It has been said that the best movies are the ones that provoke more questions than they provide answers to. Then there is a movie like 'The Lake House,' which introduces so many theoretical what-ifs and narrative cul-de-sacs that, however lofty and admirable its ambitions may be, you're left with a cinematic house of cards that is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally satisfying. And for a film that is essentially a sentimental, gooey romance at its core, that's deadly indeed.
Call it the curse of the magical mailbox. As 'The Lake House' begins, doctor Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) has just moved in to a beautiful glass house, hoping to start a new life after a failed relationship. Soon, she begins corresponding with architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) in the form of letters left in her mailbox. It seems Alex grew up in the house and lived there for many years, and though they have never seen each other, they discover they are spiritual soulmates. A love affair blossoms, but unfortunately, there is one little hitch -- they are living in two different time dimensions, Kate in 2006, and Alex in 2004.
A remake of the 2000 Korean film 'Siworae' ('Il Mare'), 'The Lake House' certainly has a very intriguing premise. I liked the general idea of the movie. The best romances have always been based on the idea that there is no greater love than that which is denied. The drama comes from the insurmountable odds the lovers most overcome if they are to live happily ever after, regardless of how over-the-top. Think 'Titanic,' 'The English Patient,' 'Brokeback Mountain' or 'Love Story' -- all tales that are grand, epic in scale and probably overblown, but combined sold more boxes of Kleenex than the common cold.
'The Lake House' has a lot going for it. As Bullock and Reeves proved in 'Speed,' they have a great chemistry. These are two people we want to see together, so even as the plot of 'The Lake House' grows more and more convoluted and ludicrous, we are always on their side. Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti ("Valentin," "A Less Bad World") also directs with a whimsical hand, gently adding small stylistic touches including animation and a unique musical score. Agresti ultimately focuses less on the sci-fi and more on the romance, so much so that we eventually realize the film is a fable, an allegory, and that we shouldn't be paying too much attention to the minor details.
Which is a good thing, because quite frankly much of the narrative of 'The Lake House' don't add up, let alone make any sense. There are plotholes in this movie wide enough that you could drive the runaway bus from 'Speed' through them. I also never understood why Alex, since he is two years "behind" Kate, couldn't just look her up in the phone book. Sure, she might think he was mad, but at least he could contact her in the flesh, and woo her like a normal person. Of course, the film tries not to call much attention to such logic, because if you thought about it too much, the film's ending becomes quite obvious. (Haven't you guessed it already?)
Ultimately, 'The Lake House' falls into the genre of unfulfilled desire quite neatly. It is just too bad it could not better integrate its sci-fi elements and fix its plot holes. I'm all for the suspension of disbelief, but the whole time travel/mailbox angle starts to feel like a cheat because it is so shoddily constructed. It's a gimmick, so whatever genuine pathos Bullock and Reeves are able to achieve by film's end, it just isn't enough to erase the feeling that we've been shamelessly manipulated. I'm a sucker for mush, but not this big of one.
One of Warner's latest Blu-ray releases to feature a 1080p/VC-1 video transfer, 'The Lake House' makes its debut simultaneously with the HD DVD version. As both are minted from the exact same master, it is no surprise they suffer the same problems. Somewhat out of character for a new release, this one doesn't look that great. No, it is not "bad," but there were never any "wow" moments where I really remembered I was watching a high-def image, and not lowly standard-def.
The lasting impression of this transfer is that it is rather soft. The source material is in good shape -- whistle-clean with no blemishes or other defects -- but it rarely looks three-dimensional. The sense of depth and detail can vary from sequence to sequence, with some shots looking quite good and others bland. Oddly, this variance doesn't really seem to be an aesthetic choice as it seems to happen arbitrarily. Close-ups fare better than long and medium shots, which often appear ill-defined. Otherwise, color reproduction is good, with fairly vivid hues and no instances of smearing or chroma noise. Blacks are also solid, and contrast consistent across the entire spectrum. And I noticed no issues with compression artifacts and the like.
Similar to the video, the audio on 'The Lake House' is standard at best. Granted, the film's dramatic bent doesn't really lend itself to some sort of over-the-top soundtrack, but even in terms of atmosphere and ambiance there is little that stands out about this Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Though lacking the "Plus" designator as the HD DVD, both are encoded at the same bitrate (640kbps), and there are no differences to report.
'The Lake House' is a pretty sparse film in terms of music and sound effects. Primarily dialogue-driven and front-heavy, only the musical score gives the track any sense of envelopment. The rear channels boast a bit of presence during these sequences, aside from the occasional discrete effect. Frequency response is fine, with natural-sounding midrange and clean highs, but .1 LFE is just about non-existent. I was also surprised that dialogue sometimes seemed flat, and I had trouble understanding some lines that were spoken loudly, with even a couple of instances of bad dubbing. Otherwise, a decent soundtrack.
Surprisingly slim for a new release, 'The Lake House' has next to no supplements. The Blu-ray also mirrors both the standard DVD and the HD DVD releases, so no matter what format you pick up, you're not going to get much.
The main supplement are five Additional Scenes and Outtakes, but they run for barely four minutes. Nothing here is at all memorable, and none of the outtakes are funny. Pretty throwaway.
Rounding out this elaborate package is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in widescreen and 480p video.
'The Lake House' is a well-meaning film that, unfortunately, is a bit too convoluted for its own good. Whatever chemistry Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock generate is blunted by the obtuse narrative. This Blu-ray release is also nothing to get excited about. The transfer and soundtrack are no more than perfectly fine, and the supplements just about nil. So unless you're a diehard fan of this one, I'd say leave it as a Netflix rental at best.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.