Superbit Deluxe Collection
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1
Columbia Tristar, $27.96
Since the release of his apocalyptically dark thriller Seven and the mind-bending Fight Club, director David Fincher has attracted a cult following of fans devoted to his precise, moody style and often-nihilistic perspective. Those fans certainly werent left hanging with Panic Room, which stars Jodie Foster as embittered divorcée Meg Altman. Meg decides to stick her cheating ex-husband where it hurts namely, his wallet by purchasing the priciest four-story brownstone available in Manhattan for herself and her daughter (Kristen Stewart). The sprawling, lavish apartment features one peculiar amenity: a panic room. Installed by the buildings previous owner, the room is a virtually impenetrable, steel-reinforced, electronically isolated, concrete-surrounded bunker.
On their first night in the apartment, Meg and her daughter are surprised by three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto), who are convinced that theres a sizeable stash of money hidden somewhere on the premises. Meg and her daughter hole up in the panic room, and as tensions build, Meg engages in a cat-and-mouse game with the somewhat disorganized intruders.
Fincher told AC in March 02 that the films shoot was "the hardest in my career." Midway through the shoot, director of photography Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (Seven) was replaced by Conrad W. Hall, who had operated for Fincher on features and commercials. Behind-the-scenes drama aside, Panic Room features some spectacular images and exquisitely subtle, "no-light" underexposure work. The films visual construction and shot execution can only be described as "slick" the camera never flinches in its placement or movement, and the audience is given very specific visual clues in a precise yet seemingly organic fashion.
It is the murky, often nerve-wracking, fine line between the subtle falloff of hues and completely underexposed murk that makes the "Superbit" digital mastering process showcased on this DVD all the more important. Because the majority of the films visual information resides in the "Did I see something lurking in that dark corner?" realm, even mild compression could make the fine tonal gradations look like the cinematic equivalent of a 24-fps Light N Bright animation. Touted as the highest standard in DVD-encoding schemes, the Superbit process utilizes the entire DVDs disc space including space normally devoted to supplemental materials to optimize picture and sound. Superbit DVDs are said to be encoded at almost double the normal bit-rate, yet are still fully compatible with standard DVD players.
The difference the Superbit process makes is readily apparent in this edition of Panic Room. Even with ones face almost pressed to the monitor, the image is virtually free of any "compression chunkiness." The shadows are free of artifacts, and the subtlest tonal changes in the lighting are faithfully reproduced. Finchers use of a digital-intermediate master for the films theatrical release no doubt aided in this effort as well; producing a finely nuanced, 2K video master of Panic Room essentially guaranteed that the films subsequent life in the digital domain would retain the quality of the filmmakers sepulchral visions. The use of Superbit mastering further serves to retain the purity of this post process, all the way downstream to your DVD player.
However, the excellent visual presentation is only part of this DVDs appeal. The audio presentation is also superb; every tiny floorboard creak and hushed breath is clearly projected. And as is typical with Fincher films, the ambience tracks immediately bring the viewer into a moody world fraught with ternsion.
The only drawback to this disc is the complete lack of supplemental goodies, which might have given fans a peek at Finchers fanatically precise filmmaking process. The logic behind the Superbit process is obvious, but that doesnt mean consumers should be hung out to dry in the value-added department other Superbit DVD releases have addressed this issue by including a second disc of bonus materials. (In fact, Foxs DVD of Fight Club virtually set the standard for value-added packaging.) However, those concerns werent addressed for this edition of Panic Room, and the otherwise stellar DVD suffers for it.