(movie review originally written in 2000)
Some filmmakers seem to be doing multi-tasking lately. Barry Levinson did it with "Sphere", where his "Wag The Dog" was done on a break from "Sphere". Robert Zemeckis ended up filming the horrid "What Lies Beneath" between what I think is actually one of his best works and certainly one of the year's very best. "Cast Away" is not a perfect film, but at it's best moments it is a marvelous, moving picture that is held together by a brilliant performance from Tom Hanks.
Before I go further into the review, I will probably talk about some details of the plot, but since the trailer has already given away more than it should have, I will go forward with the discussion. The film revolves around Chuck Noland(Hanks) a Fedex troubleshooter who, as we open the film, find organizing a Russian outpost, coaching them on the importance of time. He returns home, pleased to be able to put "time" aside to spend Christmas with his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt). But, mid-dinner, he finds himself called away to Malaysia. The plane ride suddenly gets into trouble with a storm and, in one of the most terrifying sequences I've seen in quite a while, the plane crashes into the ocean.
Chuck barely makes it out, and finds himself washed up on an island in the middle of nowhere. And at that point, the film begins a portion that, in the hands of different artists, may not have worked. But, with Zemeckis and especially Hanks, it's easily the best part of the movie. The middle piece of the movie is all Hanks. Little dialogue or music, and the part that I am most thankful for - no cutting to what's going on back home to break the experience.
Hanks is a master of saying little to get us into the emotions that the character is feeling. Hanks makes all of the small victories that the character has during his stay on the island (4 years) that we can't help but root for him to stay balanced and keep going. The ways that he is able to find what he needs are done in a way that is believable and fascinating to watch. He even makes the relationship with a volleyball that washes ashore (he names it "Wilson") from becoming silly - it even becomes rather moving. Hanks is so good during these scenes, I could certainly watch a day-long cut of the film without likely getting bored of it.
I will say that the third act brings Chuck home, but I won't say too much more than that (the trailers have already told you much more). The film's final act is heartbreaking, with Hanks delivering a truly moving performance as Chuck faces the unexpected and recalls what lead him through his worst moments on the island. I've warmed up to the film's final moments, which show Chuck trying to choose his next journey.
It's amazing that "Cast Away" and "What Lies Beneath" were done by the same director. I walked out of "Lies" angry that I had lost two hours of what Chuck Noland cares about so much at the begining of "Cast Away": time. Walking out of "Cast Away", I found myself thrilled with nearly every minute - it's a journey that I certainly am thinking about taking again.
VIDEO: "Cast Away" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The presentation is not without some concerns, but does look noticably better than the already excellent DVD release. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, especially in close-ups where small details (hairs, twigs, leaves, etc.) are crystal clear. Many of the film's island scenes offer a pleasing amount of depth to the image, as well.
The film does show a few instances of specks and marks on the elements, but these are small and infrequent. The film's slight layer of grain is a little more apparent on this high-def release, but it always has been an intentional element of the film's cinematography. No edge enhancement, noise or other additional concerns were seen.
The film's naturalistic color palette is presented superbly by the Blu-Ray edition, which offers perfectly saturated colors that never appear smeary or otherwise problematic. Everything from the crystal blues of the water to the greenery of the island looked spot-on. Colors are more flat during the scenes off the island, but the film has always looked this way. Flesh tones remained accurate and black level appeared strong throughout.
SOUND: "Cast Away" is presented in DTS-HD on this release (there are also Dolby Surround French & Spanish options). "Cast Away" was up for an Oscar for best sound along with "U-571" and "Gladiator". Although "Gladiator" won ("U-571" should have.), "Cast Away"'s audio deserves to stand in the catagory with the other, louder, two. The film's sound design is a masterfully subtle effort on the part of Randy Thom (who also has quite a bit to say in the commentary) and crew.
The film's only traditionally "agressive" moment is the plane crash that strands Chuck on the island. The scene goes from rather quiet to a roar, with heavy surround use and bass. The scene is easily one of the most terrifying that I've seen in the past couple years, and still gets a jump out me when the situation very suddenly changes for the worse.
The island scenes do not have any score, so, according to the commentary, the sounds of the island are the "score" during these scenes. Subtle details such as waves crashing, winds coming through the trees and other layers of realistic island sounds surround the viewer. It's a credit to the sound team that there is such a convincing feel to the sounds - they envelop you and feel real - never overdoing it, never distracting.
Again, Alan Silvestri's score does not play during the island scenes, but when it does come back into the picture in the last section, I must say it's one of the more elegant, emotional scores I've heard in a while. I'm glad that the filmmakers decided to not have score during the island scenes - although it probably would never have worked, the scenes work 100% better without it and it really works wonderfully coming back in after the island scenes.
Audio quality was excellent throughout the movie. The island sounds and subtle details seemed clear, smooth and clean. Dialogue also remained very crisp and easily heard, with no problems or concerns.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Robert Zemeckis, sound designer Randy Thom, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, cinematographer Don Burgess and co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas. This is a very well-edited track consisting of interviews and other audio footage; sometimes it is not directed towards what is going on on-screen, but mostly it is focused towards the specific sequence.
I honestly was not looking forward to another Zemeckis commentary after the track for "What Lies Beneath", which seemed to consist mainly of him being pleased about having both Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford star in his movie. This track is far more interesting, as the director and crew are able to go in-depth and discuss the obstacles - and there were plenty in a film this major and an idea this unusual - and occasionally stop to analyze the story and performance of Hanks. Ralston provides some very interesting tidbits about the effects you don't see - there's a lot of visual effects shots in the film that wouldn't otherwise be known. Also fascinating to listen to is sound designer Thom, who not only discusses the challenges of capturing the smallest sound details (waves sliding into shore, etc) of the island, but also talks about his opinions on sound design in general.
It's an excellent track, and although the comments from the different participants had to be edited together, the track flows very well, and there's not really any distracting pauses of silence on the track. A very good commentary worth listening to.
Sadly, none of the featurettes from the 2-disc "Cast Away" DVD edition are carried over here. Aside from the commentary, we do get a trivia track, trailers (including one for "Cast Away") and the ability to bookmark scenes.
Final Thoughts: Eight years and many viewings later, I still find "Cast Away" to be a powerful, emotional journey of a picture, with a stellar performance from Hanks. The Blu-Ray edition offers improved audio/video quality, but it's unfortunate that most of the extras from the DVD edition were not brought over.
The Film A