularly scary. When I call it a horror film, I refer to horror in the classical sense. The protagonists are confronted with an evil that defies natural explanation, never a cozy concept. There are no slashers, masked psychopaths or zombies, though. Instead, The Ruins plays out a lot more like an adventure film, and a surprisingly compelling one at that.

The story begins with four young Americans on vacation in Mexico: Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), his girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore), and his girlfriend Stacy (Laura Ramsey). Having spent most of their time laying by the pool and making risqué bets with each other, they decide to add some culture to their trip on the last day by checking out one of Mexico's famous ruins.

The four young adult leads (Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker) take a look at their ominous surroundings en route to "The Ruins." The eponymous temple ruins where much of the movie takes place are largely green, steeply inclined, and like an unfinished pyramid.

They meet a fellow named Mathias (Joe Anderson), whose brother has just set out for an ancient Mayan temple free from tourist intrusions and left a map behind. The group decides to follow suit in hopes of a little excitement, and they're joined at the last minute by Greek vacationer Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). When they arrive at the destination, they learn all too quickly why tourists don't go to the temple -- or at least why they never come back.

The Ruins offers an engaging story, enhanced by capable acting from a cast that looks like it belongs on The CW. The isolation that the protagonists are quickly thrust into gives rise to an uneasiness that keeps the viewer tuned in, wondering what will happen next. The setting and story would have been ripe for a character study or two, but the movie never amounts to that. The absence of an identifiable source of blame or wrongdoing does present the audience with absolute hopelessness, however, and that's enough to keep the movie intellectually stimulating.

Amy, Jeff, and Eric look down the deep well towards their unseen company. Though you may recognize Spanish actor Sergio Calderon from movies like "Men in Black" and the third "Pirates of the Caribbean", here he claims a presence more greatly felt as gun-toting Lead Mayan.

Somewhere along the way, though, the movie fumbles. The characters' actions grow increasingly disproportionate to their respective motivations and the despair that they face isn't enough to account for that.
Director Carter Smith, helming a feature film for the first time, does an excellent job connecting his audience with his characters right off the bat. By the final act, though, he's lost them. An unsatisfying ending doesn't at all help the matter.

Today, DreamWorks issues The Ruins on a theatrical edition DVD and a separate Unrated Edition (also available on Blu-ray), both of them widescreen-only single-disc releases. The studio should have packaged together the two versions, which carry the same price and bonus features. Alas, only the Unrated Edition was made available for review, with its new cut adding about six minutes to the film.

Not having seen the movie in theaters, I can't compare, but one might venture to guess that the added material is some of the really gory stuff (which verges on excess). The unrated cut also concludes with a slightly altered ending... more on that below, where the rest of the DVD is covered in detail.

Buy The Ruins: Unrated Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish),
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 8, 2008
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $34.99)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
Also available in R-Rated Theatrical Cut DVD
and on Unrated Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Ruins is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. Audio comes by way of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound track. As a 2008 studio feature film, both the video and audio are naturally satisfactory on this DVD. The transfer is everything you would expect from a brand-new production. The audio isn't as dynamic or engulfing as it could be but the surround sound is apparent and gets the job done.

What's he doing here? Ben Stiller actually produced The Ruins, the first non-comedy financed by his company, Red Hour Productions. Holding a position not often found in film crews, head vinemaker Gary Cameron shows off his shrub work in "Creeping Death." Production designer Grant Major lets us look at temple designs in "Building the Ruins."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The first bonus feature is an audio commentary by director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt. The conversation between the two filmmakers is interesting and mostly continuous. There are occasional lulls, some of them awkward and unnaturally long, as if something has been edited out (like when Ben Stiller discussion commences).
If you enjoyed the movie, you'll probably enjoy this track too.

After that, there are three featurettes. The first is "Making The Ruins" (14:23), which is exactly what it sounds like. Cast and crew are on hand for some interviews worth checking out.

The second featurette is "Creeping Death" (15:04). This one focuses on the special effect techniques used to create a believable sense of danger and despair within the ruins. Appropriately focused and surprisingly detailed for its runtime, this behind-the-scenes look gets straight to the point and distinguishes itself from the other supplements.

"Building The Ruins" (6:18) is a shorter featurette focusing on set design. This one doesn't have quite so much to say but given that The Ruins shows off a unique set that plays a big role in the story, it's still worthy of a few minutes' time.

Stacy (Laura Ramsey) hobbles over to join her friends in enjoying the welcome rain in this deleted scene from "The Ruins." Orange you glad to see this screencap of The Ruins' DVD main menu?

Next up are three deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and the original theatrical ending. Unlike the typical outtakes section of a DVD where scenes were deleted because they were worthless, these are actually fascinating glimpses at scenes that wouldn't have substantially altered the plot but would have altered the tone. The alternate ending is also better than the one viewers are stuck with in the unrated cut, while the original theatrical ending isn't much different but is still less jarring.

The three deleted scenes and the alternate ending are all available with or without
Carter Smith's audio commentary. The original theatrical ending, however, is not. Together, all five scenes run 11:55.

Finally, the film's theatrical trailer (1:15) is happily preserved on the DVD.

When the disc is inserted, three previews play automatically: Tropic Thunder, Stop-Loss, and Iron Man. From the Special Features menu, one can also play a "Previews" reel (15:12), which runs those three in succession after previews for Drillbit Taylor, Cloverfield, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Disturbia.

The 16x9 main menu puts the movie's temple beneath a red sky while ominous score plays. Animated weather effects give way to the title logo, which is then replaced by three vine-covered frames (the center one playing a montage of film clips). The static, silent submenus each put a picture from the movie against a tropical background.

The disc is packaged inside a standard black keepcase with cover art substantially similar to the theatrical poster, only with a less favorable red tint. There are no case inserts and the disc itself is labeled with solid gray and plain logos.

Disturbed from his outdoor bathroom trip, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) suspects there's just something about these plants. Leading ladies Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and Amy (Jena Malone) wield torch in a dark, red-tinted cave in a scene Benjamin Gates can appreciate.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Ruins is a pleasant surprise. At least three-fourths of the movie is pretty good, and that's a lot more than I had expected. Towards the end, the story runs away from the director and his cast. Had the last act been more fulfilling, though, I'd expect a cult hit out of this. Suffice it to say that you should give the movie a chance, probably as a rental. If you do rent it, check out the pretty good bonus features for their insight and the Unrated Edition's glimpse at the original theatrical cut too.

Buy The Ruins from Amazon.com:
Unrated DVD / R-Rated Theatrical Cut DVD / Unrated Blu-ray / The Book by Scott Smith

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: Stop-LossDrillbit TaylorCity of MenThe Spiderwick ChroniclesVantage Point
PrimevalCloverfieldApocalyptoVacancyStay Alive: Unrated Director's CutSunshineLittle Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Cast of The Ruins:
Jonathan Tucker: In the Valley of ElahEarly Edition: The First Season | Jena Malone: Into the WildHowl's Moving Castle
Joe Anderson: Across the UniverseBecoming Jane | Shawn Ashmore: Cadet Kelly | Sergio Calderón: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Reviewed July 8, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 DreamWorks Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and DreamWorks Home Entertainment.
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