Directed by Christophe Gans
Produced by Samuel Hadida
Written by Roger Avary
Director of Photograpy Dan Laustsen
Music by Jeff Danna
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Alice Krige, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland
2006/125 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
I don't know if I would consider myself an avid gamer, but I certainly enjoy a good video game from time-to-time. My favorite genre is the so called "survival horror" games. I like these games because it feels as if the player has been immersed into a horror movie. For me, the most impressive aspect of these games is the fact that they often contain a complete, linear storyline. When I play them, I usually think, "This would make a good movie." Many have tried and failed to adapt video games to the big screen and the latest attempt at adapting "survival horror" is SILENT HILL. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for that perfect video game adaptation.
As SILENT HILL, we meet the DaSilva family. Young Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) is prone to sleepwalking, often putting herself in dangerous situations. During these spells, she mentions a town called "Silent Hill". Sharon's mother, Rose (Radha Mitchell) is convinced that Silent Hill holds the key to Sharon's condition, and against husband Chris' (Sean Bean) wishes, takes Sharon to the isolated town. On her way to Silent Hill, Rose attracts the attention of a police officer -- Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden) -- who begins to follow her. As Rose approaches the town, a dark figure crosses the road in front of her car, causing Rose to swerve and crash.
When Rose awakens, Sharon has disappeared. Rose enters Silent Hill, only to find that the town is abandoned and in ruins. We learn that a fire damaged the town years ago, and that fires still burn underground, making the place uninhabitable. But, Rose soon learns that the fires aren't the only thing that make Silent Hill dangerous. She observes macabre images and occasionally the sky darkens and the town's appearance changes. During these times, grotesque creatures pursue Rose. Rose soon finds Cybil and the two work together to locate Sharon. They discover that Silent Hill hides a dark secret involving a religious sect and a angry presence that is determined to seek revenge.
In the making-of featurette included on the SILENT HILL DVD, director Christophe Gans claims to be a huge fan of the Konami video games which inspired the film. And, in some scenes, this is very evident. However, a good portion of the film veers away from the games, and I, for one, have a huge problem with that. When a novel is adapted for a movie and major changes are made, fans feel justified in protesting those changes. Well, I feel equally just in decrying the fact that a story with a beginning, middle, and end was changed for the movie version.
And despite the fact that no one asked me to do so, I'll list the changes made for the film that I don't like. (And when I speak of the game, I'm talking about the original "Silent Hill". Where applicable, I'll point out facts which relate to the sequels.) The main character in the game is a man named Harry Mason. The filmmakers readily admit that they changed this character to Rose because it would be more believable for a woman to do whatever it takes to get her child back. As a father, I find this notion offensive. Also, it seems that the main character in every horror film made today is female, so a male would have been a nice change of pace. In the game, Silent Hill is a resort community. Harry and his daughter (Cheryl, not Sharon) have come to Silent Hill to relax as Harry's wife has recently died. They find the town deserted, but not decaying as in the film. The fact that the town is popular with tourists explains the presence of a large hotel. The Grand Hotel in the film feels sorely out of place in a West Virginia coal-mining town. The game places a greater emphasis on the monsters roaming Silent Hill and less on the religious sect conspiracy (although this is in the game). Pyramid Head, who figures largely in SILENT HILL, actually comes from the "Silent Hill 2" game. The game also features some sympathetic locals in Silent Hill, something which the movie could have used.
OK, let's assume that you're not like me and don't know about/care about the games, how is the movie. Even then, the movie leaves a lot to be desired. Despite some missteps, the first half of the movie isn't bad. Gans and his crew have done an amazing job of recreating locations for the game in the film. The scene in which Rose first encounters "The Darkness" is almost shot-for-shot the way that it is in the game, and the sets are incredible. The creatures featured in this part of the film nicely recreated the macabre and grotesque visuals from the game. A notable exception to this is the scene with the nurses. In the game, the nurses are incredibly creepy, but in the film they feel like rejects from the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video.
But these positives can't overcome the film's negatives. From the outset, Rose is an unsympathetic character, as she's made an obviously bad choice in taking her child to Silent Hill. The action and cool effects from the first half of the film get mired down in the inscrutable plot which appears in the second half. Here's a tip to filmmakers: If you're movie has to come to a screeching halt in order to explain what is happening -- in a 6-minute flashback -- then you haven't done a very good job of telling the story. (The long flashback reminded me of the opening scroll in ALONE IN THE DARK.) One thing that I remembered about playing "Silent Hill" was that I really didn't understand the ending and I was hoping that the film would clear up some things. It didn't. Even the most attentive viewers will be stymied by the amount of plot thrown at the viewer in the last two reels. And I still can't believe that the studio let Gans and co. keep the film's incredibly downbeat ending.
SILENT HILL is the closest that Hollywood has come to getting a video game adaptation correct, but it's still far from perfect. Director Christophe Gans has done a fantastic job of recreating the visuals from the games, but the story is unnecessarily obtuse and early hints at creepy goodness only give way to ponderous dialogue scenes. But, there's always hope for the future. "Silent Hill 2" has a fantastic story that would make a great movie. Let's hope they don't screw it up.
SILENT HILL creeps onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good as the picture is fairly sharp and clear. The image shows a slight amount of grain at times, but this could be a result of the process used to give the image its desaturated look. (Of course, the flashbacks are supposed to be grainy.) The colors look good and the image is never overly dark. The picture is well-balanced and I didn't spot any intrusive artifacting or video noise. The DVD carries an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The film sports a very good sound design and this track exploits it to its maximum potential. The dialogue is clear with no distortion. The stereo effects are excellent, amongst the best that I've heard recently. The surround sound effects are nearly constant, as the characters are always enveloped in eerie or jarring sounds. And the bass response nearly took the pictures off of my walls. An excellent audio track. (It should be noted that the SILENT HILL DVD contains only an English audio track and English subtitles, with no other languages supported.)
The SILENT HILL DVD only contains one real extra. This is an hour-long making-of featurette entitled, "Path of Darkness: Making SILENT HILL". This featurette is made up of six segments. In "Origins", Gans, producers Samuel Hadida and Don Carmody, and Roger Avary discuss how the project came together. Most of this focuses on Gans love of the "Silent Hill" video games. They discuss how the stories from the games were changed for the movie and Gans states, "A game is a game and a film is a film." (Whatever.) The various actors and characters are discussed in "Casting". Production designer Carol Spier (who often works with David Cronenberg) describes the building of the over 150 sets in "Set Design". This piece contains very detailed behind-the-scenes footage of the sets being constructed. Steve Lucescu, stunt coordinator, guides us through the falls and fights in "Stars and Stunts". We get an in-depth view of how the monsters were built and how the performers wore the suits in "Creatures Unleashed". Makeup FX artist Paul Jones and creature effects designer Patrick Tatopoulos share how the monsters came to life. We see how the monsters learned to move in "Creature Choreography". I found it quite odd that there was no footage from the video games in this featurette. That would have been a nice touch for those viewers who know nothing about the games. Also, the behind-the-scenes footage show two monster scenes that weren't in the movie. That doesn't guarantee that a deleted scene(s) exists somewhere, but one must wonder if footage had to be cut to achieve the R-rating.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©