Odd Thomas (US - BD RA)
Gabe thinks Mundane Thomas would've been a more apt title for this one...
Small-town fry cook Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is an ordinary guy with a paranormal secret: he sees dead people, everywhere. When a creepy stranger shows-up with an entourage of ghostly bodachs - predators who feed on pain and portend mass destruction – Odd knows that his town is in serious trouble. Teaming up with his sweetheart Stormy (Addison Timlin) and the local sheriff (Willem Dafoe), Odd plunges into an epic battle of good vs. evil to try to stop a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. (From Image Entertainment’s official synopsis)
A one time pretender to Steven Spielberg’s throne, director Stephen Sommers has made a career for himself with bloated, dumb, digital-effects-heavy blockbuster versions of grade-A, Roger Corman-esque schlock. His movies were rarely ‘good’ (though I quite Deep Rising for all of its high-concept tomfoolery), but they’ve been an enjoyable antidote to the crueler, more mean-spirited, equally dumb, and bloated schlock of Michael Bay, Gore Verbinksi, and Jon M. Chu (who took over the G.I. Joe franchise). Sommers often makes up for a comparative lack of talent with golly-gee fervor and even his lamest, most overloaded, and unattractive movies have an innate entertainment value. Eventually, his Mummy formula fell out of favour and the big budgets of Van Helsing and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra shriveled up, leading him back to a more modest and, hopefully, personable project – Odd Thomas. Unfortunately, financial problems and a legal rights battle kept Odd Thomas from any kind of major distribution in the US for almost two years, further facilitating the former hit-maker’s descent into obscurity.
Odd Thomas is a quirky and pop-infused horror comedy in the vein of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm sequels, Bubba Ho-Tep, and, most recently and pertinently, John Dies at the End. It is based on a book by Dean Koontz and is part of an ongoing series that (so far) includes six books and three graphic novels. I am largely unfamiliar with Koontz as an author, but have seen some of the film adaptations of his work, including Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed and Joe Chappelle’s Phantoms, neither of which have a lot in common with Odd Thomas’ more buoyant tone. Well, ‘buoyant’ may be the wrong word, because Sommers’ script alternates between tonal darks and lights without any warning. Unlike movies with similarly crooked tones, however, Odd Thomas’ whiplash doesn’t feel confident. More problematic are the mouthfuls of screwball-lite dialogue that the otherwise capable actors never get a handle on. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie more determined to cram 400 and some pages of content into 93 minutes of screen time. It’s a pretty impressive technical achievement and I appreciate the effort (it’s nice that this isn’t yet another origin story and that Odd’s relationship with law enforcement has already been established), but the plot and narrative texture is often lost in an onslaught of character introductions, mythology-building exposition, and pseudo-comedic chattering.
Sommers seems about a decade behind the times when it comes to his stylistic choices. Like I said, the story moves at an impressive clip, but the speed is sustained by obnoxious speed ramps and jagged editing. The action sequences are similarly overrun by unnecessary slow-motion that robs them of their impact. He also hasn’t outgrown his obsession with unattractive CG augmentations, even if his budget can’t possible sustain them, leading to some incredibly unattractive digital filters and lumpy ghostly creature effects. However, like Sommers’ blockbuster work, the ugly effects are made less painful, thanks to efforts of clever creature designs (the bodachs look sort of like claw and teeth-filled wet plastic bags). That and the small budget does force the director to dial back on the sheer quantity of on-screen digital vomit. It’s also nice to see him relying physical gore effects for the first time since (I believe) Deep Rising – though that shouldn’t imply that Odd Thomas is a particularly violent movie (it could’ve probably secured a PG-13 and is only ‘unrated’ because it wasn’t submitted to the MPAA’s ratings board).
Odd Thomas was shot mostly using Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented here in 2.35:1, 1080p video. This seems to be the first time either Sommers or cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen has worked in the format. The overall look is relatively film-like, though the format is so clean that, bereft of more dynamic stylistic choices, the whole movie looks a little made-for-TV movie. The anamorphic lenses definitely help. Details are impressive in terms of complex patterns and deep-set textures, though close-up gradations are smoothed out in that typically Red fashion. The brighter outdoor sequences have minor halo issues that can likely be blamed on the power of the New Mexico sun, instead of compression artefacts. The darker scenes feature no major uptake in digital noise and might even be crisper than the daylight scenes, due in part to rich, hard-edged blacks. The colour palette is eclectic and vivid during the day (the pinks and mint greens of the ice cream parlor are particularly delightful) with slightly yellowed skin tones. The night scenes and interiors are more stylized and occasionally slathered in greens, blues, and violets. The colours are sharply separated in the busier wide-shots and very smoothly blended in close-up (again, in that typical, Red digital HD style).
Odd Thomas is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound and is, generally speaking, an aurally aggressive little movie. At least it is in parts. The dialogue-heavy scenes are light on background ambience, even when characters are speaking to each other in busy, outdoor areas (there’s sometimes vague crowd chatter in the front center channel), but the supernaturally-endowed sequences are quite lively. Often, the sound designers will build more subtle directional effects (a spooky wind to the right, a scurrying sound in the rear left) into loud bursts of swirling, immersive noise. The loudest bits are the creature screams that Sommers uses for his mistimed jump scares, the punchy gunshots, and a very loud, channel-immersing explosion. Composer John Swihart alternates between pop-rockabilly and electronically-endowed symphonic music. It’s a predictable and over-stated choice for score, but it gives the fabric of this DTS-HD track more character.
Odd Thomas is a sweet and occasionally entertaining film that is also overstuffed with exposition and mouthy dialogue. I don’t imagine I’d find Dean Koontz’ story more original, had director Stephen Sommers provided a more balanced structural momentum, but I’m guessing that an extended run time and tonal anchoring could’ve sharpened its emotional impact considerably. I’m assuming that the film’s long stint in release limbo and tiny box office take means that there won’t be any further adventures with Odd, nor will there be any chances to build upon Sommers’ foundation, so this appears to be the best fans of the books can hope for. This Blu-ray looks and sounds very good, but features no supplemental material.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Addison Timlin
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror and Thriller
Length: 96 minutes
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