After moving to a small town, Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets next-door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), the daughter of best-selling Goosebumps series author R.L. Stine (Jack Black). Stine is very mysterious and a prisoner of his own imagination – the monsters that his books made famous are real, and he protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their manuscripts. When the monsters are accidentally unleashed and begin to terrorize the town, it's up to Stine, Zach and Hannah to get them back in their books where they belong!
"Let me tell you something about Steve King. Steve King wishes he could write like me, and I've sold way more books than him. But nobody ever talks about that! Way more books!"
Nostalgia can be a tricky emotional state to live in. On one hand, it's a joy to go back in time and rediscover the things you once loved and cherished as a child and spent hours of your life enjoying. On the other hand, revisiting such material can expose defects or flaws that sink the once positive memorable emotions you once had. 2015 was a banner year for nostalgia. From 'Jurassic World' to 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' to 'Terminator Genisys,' movie-going audiences were inundated with the returns of old beloved franchises. A new mini-season of 'The X-Files' went into production as well as a return to David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks.' Another little gem that managed to sneak back into the cultural zeitgeist was R.L. Stein's famed children's horror books with the Jack Black starring 'Goosebumps.' While the movie may not have lit up the box office, it does manage to dip several fingers and toes into nostalgic waters and prove to be a fun time for kids of all ages.
Being the new kid in school is never easy. For new to Madison Delaware high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) it's especially difficult because his mom Gale (Amy Ryan) is the new school Vice Principal -- making Zach a big target for bullying. While his first day in school is less than glamorous, it wasn't all bad, Zach managed to befriend local nerd, Champ (Ryan Lee). But who Zach really was looking to get to know was his next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush). Zach was instantly taken by the young girl - even if her father Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) is a bit creepy and rude when he tells Zach to stay on his side of the fence. But that stern warning from the girl's father is going to hardly be enough to keep Zach from seeing Hannah again.
Later that evening, Hannah sneaks out of the house and takes Zach away to an abandoned amusement park. Together, the pair of burgeoning lovebirds enjoy a magical night and connect with one another. That is of course until Mr. Shivers spoils the mood. Later on, Zach swears he hears Hannah screaming in terror. Quick to call the cops, Zach is determined to save the girl from harm… only the cops are inept and fail for Mr. Shivers' charms and simple explanation.
Unconvinced of the story Mr. Shivers fed the cops, Zach recruits Champ to help him break into the house and rescue Hannah. In the process, they discover an entire shelf of original manuscripts, books with titles that are all too familiar - all of them written by the reclusive R.L. Stine, and all of them with locks to keep them closed. When Zach unlocks one of the books, he unwittingly unleashes a creature that was created by the terrifying mind of R.L. Stine. With "Mr. Shivers" true identity revealed, Zach, Hannah, Champ, and Mr. Stine are horrified to learn that Slappy (voiced by Jack Black) has escaped the confines of his book and has opened all of the cursed manuscripts! Now all four of them must work together to find a way to recapture Slappy and the rest of the terrifying Goosebumps creatures before the sleepy town of Madison is destroyed.
How well you turn to 'Goosebumps' is going to depend entirely on your level of enjoyment of the children's horror books. I only had a brief flirtation wth them as the series hit their peak when I was already discovering books by Peter Straub, Steven King, and Clive Barker. I thought the Goosebumps books were kinda fun, but I was a bigger fan of the T.V. show that would air just after I got home from school. My friends were big on them so I was aware of the monsters featured in Stine's stories - even though I thought "Cujo" was the scariest thing I had ever read at that point in my life. While I wasn't a massive fan of the books, I was still able to enjoy 'Goosebumps' as a movie. It's road to cinema screens was a long one, I remember reading that George Romero among many other filmmakers had been attached to it in the early 1990s, so I was a little hesitant going into this one. I'm happy to report that this movie is just good fun that most members of the family should get some enjoyment out of.
