DVD Review: The Cave

The Cave is an example of being over anxious. First time director Bruce Hunt struggles greatly with this underground creature feature, and his time spent working second unit on The Matrix only shows during the jarring quick cuts. This is also another victim of the "PG-13" horror movie syndrome, with only brief moments of the genres highlight.

Oddly putting together ABC TV stars from Lost and its follow up time slot Invasion, the simple set up has been done numerous times, and if you've experienced one creature feature, you've experienced The Cave. It doesn't try to break new ground, and with a running time barely scratching the 90-minute mark, things move awfully fast. It's hard to get a feel for the characters, all of which seem overly attractive for people that dive into caves for a living (not that the Piper Perabo inclusion is a bad thing).

Once the team of spelunkers finds their way onto the underground sets, it's a series of flashy encounters. A nicely done first contact involves an ugly bleach white baby eel that's not as harmless as it seems. The locale sticking them a mile into the ground should be enough to garner scares based on low lighting alone.

Sadly, any decent look at the monsters themselves comes way too late. It's nearly impossible to know what it is that's causing the team to become food without using the pause button. This is editing at its worst excess. While many shots are likely done to hide the occasional low-end CGI, the same should not be said for the superb man-in-suit shots. Coming from Tatopoulos Studios, these are fantastical critters, and vicious enough to elicit a response once they gain more than a split second of screen time.

Sadly, that happens only a few times in the film, and then it's too late. The audience has been agitated and bored enough. An attempt at a plot twist isn't particularly expanded enough, save for a predictable finish. In fact, the twist leads to some inconsistencies and unexplained happenings. The film would have been better off without it.

Finally, the restriction of a PG-13 rating is enough to spoil a lot of the appeal. Call it Alien vs. Predator syndrome if you want, but just like that comic book-inspired cross over, The Cave needed a hard R to fully sell the ferocity of the creatures. Some nasty gore would have made up (at least a little bit) for the annoying editing, yet any blood that did make it is rarely caused by the bat-like critters. It hampers the movie's ability to freak out its target audience.

With all of that going against it, it's hardly surprising that The Cave didn't perform well at the box office. It should have been obvious from the shooting script that this simply wasn't ready for a theatrical release. Some executive at Sony must be kicking themselves after losing $15 million on this one, and it's completely their fault. This was never meant to be. (** out of *****)

For a movie drenched in blue, it's an incredible feat that compression doesn't overwhelm the video. In all actuality, you can rarely pick it out even when you're looking. It's almost a shame the movie needed to head underground too since scenes shot on the surface showcase a beautiful mix of color, sharpness, and perfectly calibrated contrast. There is some fuzziness to the video once they drop into their targeted location, but everything else about this transfer is wonderful. (****)

Audio is unsurprisingly used to a creepy effectiveness. The unique clicking sound of the monsters is used every time it should be, creating a claustrophobic sound field where the sound dictates the location of the next attack. As the actors huddle together, you can feel the tension growing as the noise comes from multiple speakers, fully utilizing the 5.1 mix to its fullest. Sadly, the bass doesn't provide a boisterous punch as it should in a few spots. It seems like it's almost absent when it should be called on. (****)

When taking a huge loss on any film, the extras are usually trimmed, and while they're not long, what's on The Cave DVD is a total surprise. While two commentary tracks dig into a variety of issues and success of the film, the 18-minute Into the Cave featurette is the winner here. It's hard to think of some aspect to the shoot that isn't covered, and the underwater director explains everything that went into this. On set injuries, training actors, dangers, his own personal experience, and more are crammed into this superb extra. There's very little time spent padding this with film footage either.

Designing Evolution goes into the special effects process. While short (10-minutes) and slightly excessive with the amount of finished footage, there's a lot here to digest. A detailed look at the suit and the various tweaks that needed to be done to make the actor fit inside is nice, as is Tatopoulos speaking his own words on what he didn't like about the final look. It's wonderful to see some disagreement (however brief) instead of the constant praise DVD extra fans are used to. (****)

While the movie is questionable, The Cave shows that a huge special features box on the back of the DVD case doesn't always mean you're getting your moneys worth. Even if you squeeze a few minutes of enjoyment out of this one, the extras are requirements. Of course, you should probably sit through the movie itself first, and that's a challenge most people won't take.

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