In what is certainly to be momentarily confused with, or forgotten because of some other eclipse movie, please know that if you want an actual satisfying, romantic, chillingly atmospheric motion picture experience in 2010, seek out Magnolia Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release 'The Eclipse,' handsomely directed and co-written by playwright Conor McPherson. Based on a short story (and co-scripted) by Billy Roche, 'The Eclipse' does not feature a werewolf-vampire war, but it's brimming with rich melodrama and quality performers, most notably from Ciaran Hinds ('Rome,' 'Munich'), Iben Hjejle ('High Fidelity') and Aidan Quinn ('Book of Daniel,' 'Cantebury's Law').
'The Eclipse' is an interesting combination of drama, ever so slightly tinged with the supernatural. Thematically, it's about hauntings, and not just those that may be otherworldly. Here, characters are haunted by life choices and real world experiences -- lost loved ones, relatives in nursing homes, spousal betrayal, and rekindled affairs. We begin by meeting Michael Farr (Hinds), a widower schoolteacher raising his two children, who volunteers for an annual literary festival. Michael has been seeing things at night and is unsure if it's dreams or if his nursing home bound father-in-law is somehow escaping to torment him in the dark. As the literary festival gets underway, enter authors Lena Morelle (Hjejle) and Nicholas Holden (Quinn) who had an affair during a previous literary gathering. Nicholas wishes to revisit the old flame, but Lena does not. When Michael and Lena form a relationship around their mutual fascination with the possibility of something more, this love triangle crashes in on itself.
What works for me is the universality of each character's situation, and how imperfect they all are. As evidence of the fine talent on display, note the scene where Michael's teenage daughter wakes him from a night terror. In milliseconds, Hinds transforms from a disoriented and scared human being into The Father, comforting his daughter because she needs relief -- thanks to finding her father screaming in his sleep -- more than him. A small, beautiful moment, but a representation of all the craft on display.
Shot on location in Ireland using a combination of film and the RED camera, 'The Eclipse' is beautifully photographed, with many frames dramatically composed. Along with Fionnuala Ni Chiosain's piano and choral music, everything combines to create an atmosphere of contemplation and tension.
In the end, with fine performances and lush photography, 'The Eclipse' is a successful drama about three adults whose lives smash together over a weekend. Be aware this is a slow moving and often quiet character drama, so please don't go into it awaiting 'The Exorcist.' Looking for a horror movie, which is how I believe 'The Eclipse' was mis-marketed, you may be disappointed. That being said, a significant portion of the film's frightening moments are effectively scary. My one minor qualm with the horror bits is that they are mostly jump-scares, using loud musical stings and editing to surprise the audience, rather than build tension (see Hitchcock for suspense versus surprise). Jump-scares are actively used in most if not all horror films, but the trouble is that with each repetition, the audience is less and less affected. But this movie isn't about the supernatural as a whole, it's more about the people, their lives, and being able to move on from self-imposed hauntings.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc does not appear to be Region locked. Popping the disc into your player brings skippable by pressing Menu on your remote HD trailers for 'The Warlords,' 'District 13: Ultimatum,' George Romero's 'Survival of the Dead,' John Woo's 'Red Cliff,' and an advertisement for the high definition networks, HDNet and HDNet Movies. One great feature this Blu-ray provides (at least on my Playstation 3) is that when you play the disc in a second time, it asks you if you'd like to continue from where you were last watching.
As stated above, 'The Eclipse' is beautifully photographed, and debuts on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-MPEG 4 encode (aspect ratio 2.00:1).
Coming from a flawless source -- no scratches, dust, or blemishes of any kind -- the film is rich with detail and a fine example of how filmic high definition video can be. Exterior locations and close ups display every building, blade of grass, pore, hair follicle, wrinkle, and nuance. Note a scene where Michael and Lena travel to an old church. As it begins to rain, every raindrop is visible. Colors are largely accurate, featuring even skin tones, high contrast night scenes that reveal detail even in the darkest locations, and the overall palette embraces the bluish green hues so common to Ireland.
Unfortunately, there are a few problem areas, notably two are three minor instances of banding (during the film's final fade to black) and aliasing (check the light fixtures over Michael's dinner table at night). The biggest problem comes in accentuated grain and reduced resolution during scenes shot without enough lighting (see Michael's first night disturbance at home, and his first walk into the nursing home). Scenes photographed with deep blacks and enough light transition nicely, but in the under-lit moments, with no full darkness and no brightness, the image is muddy and the colors are bland. Having shot in high definition myself, I can say this seems to be a trouble-area with the HD video format (in production, not in home video) and even some film stocks.
Bottom line, this is a very good transfer, but not perfect. The good news is that the imperfections are less prevalent than the strengths.
The disc features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is as subtle as the movie itself. It's starting to get repetitious with this line, but like most modern releases, the dialogue is crisp and well mixed in to the soundtrack. I found the entire mix to be a tad soft, but after bumping the volume up a few more notches than normal, I never needed the remote again. Bass and surround sound are present, though not very active. I will cite the choral music, the jump scares, and the previously mentioned rainy scene at the church as examples where the surround and LFE channels really come alive. But, given the dramatic nature of the film, and the fact that some of the scarier moments are underplayed in a smart fashion without music, the subdued use of the surround sound is acceptable As for environmental sounds, there are a number of scenes in the town, or on the ferry boat into town, where ambiance is quietly, but realistically dialed in.
Bottom line, this is a well crafted soundtrack, but as one would expect, not a show-stoppingly aggressive one. There are no other soundtracks available, but for subtitles you get English SDH and Spanish.
'The Eclipse' comes with only two featurettes, trailers for other Magnolia Home Entertainment Blu-rays (as described above), and access to BD-Live, which at the time of this review, had not been activated. Given the film's lack of success in the states when it was released earlier this year, it's not surprising that this title has only a few special features.
'The Eclipse' won't be for everyone. If you want vampires and werewolves, there's another eclipse feature for you. If you want a thriller or straight horror flick, please look elsewhere. But if you have a little patience, you're in for an honest character drama featuring top-notch performances surrounded by a chilling atmosphere that does provide the occasional, honestly scary moment. For fans of the film, this is an excellent representation of the theatrical release, will be a step up from the HDNet Movies and OnDemand broadcasts, and is recommended. For the uninitiated, of which I suspect most people are, give this one a rent first, avoid multitasking, and make sure to turn down the lights.