Heading up this literary adventure is Dylan Minnette as Zach. Dylan proves that he's a solid young talent and can handle the leading game pretty well. He can certainly hold his own against Jack Black who is also in fine form as the slightly deranged R.L. Stine. Black is one of those actors that for me can wear a little thin depending on how manic he gets. Thankfully with 'Goosebumps,' he's found an entertaining character to sink his teeth into and it's clear the man is having a fun time putting on a strange intellectual accent for his portrayal of R.L. Stine. Odeya Rush's Hannah is a strong character who never feels like the damsel in distress - no matter how many times Zach feels the need to "save" her. In fact, more often than not it's Hannah who does the saving. It's a nice twist on an old trope and Director Rob Letterman and his writers manage to pull it off without making it a thing. Everyone has a strength or a weakness - including Ryan Lee as Champ, who is a coward but never fails to hold his own.
While the human cast is a lot of fun, you don't go to see a movie like 'Goosebumps' to watch these people act - you're here for the monsters! This is the point where I'm rather a bit 50/50 on the movie. I'll say that the CGI work for some of the monsters is pretty solid and actually feels like it has some weight to it, sadly, these monsters don't stand a chance against the practical effects work. Zombies, mummies, demented clowns, and not to mention our featured villain Slappy are all excellent examples of strong practical effects work. I'm the first to admit that CGI is probably the best way to create the 20-foot tall abominable snowman from "The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena" - but when you get to the werewolf from "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp," some makeup work would have been amazing to see. Considering the similarities in appearance, I couldn't help but remember the awesome creature work Stan Winston did for 'Monster Squad' and wish they'd gone with that sort of a practical effects werewolf.
Monster execution aside, I'll give 'Goosebumps' credit for putting a big smile on my face. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. It's got some good jumps, and thanks to Jack Black has some nice laughs. The killer Lawn Gnomes was probably my favorite part, mostly because they're a little creepy and also make you laugh as they shout "Heave ho!" in their high-pitched gnome voices while dragging Jack Black into an oven. 'Goosebumps' is the kind of movie that I wish a couple of my nieces had been there to watch it with me. Not only would I have gotten to be the cool uncle to show them a scary movie but I could just feel that the experience of watching the movie would have been better with a younger kid in the room. Thankfully the movie knows that adults are probably going to be watching this as well and manages to be a good bit of fun for those who are still kids at heart. And, in true R.L. Stine fashion, it ends with a twist! So who knows, maybe a second crack at the movies might make this best-selling children's horror series a viable cinematic franchise? This is a series of ghoulish kid-friendly terrors that I wouldn't mind seeing resurrected!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Goosebumps' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Sony in a Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD set. The Pressed on a Region Free BD50 disc, the Blu-ray, and the DVD are housed in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slip cover. Inside is an advertisement for other Sony releases, a Shutterfly coupon, the Goosebumps VR experience, and the Goosebumps Night of Scares mobile game. The Blu-ray opens to a series of trailers for other Sony releases and a message from Slappy reminding people to check out the disc's extra features before arriving to the static-image main menu with standard navigation options.
Shot digitally, 'Goosebumps' gets a lot of visual punch with this 2.40:1 1080p transfer. Detail levels are exquisite allowing for the right amount of image clarity to give the movie a "film-like" quality to it without looking overly "video." Colors are bright and beautiful giving the primaries their day in the sun. For the most part colors skew towards warmer, golden summer tones, but flesh tones look normal and healthy. Black levels are solid as a rock providing some deep inky blacks with great shadow separation allowing for a stunning sense of depth - even in this 2D version of the film. Free of any compression issues, this is a hell of a great looking movie that gets a near-reference quality transfer in the process.
You gotta love a good Dolby Atmos mix. As mentioned in my review for 'Everest' I don't yet have a full Atmos setup yet so the track defaults to Dolby TrueHD 7.1. and is still a fantastic audio track. For the number of creatures on the screen and the impressive audio effects work, this is a wonderfully immersive audio track - especially when all of the monster mayhem breaks loose. At first, I couldn't figure why this movie was given an Atmos track in the first place. The first third of the movie is a fairly calm and tame sort of movie featuring only minimal usage of the surround channels. Then the Abominable Snowman is freed from his book and the track roars to beautiful life. The swirling sounds as the abominable snowman escaped from its book pulled me right in and made me feel like I was there. Once this happens in the movie, there's no looking back as the surrounds are constantly engaged and bring real life and presence to the film.
