Ghost House Underground, the production company created by frequent collaborators Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, was launched in 2008 to help give more exposure to a few lesser-known horror films from around the world. The first batch arrived last October, releasing a collection of eight titles on DVD. There are only four films this year, but each arrives on both DVD and Blu-ray: 'The Children,' 'Offspring,' 'Seventh Moon,' and this one, 'The Thaw.'
Brrrrr… did it get chilly in here all of a sudden, or is it just me?
Now I don't really want to go speculating this or that about Val Kilmer's personality, so I'm not going to bother delving into any rumors or theories. All I know is that something pretty major must have went down for the former A-list actor (and at one point one of Empire Magazine's "Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time") to go from making great films like 'The Doors' and 'Heat' to a string of bottom dwellers most people are lucky to have never even heard of like 'Conspiracy,' 'The Steam Experiment,' and 'Streets of Blood' to name a mere few. Nevertheless, every once in awhile an independent film come along that seems to reignite the spark in a fallen star's stone cold career, so how fitting would it have been if Kilmer's was the aptly named 'The Thaw?' Man, I would have loved to end this paragraph on that poetic note, but alas… it just wasn't meant to be.
While studying the effects of global warming on polar bears in the great white north, world renowned ecologist Dr. David Kruipen (Kilmer) and his team of scientists discover the remains of a woolly mammoth in a melting glacier. The extraordinary find turns lethal, however, as the thawing prehistoric beast also happens to be the resting place of a swarm of dormant deadly parasites on the verge of reawakening from their long, cold slumber. And after snoozing for thousands of years, saying these rip-van-vertebrates are hungry definitely is an understatement.
Meanwhile, David's teenage daughter Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac, Becca from 'Superbad') heads out to reunite with her father in the arctic by tagging along with three college students named Atom (Aaron Ashmore), Federico (Kyle Schmid), and Ling (Steph Song) who are joining Kruipen for environmental research at the remote facility. Little do the new arrivals know they are entering a disaster area ripe with sickness and death, and unless they can quickly isolate the cause and quarantine the danger, then the same agonizing fate might be waiting for them just around the corner.
'The Thaw' is by no means a big-budget production, but at least it doesn't look at all chintzy. Director Mark A. Lewis seems to know what he's doing behind the camera, and while the film lacks a fright-factor, he does manage to create some tense scenes. The creature FX surprised me as well, as I was expecting to see the usual dirt-cheap CGI of the sci-fi movie-of-the-week, yet these creepy-crawlies were actually pretty realistic. Lewis also assembles a decent, albeit somewhat stereotypical group of actors too. Kilmer isn't in the movie much, but he fit right in as the kooky intellectual. The rest of the cast didn't do too shabby, either.
Where 'The Thaw' takes a significant hit, though, is within the contrived, and at times sloppy, script. The writing pretty much follows the basic pattern of all contagion-type movies, hitting every predictable checkpoint and cliché along the way. Plus there are a few very obvious oversights that had me rolling my eyes. I mean, giving a character a bug phobia works all well and good for creating friction and conflict, but anyone with fears of the same magnitude that Federico claims to have certainly wouldn't be going traipsing off into the northern wilderness. I also think it was a mistake to present these parasites in such an aggressive manner, having the incredible ability to infect multiple species--including birds--with ease. Anything that powerful and widespread would have survived the ice age and would be rampant all over the planet by now.
Unfortunately, it's the political agenda that bogs the movie down the most. I can understand using the subject of global warming as a starting point for the plot of a story, but the way it's presented here is maddening. The film opens with a collage of stock footage on the topic and we are privy to some of the characters' opinions on the matter, which I didn't have an issue with. What bugged me to no end is that it doesn't end there once the seed has been planted in the minds of the viewer. Every few minutes there's another reminder like clockwork, and the filmmakers keep beating us over the head with it so much that it severely detracts from the overall experience. The thriller aspect is shoved to the wayside, and the end result feels more like a commercialized production made by environmental extremists.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate presents 'The Thaw' on a single-layered BD-25 Blu-ray Disc in a standard blue keepcase. The U.S. version of the Blu-ray is reported to be region free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
'The Thaw' hits Blu-ray with an acceptable, but somewhat average 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1 aspect ratio) encode. I guess Lionsgate is trying to tell us it's 'The Thaw' that counts...
'The Thaw' comes with a clean picture featuring a subdued color palette for an icy, washed-out look. Blacks aren't bad, but occasionally become a bit weak in some of the indoor scenes. There isn't a lot of snow, as the filmmakers are obviously attempting to hammer home the effects of global warming, but what little there is in the scattered snow banks has a nice white sheen. Skin tones are accurate, although detailing seems to fluctuate from scene to scene with the exterior shots looking the best. Dimensionality isn't particularly strong, giving way to a relatively flat image. The transfer has a mild field of pleasing grain, however there's rampant digital noise throughout that spikes heavier in the darker scenes (which likely could have been eliminated or at least toned down some by simply upgrading to a BD-50). Other than that, though, the video doesn't have much in terms of off-putting issues such as artifacting, DNR, and edge enhancement. The PQ certainly won't be winning any beauty pageants, but on the other hand it won't turn viewers to stone, either.
'The Thaw' defrosts a single lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that might be a little freezer burnt around the edges, but still isn't total garbage.
This mix is primarily front-loaded and although dialogue generally comes through clear for the most part, volume issues can crop up on occasion. Some lines seem quieter than others, and Kilmer especially sounds much softer overall than the rest of the cast. There's noticeable score bleed to the rears, and that pretty much sums up the surround department. Any additional ambience is minimal at best, which is a shame since having the vertebrates creepily scurry around the entire soundstage would have really gone a long way. The bass is reserved for a few gunshots and an explosion that could use more oomph. In short, the track is capable, I just wouldn't exactly call it memorable.
The Blu-ray disc also includes optional subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
The supplements on this release are quite slim, actually. In fact, there isn't even the usual commentary. The only items included are a fluffy "making-of' featurette and some trailers.
'The Thaw' isn't an awful thriller that'll leave viewers completely out in the cold, but it does go through familiar motions and the constant harping on the threat of global warming becomes tedious after a while. This Blu-ray has middling video and audio with minimal supplements, so a rental is probably the best way to go.