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With Cast Away, director Robert Zemeckis can add one more excellent film to the already substantial list of entertaining movies that includes Forrest Gump, What Lies Beneath, Back to the Future, Contact, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Cast Away is a movie that merits repeat viewings; in fact, I found myself appreciating it considerably more on the second watching than on the first. On one level, it’s an exciting adventure story, a tale of survival against the elements. But on another level, it’s an extended exploration of character and a meditation on what really matters in life.

The meeting of the two levels results in a curious three-part narrative structure that actually makes quite good sense in terms of the “big picture.” Many adventure-time films dive right into the action and wrap up the story when the action ends. Cast Away is quite the opposite. A substantial introductory section gives us a clear picture of what the main character, Chuck Noland, is like: he’s driven by the clock, a perfectionist, unable to slow down enough to engage properly with the human beings around him. When catastrophe strikes, he of all people is thrown into a situation that’s completely alien to him: utterly alone and with only the sun and tides to mark the passing of time, he must learn to survive both physically and mentally. But Cast Away sets its sights on more than just telling the admittedly exciting tale of his life on the island, leading to an interesting third part of the film that brings the themes of the film home.

Tempus fugit....

Tom Hanks deserves a great deal of recognition for his excellence in the role of Noland. For the majority of the film, he must face the difficult task of delivering a convincing and captivating performance without a single fellow actor to respond to. The success of the film rests solidly on his ability to create a sympathetic and realistic character who must also change realistically over the course of the film, and Hanks pulls it off in great style.

The merits of Cast Away can best be summed up in a comment about the running time of the film. At 143 minutes, it’s a fairly long movie, but it draws you in so successfully that the movie fairly zips along. The world of the film is a well-crafted and engaging one, with believable, interesting characters; in addition to Hanks’ praiseworthy handling of the character of Noland, Helen Hunt turns in a strong performance as Kelly Frears, Noland’s girlfriend. All in all, it’s a film that merits being placed at the top of a to-watch list for a very entertaining evening’s entertainment.

Video

The Special Edition DVD of Cast Away presents the film in an anamorphically-enhanced  1.85:1 transfer. This is, in fact, the original and correct aspect ratio despite the fact the back-cover copy states that the film is presented in the 2.35:1 ratio.

The image looks very nice overall, though possibly not as perfect as I would have hoped for from a special edition. The slight downside to the transfer is the presence of some edge enhancement, and the fact that in a few scenes (though not all) there is some noise apparent in the image.

On the whole, Cast Away looks very good. Contrast, which is so often a challenge in DVD transfers, is great. Even with many scenes that alternate between brilliantly-lit and dark images, the contrast holds up well, providing detail and shading consistently throughout. Colors are also bright and vivid.

A room with a view

Audio

Cast Away’s DTS audio track is simply fantastic. The disc also comes with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, but this DVD is an argument in itself for the merits of having a DTS decoder as part of your home theater setup. The full 6.1 channels of DTS sound are used to the fullest during the entire film for a truly immersive effect. Wherever the action is taking place, you always feel as if you’re there, with the wind blowing around you, or the waves crashing, or people talking in a crowd. Environmental effects are superbly located in the surround sound as well, and dialogue is crystal-clear.

And, of course, Cast Away is a film that benefits to the maximum from great sound. This DVD’s score of 10 for audio is well-earned indeed.

Extras

Cast Away comes packaged in one of Fox’s attractive slim double-DVD cases, with the second disc securely held in a plastic holder inside the single-width case. The two discs are fully loaded with special features; my only objection is that I prefer on the whole to have a single longer documentary rather than the multiple short featurettes that are presented here.

On the first disc we get the film itself along with an audio commentary track from director Robert Zemeckis and crew. The second disc supplies the featurettes: an interview with Tom Hanks, “Wilson, the Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra,” “The Island,” several special-effects featurettes, a survivalists documentary, and a promotional HBO “First Look” featurette. These provide an interesting look at the work that went into making the film.

There’s also a storyboard-to-film comparison and a concept art gallery for those who want to get even further in-depth into the film, and to round it all off, theatrical trailers and TV spots for the film.

C'mon baby, light my fire

Overall

I found Cast Away to be a thoroughly entertaining film; not perfectly balanced between the various narrative portions, but well-crafted on the whole and very fun to watch. The DVD is a solid presentation of the film, with an outstanding audio track and a nice batch of extras, so I’d definitely recommend picking this one up if you’re at all intrigued by it.


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