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The Fourth Kind (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 2009 / 98 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: March 16, 2010
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Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Friday, March 12, 2010
The most shocking thing about 'The Fourth Kind' is not the fact that the filmmakers claim the story is be based on actual case studies done in Nome, Alaska, but that they do a good job at suckering you in, of actually making you fall for the gimmicky camera tricks, and surrendering some of your doubts and certainties. Of course, a little light research -- as always, google comes in very handy -- reveals the truth behind the movie. The methods used in producing this psych-out are more an unashamed abuse of the fourth wall than definitive proof of alien contact. This sci-fi thriller is simply another sham, a hoodwink, a bamboozlement. And despite knowing it's just another feature in the vein of the 'Blair Witch Project' and 'Paranormal Activity', I got a kick out of watching it.
'The Fourth Kind' blatantly acknowledges itself as a work of fiction, a dramatization, so as to reinforce and maintain the idea of the plot being based in reality. Not even a minute into it, Milla Jovovich walks up to the camera to explain everything we are about to see is an adaptation of real events and that the images can be disturbing. We are reminded several times throughout the film when we are watching actors versus real people. Elias Koteas: Actor, as Dr. Abel Campos. Will Patton: Actor, as Sheriff August. Even the director Olatunde Osunsanmi appears on screen as if interviewing the real-life Dr. Abbey Tyler, the role, which we are also made aware of a few times, played by Jovovich. From beginning to end, the movie keeps viewers within the realm of believability.
Every trick in the book is put to use to make this movie as creepy and scary as possible. Archival footage is shown in split-screen alongside the dramatized portions. And when things really turn intense, the cheap, poorly-resolved video takes over the entire screen, but the image is conveniently scrambled as if distorted by some outside supernatural force. The musical score by Atli Örvasson ('Vantage Point,' 'Babylon A.D.') is suspenseful, and the soundtrack suddenly increases in volume to make you jump. Watching 'The Fourth Kind' is sort of like sitting around a campfire and listening to the camp counselor tell a spooky story that recently took place in "this neck of the woods." The only reason you find the tale terrifying is that he tells it so convincingly while claiming that it all really happened.
Admittedly, there were a few times when things got a little eerie and hair-raising, like when Tyler listens to a tape recording of herself and she's no longer the only person speaking. Although I sat there with a doubtful look on my face, I must confess the entire scene was a bit chilling. Essentially, what makes it all work is the power of persuasion, a little misdirection, and an unspoken trust between the spectator and the manufactured performance. Osunsanmi takes full advantage of our willingness to forego our sense of reality for ninety minutes of visual entertainment. He uses camera gimmicks -- so-called video evidence, interviews, and on-screen texts -- like parlor tricks meant to keep us feeling uncertain about the plausibility. And at the risk of sounding rather foolish, I liked this creative approach, despite knowing better.
In all honesty, I find the callers of the Art Bell program to be creepier with their tales about shadow people, Wal-Mart gnomes, and UFO sightings. This sci-fi thriller about alien abductions, however, is only somewhat entertaining, especially when walking in blind. I guess you could probably say there's little chance of that happening now, huh? Well, no matter. Because as disappointing as the truth turns out to be, 'The Fourth Kind' can be surprisingly fun and disturbing if you allow yourself a bit of gullibility, which isn't all that much different than watching almost any horror movie out there. In fact, I actually enjoyed this better than 'The Last Broadcast' and 'Paranormal Activity'.
'The Fourth Kind' debuts with a mix of glossy film and video-based material pretending to be archival footage. Seeing as how the latter is intentional for creating an air of realism and displays any number of distracting artifacts as a result of its poor resolution, attention should be given to the film portions that involve the official cast of actors. Basically, every time we see Milla freaking out, the transfer is of terrific quality and significantly better than its weaker parts.
The freshly-minted 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) provides a highly-detailed and polished video presentation that fans are sure to enjoy. Most apparent are facial complexions, which are decidedly revealing, exposing every wrinkle and pore in the faces of cast members, while appearing healthy and natural for the region. Fine lines and textures are resoundingly clear and visible in any given shot. From the many different sweaters Milla is seen wearing to tree foliage and random objects, the picture maintains terrific discernible clarity when not showing the so-called camcorder clips. Black levels are very dynamic and stable, and contrast is pitch-perfect with crisp whites. The palette alternates between restrained and steely in outdoor sequences reflecting Alaska's cold, bleak climate, to amber warm and abundant for the interior scenes. Shadow delineation is mostly strong, but there were a few scenes of murkiness and some observable instances of crush. In the end, the movie looks splendid on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying the video serves as a great and impressive complement, sounding better than initially expected. Like any other type of horror flick, the movie relies heavily on sudden, thunderous jolts of noise to startle the audience. When this happens, the entire system comes alive and envelopes listeners while dynamic range remains stable and sharply clean. Aside from those moments, discretes are effective in creating ambiance, several scenes of rainfall are enveloping, and the musical score enhances the soundfield to keep viewers engaged. The front soundstage is expansive, with nicely-balanced channel separation and strong clarity. Low-frequency bass is equally palpable and forceful for those scenes requiring split second shocks and panic. The one lonely issue is with dialogue reproduction. Although character interaction is generally accurate and properly delivered, there are a couple of sequences when whispered conversations are slightly difficult to make out. Other than that, the lossless mix is great when in the mood for something a little eerie.
So as to not give away the film's deceptive sham, Universal Studios debuts 'The Fourth Kind' with only one special feature. It's a twenty-three minute collection of deleted and extended scenes, all presented in standard definition. They all fail to be of any significant value to the overall movie and sitting through all of them is quite exhaustive.
For the Blu-ray edition of the movie, Universal offers some minor incentives to pay the extra price.
- My Scenes - A standard feature in many of Universal's releases, this interactive feature is a function that allows viewers to bookmark their favorite scenes.
- News Ticker - Associated with BD-Live and sitting on the top right corner of the main menu, this feature provides up-to-date information from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
- BD-Live - Aside from the usual selection of online features, users are giving apps for owners of iPhone and iPod touch, called pocket BLU and social BLU. At the time of this writing, there's nothing new to be found in the online portal, but Universal promises a small featurette with paranormal researcher Marie D. Jones discussing 'The Fourth Kind'.
- D-Box Motion Code - The disc also comes with a D-Box enhancement for those with the proper equipment to utilize it.
No easter eggs reported for 'The Fourth Kind' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
Walking in blind with low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by 'The Fourth Kind.' The mockumentary sci-fi thriller works well at delivering its campfire tale about alien abductions. This Blu-ray edition of the movie debuts with very good video and excellent audio. The supplemental package is greatly lacking, but it's probably for the best since maintaining the illusion is more fun. Overall, fans will be happy with the purchase, and everyone else should check it out for a better experience than 'Paranormal Activity.'
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