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  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 85)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies

The Astronaut's Wife

New Line/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 105 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

From the recent spate of films reigniting filmmakers' fascination with space stuff (I swear if Mars had trademarked their planet's name there would be shipments of Rolls Royces being shuttled out to the red planet every hour on the hour) comes director Rand Ravich's self-penned debut feature.

Johnny Depp is good ol' boy, rootin' tootin' space flyboy Spencer Armocost (no sweetie pie girlie-girl Edward Scissorhands here folks, he's a B-L-O-K-E!) Happily married to primary (sorry, 'elementary') teacher Jillian (Charlize Theron), he is sent up on the space shuttle Victory to do tests on how M+Ms taste with no gravity, fix a broken satellite or some such mission of great worldly import along with his buddy Alex. Whilst outside the shuttle, fixing one of those things that always seems to break so that these films can actually go somewhere, there is an explosion, and NASA loses contact with the astronauts for two minutes. Rather freaked by this they recall the shuttle to earth, where the two rather off-colour pilots are put under observation in hopes that it may be determined what in space (as "on earth' isn't exactly apt here) happened to them. Spencer soon gets a supposedly clean bill of health, whilst Alex, being older, isnít having such an easy time recuperating, seemingly haunted as he is by weird noises and bizarre dreams - not that he will speak about them with anybody (ooh, he's such a MAN!)

Anyway, Spencer decides to leave NASA soon after the shuttle incident, and accepts the offer of an executive position with a New York aerospace company, allowing him the chance to design airplanes. This of course burdens Jillian with the expectation of doing the good wifely duty of jettisoning her entire life and career to depart Florida and stand by her man. However before their new life gets underway a farewell party turns rather sour when Alex has a massive seizure (or to use the film's ludicrously PC term, "a severe insult to the brain") and dies, a turn of events that in part leads to his wife, Natalie, taking her own life soon after, clutching a rather retro-styled radio as she goes out...

Spencer and Jillian move into their NY pad (which continues the cinematic myth that all such places are multi-tiered affairs with more mezzanines than those much less useful things in life such as windows or doors), and Jillian soon falls pregnant, after being essentially raped by her drunken husband at a party. All this time Jillian senses something is different about Spencer, she just canít quite determine what though - however what is this strange fascination for his own retro-styled radio a la Alex?

On learning she is expecting twins, and with the rather unnerving news that her sadly departed friend Natalie was also expecting twins conceived soon after thw two-minute incident (discovered thanks to Sherman Reece (Joe Morton), whose Fox Mulder-like obsession with finding out what happened in the two minutes of radio silence on Victory's mission has caused his termination from the employ of NASA), Jillian gets even more spooked, and sets out to try to get the bottom of what indeed has happened to her once beloved hubby...

  Video
Contract

Delivered to us safely in a 16x9 enhanced ratio of 1.85:1, The Astronaut's Wife is quite the visual treat. The reasons for this are twofold, as the film itself has been shot with much wonderfully stylish flair (although if I see one more movie with a slow motion glass-falling-to-the-floor scene I'm going to gag - it's been done to death people!) and the transfer has mostly been handled masterfully.

Shadow detail, black levels and colour all scrub up brilliantly, and for a change I scarcely witnessed any of those nasty white and black specks that are still way too common with recent release films on their journey to the DVD format. Special mention must be made of the layer change, however, as unlike many recent Village Roadshow releases this one is truly a shocker, coming around the 58-minute mark in the midst of a scene. It may be a quiet bit of the film, but it is most disruptive, especially in light of the eerie atmosphere the film spends SO much time and effort creating.

  Audio
Contract

This film is gorgeous visually, and I can honestly say it more than comes through sonically as well. A feast for any surround system, all manner of the film soundtrack's musical score, whooshes and spooky effects make great usage of channel separation, aiding the immersive nature of the film no end. Dialogue levels are mostly fine, with only one or two instances of the old "huh, speak up sonny" syndrome, these scenes rendered rather indistinct more so due to them being essentially whispered rather than due to any fault in the transfer of the film to little shiny disc.