Dialogue is crystal clear and never a problem to hear. Dialogue keeps to the center channels for the most part, but there are some great directional moments that kick in as well offering a fantastic sense of imaging and channel movement. Levels are pitch perfect and never an issue - unless you have thin walls and a complaining neighbor! If you want the full effect this track has to offer, keep your volume up and leave it there - it's a heck of a lot of fun!
UPDATED 1/29/16: Palmer here with a few thoughts on this stunning 'Goosebumps' Dolby Atmos sound mix.
For this review, I'm rocking fresh-out-the-box KEF R Series Speakers. Mentioned in our most recent Holiday Gear Guide, this gorgeous, piano black 7.2.4 system consists of two front R900 towers, one R600C center channel, two rear-surround R700 towers, two side-surround R500 towers, two R400b bass-pounding subs, and four Ci200RR-THX in-ceiling speakers. Power comes from a nine-channel AVR-X6200W, on loan from Denon, and my personal Marantz MM7205 two-channel amp. More on the Rs as I get into my review period, but first thoughts in one word that doesn't involve any cursing...
Oh, and for what it's worth, I rented 'Goosebumps' (2D) from Redbox; it doesn't include any special features, but you do get Dolby Atmos. Take that as you may.
Back to the movie...
Like many of these tracks, the Dolby Atmos full experience takes everything anyone can hear in the Dolby TrueHD fold-down, and improves it with extra dimensionality. This is true whether you're running an entry-level 5.1.2 or one of the crazy experiments Zyber is conducting in his basement. Everything Matthew said above holds true. Excellent dynamic range, detailed surround placement, deep base, enveloping music, and clear dialog. You just have to wait for the monsters to show up in the story and then get ready to piss off the neighbors (or in my case, accidentally wake the sleeping baby).
What makes this Atmos experience so good? Is it just the added sensation of height? Yes and no.
Remember, Dolby Atmos is not just 7.1 or 5.1 plus height. It's a one-track solution that scales to any home cinema with improved width as well as height capabilities. But it all comes down to the filmmakers and their collective vision. And this 'Goosebumps' track is a lot of fun. Especially if you're like me and geek out to aggressive object panning.
In other words, the 'Goosebumps' Dolby Atmos mix takes nuanced sound effects (have an extra listen to the Martians' FREEZE RAYS), and uses them to world-build creatures of every size. Think swarms of insects and chattering evil garden gnomes all the way up to a roaring Abominable Snowman and Kaiju-sized Preying Mantis. Each creature/monster/supernatural being is placed into a sonic environment that supports the story, all while crashing and buzzing and swirling and leaping all over the 180-degree sonic hemisphere. A perfect example of what makes this track a cut above is the first Abominable Snowman sequence, where the sound designers have placed its feat stomping at ear level and its bellowing roars in-ceiling, which makes him feel absolutely huge to the audience and to the fleeing human characters.
To my ears, 'Goosebumps' is another leap forward in what's aurally possible with Dolby Atmos, and a true testament to how filmmakers can lean on aggressive sound to provide extra scope to their story. Demonstration worthy all the way.
Beginner's Guide to Surviving a Goosebumps Creature: (HD 5:47) A silly little look through the creatures of the film, very kid focused, but also offers some info about the legends that spawned the monsters' creation.
Strange Things are Happening on Set: (HD 3:30) This is your standard EPK style cast and crew behind the scenes stuff tossed in with some scripted stuff that is a bit too silly to be informative, clearly intended for younger viewers.
If you're going into a movie just to have some fun, especially if you've got some younger kids ready for a slight fright with their humor, 'Goosebumps' should fit the bill nicely. I went into the movie without any expectations and came away pleasantly entertained. Sony has done a heck of a job bringing the film to Blu-ray with an absolutely fantastic A/V presentation - especially the Dolby Atmos track, if you're properly set up for this, it's an auditory treat. Add in some decent semi-informative extra features and you have a Blu-ray release that's Recommended.