There is no definitive answer to the question of what happens to someone when they pass on, whether they were completely good, honest people, or the true scum of the Earth. It seems we're told stories of what is to happen when we're young, to help influence good behavior (and scare one straight), and then again to those nearing their final days, as a comfort. We discuss Heaven and Hell as though they were actual places, ethereal planes whose inhabitants are sorted and sent to their appropriate destination. Religion offers these ideas as rewards for believers, and eternal damnation for those they consider heathens.
Of course, who is to say what's right, and what's wrong if none of us have experienced it?
Hell doesn't have to be a place. Neither does Heaven. If home can be where the heart is, can't these "places" actually be feelings, or occurrences? Experiences? States of being?
With Adrian Lyne's take on Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay, 'Jacob's Ladder' presents an alternate view on things to come, for each and every one of us. A mysterious, borderline horrific view. Providing a synopsis to this film is akin to spoiling major plot points, so the easiest way to describe the film is to say it is a journey of self discovery for Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins). Ex-husband, father of two (one of which passed on in his youth), and soldier who served in Vietnam, Jacob is suffering from strange hallucinations, and encountering even stranger "people." As he tries to discover the truth of what is going on around him, as his world and life disintegrates ever slowly, he will discover that nothing is as it seems.
'Jacob's Ladder' is not a conventional film. It revels in its own bizareness, much like a David Lynch film, though there is a light at the end of the tunnel, rather than just nothingness. Characters change from scene to scene, in a manner that is truly telling of Jacob's state of mind. It's as if the world we're seeing is not just Jacob's experience, but the thought that his state of mind affects all those around him, that he is literally the center of existence, an existence he has no control over.
The evolving world in which the film is set in isn't your traditional Hell, as fire and brimstone are hardly present. Instead, disruptive beings, strange people, bizarre actions, and creatures that appear human, yet may actually be honest to God demons are commonplace. This isn't a Hell of torture, save for the damage it does to Jacob's mind, casting doubt on everything he feels is true. Yet, through it all, Jacob has his moments of spiritual purity, what one could consider Heaven, as he revisits his past, talking to his ex-wife and children through dreams, or being with his coworker/lover Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), who seems more a reactive force than a real being.
Much like Dante's The Divine Comedy, we descend deep into the afterlife, and get more questions than we do answers from the experience. In that way, 'Jacob's Ladder' is a success. The film seems to intentionally lack clarity or true resolution, as the altered ending changes the idea of a staircase ascending to Heaven with a more natural, believable piece. This film doesn't answer any questions you may have, as it is nothing more than theory and analogy, a borderline adaptation of other books concerning the transition from life to death, but it is an entertaining experience. It's not quite horror, yet it can be scary. It's not a thriller or a mystery, but it's both thrilling and mysterious. Incapable of being categorized, 'Jacob's Ladder' is just like us. It simply is.
And damn if it isn't distracting that Roth looks like Daniel Radcliffe in 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.' I guess all those folks were right about all that witchcraft stuff!
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Jacob's Ladder' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc (region coding confirmed on my LG BH100), housed in a standard cut out eco-case. There are no pre-menu trailers whatsoever (hallelujiah!), and a very, very annoying menu. If you go to an special feature, instead of reverting back to the menu, complete with tabs, it starts the menu load screen all over, wasting five to ten seconds. There is no set-up tab on this title, just an option to turn subtitles on or off.
Lionsgate's release of 'Jacob's Ladder' isn't going to earn much praise, as the presentation seems thrown onto the disc, rather than given any care. The result is less than mediocre.
The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode seems to be missing a few rungs! Grain levels fluctuate far too often, and combine with a glut of soft, murky shots to create a truly ugly appearance. Black levels are weak, shadow detail amazingly poor, and colors are muffled and never truly shine, regardless of shooting conditions. Detail levels are minimal, and the picture looks very flat. Throw in off skin tones and some noise issues, and you have yourself a sloppy release.
'Jacob's Ladder' probably isn't supposed to be a good looking film, as that wouldn't fit the atmosphere whatsoever, but this transfer is pretty poor, even keeping that in mind.
There's only one audio option for 'Jacob's Ladder,' and that's a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and it isn't all that great.
Dialogue isn't the clearest, and there are some serious moments of static residing beneath spoken word. Rear speakers get nice use with the score, but nearly every other time they are used, it feels awkward. Forced. The movement effects in the Vietnam opening scene, with choppers flying through the room, feel unnatural. High ends are tinny, and volume spikes can make some elements of the audio borderline undiscernable, just noise.
In short, aaan audio dump for a dump release.
'Jacob's Ladder' is an intriguing take on the afterlife, as well as the deconstruction of one man's psyche and humanity. Bizarre, yet somewhat innovative, and truly creepy, the film works on many levels, though it's a bit too rough for its own good. At least it doesn't lead us by the hand and spoonfeed us what we want to see. It would have been great if the Blu-ray disc gave us that, but instead we get a below average presentation. This title may not have the best replay value, and considering it doesn't have the best audio and video qualities, it may be best left as a rental.