George S Clinton (that's not the funky George Clinton of Do Fries Go With That Shake? fame by the way) must be commended for his utterly fantastic scoring. Oft coming across much like Depeche Mode's late '80s spookier-than-thou instrumental b-sides, his suitably suspenseful compositions single-handedly lift the drama factor of the film a number of notches. Also any flick that features somebody freaking out and dying of a seizure to the strains of the definitive version of My Way, that by Sid Vicious and most of the Sex Pistols ("most" as Johnny Rotten had said "sayonara" by that stage of their short but sharp career - but I'm not reviewing Julien Temple's The Filth and The Fury here so I guess I ought to just shut up), earns many cool points from me.

  Extras
Contract

The bit where we all seem to mention the menus, for it is indeed the aptest place to do so. A lovely job has been done here, with enough motion going on to I daresay have queasier viewers reaching for the Mylanta, and nice boomy, surroundy sound as the icing on the cake. Nice job peoples!

As for actual extra bits and pieces, there's not a lot to get foaming at the mouth about, however what you do get is...

Theatrical trailer: A two-and-a-bit minute long example of how a trailer should be done. It is visually and sonically excellent, and also a good harbinger of what is in store for those who see the feature.

Cast and crew bios: A few pages of rather infinitesimally (BYO magnifying glass) fonted hype, sorry 'information', on Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron (who is one of the millennium's most sought after actresses, apparently), Clea DuVall (whose way-too-brief appearances in the film are all utterly wonderful, including the rather classic, "Men are like parking spaces, all the good ones are taken and those that are available are all handicapped". Mark my words, you'll be seeing lots more of this gal in future - assuming there's any justice in Hollywood, of course...), Joe Morton (who proves he indeed CAN act after whatever the heck he though he was doing in Blues Brothers 2000) and writer/director Rand Ravich. Hopefully you wonít wish to see Charlize's filmography though, as somebody oopsed rather severely when authoring this, so you actually get Clea's one come up. With luck they'll fix this before release.

Original ending: Around nine minutes long, this incorporates much of what was seen in the final cut, but does eventually veer off on quite the tangent from what ended up seeing the light of day. There's a flimsy little line between wishing a film to spell things out a bit to give some closure and crediting the audience with some intelligence, however if used this ending would have left many people walking from the cinema with giant cartoon-like question marks floating above their heads. It is nonetheless an interesting inclusion, despite being covered in digital titling - BOO!

I must also give special mention to the scene selection screens, all of which show teensy little animated bits from the film, and are quite the treat for those such as myself who are used to utterly static affairs.

  Overall  
Contract

Whilst displaying some obvious signs of rookiedom, writer and director Ravich still manages to come up with an undeniably stylish and often genuinely creepy and disturbing feature film debut, helped along brilliantly by a stunningly appropriate score. It may at times feel more like a very extended music video rather than an actual movie, and does slow to a bit of a crawl on the odd occasion with perhaps too much time spent on building up to something rather than paying us off, but the pace or spooky factor does always tend to pick up again. At any rate I doubt anybody will be sitting viewing this with minds a wanderin' off into thoughts of "you know I really should be washing my hair..." or similar.

Audio-visual nuts should love what is on offer here, as it presents the opportunity to give their toys a great little workout. The extra features are rather thin on the ground though, so if you're not too sure about it I'd at least give this one a rent if you are at all intrigued by alien/spacey (no, not Kevin!) kind of stuff, as you may be pleasantly surprised. Just be sure to set your phasers to 'popcorn' rather than 'filet mignon' first, OK?

Do be warned though, this is most definitely NOT the sort of film for easily spooked people to curl up with on a dark and stormy night, I found it at times to be incredibly disturbing and icky, and as such I guess it does its job fairly admirably as a thriller.

I'm still not quite sure what exactly was up with all that retro-radio business though...


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      And I quote...
    "An undeniably stylish and often genuinely creepy and disturbing film..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Home Built
    • Surrounds:
          No Name
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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