20th Century Fox
Review by Gary W. Tooze
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1, DUBs: French: Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
English SDH, Spanish, none
Supplements: Commentary by director Zemeckis and crew, Trivia track,
Search content feature, Personal Scene Selection, Theatrical trailer (in
Disc: 50GB (dual-layered) Blu-ray Disc
Released: December 4th, 2007
Standard Blu-ray case
Tom Hanks "gives one of the towering screen performances of all time" (New York Post) as Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems engineer whose ruled-by-the-clock existence abruptly ends when a harrowing plane crash leaves him isolated on a remote island. As Chuck struggles to survive, he finds that his own personal journey has only just begun...
From the previews, we understood that Cast Away was about a man marooned on a remote island - thus the title . . . like the Castaways of Gilligan’s Island. But in case we hadn’t noticed the spelling, the film’s title sequence makes it clear that there are two words, not one; and that the verb, as much as the noun, is what is at issue here: who, or what, is cast away, and what is held onto, and how we come to invest meaning in those things and persons that give us courage to persist in a savage world - a world we humans have learned to civilize and to create an ostensible order out of chaos - the first lesson of Genesis.
Such a highly regulated and signified order is maintained by our innate temporal sensibility. We count; we tell time; we run our lives by the movement of the heavens and by the seasons, and by the ebb and flow of the tides. FedEx is a most excellent banner for our own time: “The world, on time.” Chuck Noland, a supercharged FedEx field executive played by Tom Hanks, sees the world in terms of minutes lost and pagers to respond to; and that perception ought to speak volumes to a world where productivity counts more than family. Noland is just enough aware of this to allow the audience’s brief encounter with him and his girlfriend, played sympathetically (how else?) by Helen Hunt, feel like a missed opportunity.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some find the pace of Cast Away to be painfully slow. Noland’s first ten or fifteen minutes on his island are presented in very nearly real time; and, for a moment, we worry that the rest of our adventure with him will be as protracted. Some in the audience will resist this awareness and, I think, misinterpret their own feelings. But it seems to me that the director makes exactly the right choice here that we might have the same response to time’s passing as his unfortunate hero. Still, some will feel that the film is an essay in overkill and redundancy; others will see it as a monument of understatement, considering the stakes.
As it gradually becomes clear to Noland that being marooned on his tiny island may last for the remainder of his life, he begins to track time and, like all of his fellow species, invests it with meaning - meaning about worth, the sort of worth that keeps us from hanging ourselves out of sheer boredom. It is the meaning we attach to everything we see and feel that makes awareness of our position on this planet different from fish and coconuts who, as nearly as we can tell, have no such burden.
At first, Noland invents someone to talk to - a volleyball, washed up along with a handful of similarly rerouted FedEx parcels, with a face painted in his own blood - someone in whom to project his fears and his hopes. When he loses “Wilson” during his last desperate endeavor to leave the island, he has the closest thing to a psychotic experience where, in his attempt to rescue the ball, he nearly allows himself to drown. This is perhaps the most exquisite moment in the film, as Noland must decide whether to go on even without his vinyl soulmate. It is the same decision he had made every day in regards the life and the woman he left before he boarded that ill-fated plane; and, as we must assume, the same sort of conflict that she must be having, believing him to have been lost forever in the crash.
Director Robert Zemeckis has attempted twice before, in Contact and Forrest Gump, to make “meaningful” films, but in both cases allowed himself to be seduced and distracted by artifice and technique (to say nothing of Contact’s awkward romance between Foster and McConaughey.) Partly because of improvements in the science of cinematic special effects and its relative lack of novelty, today’s audiences are little distracted by effects that are obviously no longer intended to be gawked at. Instead we are able to incorporate them into the unfolding drama in much the same way, in films decades earlier, as painted mattes were convincingly able to convey an invented sense of place.
While there were momentary lapses in Cast Away for one reason or other (especially at the very end when an all too attractive woman is permitted to be seen getting out of her truck, thus making the matter of choice too facile), I was never out of the film for long enough for me to lose my foothold. Once we are introduced to Hanks, the film relentlessly pursues the action from his point of view, flirting with, but never indulging in the sort of irony where the audience is clued into what is going on, but the protagonist is not. When Noland tosses “Wilson” off the island in despair and disgust, and then just as wildly runs after him, we see the ball in the foreground slightly hidden from his view. Most films today would pander to such a disconnect, buoying themselves into a false sense of conceit about life’s hard truth.
But Cast Away understands that the hard truth is making a decision to go on, even when you have the ball. The question of living one’s life every day as if at a crossroads, and making a choice, consciously and conscientiously, is at the heart of this film. Noland is exiled to a fate that only he will likely ever know about; he discards all but the three most precious things that link him to what he felt was his humanity and his purpose for living, with little more than hope and desperate courage and the meaning he found in them. Civilization has made life easier for us, to be sure; but in the process, it has left us with few choices of worth, making the living of it less meaningful.
Video: NOTE: These captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.The MPEG 4-AVC image quality looks dark... but impressive. I recall seeing this in the theater and it did exhibit some darkness - especially during the non-island portions of the film. So I believe the effect is an intentional one. This dual-layered BRD transfer still shows some minor digital noise in vista backgrounds but the juxtaposition from the sparsely lit world to the dramatic lush island is a treat and exemplifies Chuck Noland's new universe. At times it looked like a high-definition nature documentary. The superb SD edition was good but this Blu-ray DVD is obviously superior in every visual regard (color, contrast and detail) - in fact black levels are remarkably pitch when infrequently used (as black as I can recall ever seeing). Overall, it is a very satisfying image presentation that seems to faithfully represent the theatrical. If I had to find a transfer that it reminded me of - I'd say the appealing Spiderman 3. Hopefully the captures below will bear that out to some degree.
Audio: Thankfully this has been given the 'DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 touch' as background audio becomes a large part of the viewing experience as the film is extensively devoid of dialogue. Crashing waves and jet engines (not to mention the plane crash) are intense. My only complaint is the dialogue is sometimes drifting - most notably upon Nolan's return. I found I had to crank the volume level a bit here and there. There are also optional English (CC) or Spanish subtitles available.
Duplicated from the SD edition - there is a good commentary track with Zemeckis and some of the behind camera effects people. Those keen on production details will be in for a treat at the lengths modern technology is able to take movie creation - digitally speaking. We lose some of the supplements from the 2-disc - most notably the featurettes. I would say the commentary probably covers enough for most fans. There are some superfluous, but interesting new additions - a 'Trivia track' (some amusing and informative stuff), a search content feature, a personal scene selection feature where you can use machine memory to create a listing of some of the your most enjoyable scenes and watch them in order and finally the theatrical trailer in hi-def (love these).
BOTTOM LINE: Despite my dislike of all the product placement I must admit to loving this film. I think it's the premise that I found most appealing although Hanks plays the likable everyman as good as anyone in the business. Strangely enough I don't really care for Helen Hunt but liked her minimal on-screen support in this. I also appreciate the fairly quick and uncompromising ending. So, it goes without saying, that this Blu-ray edition IS THE BEST way to watch this film in your home theatre. Visually and aurally it will suffice any fan of the film. Fox comes through again.