As a die-hard Stephen King fan, I have to confess to generally being disappointed by filmed adaptations of his work. While many King-based films sucessfully capture the author's imagery, few manage to recreate the immense dread and bizarre tension of the stories upon which they're based. Today, unfortunately, we add 'Secret Window' to this list.
Based on the King novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden," our story revolves around Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a successful novelist plagued by a bad case of writer's block. After separating from his adulterous wife (Maria Bello) and moving to the country, he locks himself away to work on a new novel. It's then that a man named John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up and accuses Rainey of plagiarizing one of his unpublished stories. When Rainey attempts to prove his authorship, surreal things begin to happen that make him question his own sanity.
Truth be told, 'Secret Window' isn't an awful film -- in fact, by most measures, it's fairly decent. King's story is certainly gripping, and with leads like Johnny Depp and John Turturro, it's hard to go too far astray.
As always, Depp is quite good. His depiction of Rainey is layered and tortured, but at the same time his performance here lacks the unique inner-life that the iconoclastic actor is most famous for bringing to his roles. Instead, it's Turturro in particular who really shines in this film, continuing to prove himself to be one of the most versatile and interesting talents in the business. His southern-drawled John Shooter is menacing, devious, and stretched beyond realism -- there were scenes where I was oddly (and pleasantly) reminded of a hyperactive Pacino performance.
Director David Koepp also earns kudos from me for generally staying faithful to King's novella, but unfortunately he undermines the original story's scare factor by injecting a comedic undertone. There is a fine line between comic madness and frightening insanity -- unfortunately Koepp takes the easy road and hits the former with an unwelcome dose of quirky comedy, pushing King's R-rated characters into a PG-13 framework, diluting the story at every turn.
Also diluting the story are the film's transparent CG effects. Distracting (and at times cartoonish), these moments often pulled me out of the dread of the King universe.
The supporting cast, meanwhile, is yet another issue. While the performers are well cast, both the director and the screenplay force them into corners of overacting and melodrama. Charles Dutton plays a private investigator who meanders more than he discovers, Timothy Hutton is the clichéd lover having an affair with Rainey's wife, and Maria Bello has little to do other than wince and whine in her role as the aforementioned wife. No one really sells genuine concern or fright over Rainey's behavior. Koepp seems more focused on his cinematography and easter-egg details to focus on character and the result brings 'Secret Window' to a screeching halt at several key moments.
All things considered, 'Secret Window' is an average supernatural thriller that's sure to entertain a lot of people. While it has its fair share of issues, and Stephen King fans may be somewhat disheartened by the film's injected comedic undertones, some strong performances keep the film from being a total waste.
Presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, 'Secret Window' boasts an impressive transfer, boasting nice contrast and deep black levels. Despite the film's intentionally washed out palette, the colors that are used are both vibrant and pleasing to the eye. Skintones are natural, facial details are crisp, and textures add dimension to the image. Color saturation doesn't feel artificial, shadow delineation is impressive, and there isn't any source noise to complain about.
All is not perfect here, however. There are a few instances of black crush that appear in faster-paced scenes bathed in darkness. Also troubling are the aforementioned CG effects -- they were already noticeable in the theater, but they really stand out from the natural elements in this high definition presentation. Finally, fine object details occasionally drift to the softer end of the spectrum, with background elements varying in sharpness from shot to shot.
But nevermind these minor quibbles. Overall this Blu-ray presentation of 'Secret Window' looks very good.
'Secret Window' on Blu-ray offers two English sound tracks -- an uncompressed PCM 5.1 and a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The PCM mix dwarfs the standard Dolby Digital track with meatier tones, clearer dialogue, and a more robust soundscape presence in the surrounding channels. The sound design boasts plenty of ambiance, and the audio package handles it all perfectly. Channel movement is well rendered and the tiniest auditory details are noticeably present in this well prioritized mix. The instrumentation of the score is never overwhelming, the treble tones stay crisp and unwavering, while bass tones are round and booming, adding a welcome depth to the atmosphere of the soundfield.
The only issue I found was some randomly amatuer-level channel accuracy. At times, effects shift from speaker to speaker without reason. When Rainey's wall is cracking apart, the sound echoes from every direction, but suddenly jumps to the front speakers when the camera focuses on the spreading damage. The issue is more problematic when it's subtle, such as when Rainey patrols the exterior of his cabin with a flashlight, and his footsteps appear from varied directions that don't retain his position in the soundfield. It's rare moments like this where the sound design takes directional placement a bit too seriously and the resulting disjointedness is occasionally distracting.
Kicking off with a mediocre director's commentary, the supplemental package here leaves a lot to be desired. Director David Koepp spends a lot of time talking about the history of film in general, but very little about the history of this particular film. I personally was disappointed that he seemed more interested in discussing his on-screen, symbolic "brilliance" instead of the tonal differences between his film and the Stephen King story upon which it was based. Overall, his dry comments tend to drift into the realm of the technical and I had a rough time staying interested in this track.
Four Deleted Scenes also make an appearance (two come with accompanying commentary to explain their exclusion), but none add any interesting beats to the film. "From Book to Film" is a short featurette that includes interviews with Koepp about his motivations and adaptation of Kings "Secret Window" novella. As a King fan, I was happy to see this aspect of the film covered on the disc. "A Look Through It" and "Secrets Revealed" are two featurettes that cover the filming of 'Secret Window,' but each felt too short and promotional to present much of a thoughtful examination of the flick. At least Koepp brings some high energy to his interviews in these featurettes -- a similar approach would have really benefited his commentary track.
Finally, 'Secret Window' includes three animated storyboards that don't reveal anything I haven't seen on other releases with similar videos. SFX hounds will enjoy watching the creation of the CG elements, but I wasn't impressed enough by the end product to be terribly interested in seeing how it was done.
As a Stephen King fan, I had some issues with 'Secret Window' as filmed adaptation of King's work, but others will likely enjoy this supernatural thriller with some strong performances from John Turturro and Johnny Depp. While a lacklaster supplements package drags down the overall grade for this Blu-ray release, it certainly delivers on the bottom line, boasting solid audio and video that are sure to please your senses.