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Introduction
Panic Room, David Fincher’s 5th feature film, is one of the better thrillers of late. Dark, moody and reeking of Fincher’s wonderfully unique visual style, Panic Room pleases in ways it wouldn’t if it had been in the hands of any other director. Although this won’t be the only version of Panic Room on DVD, this disc is just an attractive bare-bones release from Columbia Tri-Star.

Movie
Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced graduate student. With her adolescent daughter Sarah (Kristin Stewart), Meg takes up residence in an immense home in New York’s upper-east side. While seemingly a normal abode, this behemoth household has an addition one might not expect: a ‘panic room’. This aptly named room is the place where the rich and privileged hide out in the event of a robbery or home invasion.

On their very first night in their new home, Meg and Sarah find themselves victims of just such a crime. They flee, locking themselves in the panic room, along with the very thing the burglars came for. So begins the proverbial game of ‘Cat and Mouse’.

Panic Room: Superbit

And what a game it is! Panic Room follows the conventions of your average thriller but does it really, really well. Panic Room is briskly paced and full of twists and turns that keep you constantly on the edge of your seat. It’s all the excitement and half the fat.

The actors, working with what they have, really elevate the film from average to very impressive. Foster, looking absolutely the sexiest she ever has, took over from Nicole Kidman very late in the production, and while pregnant took all the challenges head-on to play Meg Altman. She is the anchor of the picture, and really provides an intense performance.

The three burglars, Burnham, Junior and Raoul, played by Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam respectively are the ‘heavies’ of the film. The three men work with one another quite well and spice up the proceedings with a great bit of humor and contention, coming more so from Leto than the others.

Truthfully, Panic Room screams ‘experiment’. The screenwriter, Dave Koepp hears about these ‘panic-rooms’ and writes a jaunty script during the downtime he had on the Spider-Man project. Dave Fincher, finally ready to jump back into making films after his absolutely brilliant film version of Fight Club, finds the proper context in which to use his CG PREVIS (Pre-Visualization) technique, which was used to great effect in Fight Club.

Panic Room: Superbit

It all pays off, however, because in the end, Panic Room delivers a pulse-pounding ride. Fincher made a slick, sexy-looking film and that shows in every frame. While somewhat light in fleshing the characters out, the story does what it’s supposed to and nothing more. It’s clever, and every so often defies the conventions it otherwise follows so closely.

Video
This is a SuperBit release from Columbia Tri-Star, and it shows.

Right off, I want to address one of the complaints I’ve heard quite a bit regarding the look of Panic Room; that of course being that the film is too dark. So intentionally dark that it is distracting. Rather harshly, I will say to all who think this: Quit whining...

I’m just curious as to where so many people got the notion that life takes place in perfectly balanced light. Admittedly, much of Panic Room is very, very dark, but it only serves to enhance film. If anything, the visual style is extremely realistic; when it is dark in an area, it is dark, not simulated sitcom dark. And when there is light, you can see. Panic Room takes place in one house at night, with very little light. That type of environment is beautifully replicated by David Fincher and Directors of Photography Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji. Kudos to them for making such a good-looking film.

This release has a very beautiful anamorphic transfer, framed at 2.40:1. Everything that made the film such a treat to watch is faithfully transported onto my favorite little five-inch disc. Colors aren’t a problem, the film is purposefully very drab and it doesn’t do much to strain the abilities of the DVD format. Regardless, the image is extremely sharp, very detailed and all around damn fine-looking. There is no grain, no dirt and no bad moiré effects (jaggies). There is absolutely nothing negative about this image.

Panic Room: Superbit

I will digress though and comment on the negligible amount of edge-enhancement that can be found during certain moments of the movie. I’m pretty sure no one will notice, not unless they’re watching three inches away from a high-end widescreen monitor.

Audio
I will repeat: This is a SuperBit release from Columbia Tri-Star, and it shows.

Although I can’t comment on the English DTS track, I will say that the English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Soundtrack is superb. Fantastic, really. Directional effects are used constantly, especially during the CG shots of the house. Going through walls, doors, door locks and such never sounded so good. A rain storm is prevalent element during the film, and its presence is always heard, if not felt when the thunder claps, which leads me to comment on the low end.

The .1 LFE track is a precise beast here, punctuating just the right moments. The slam of the panic room door, the aforementioned thunderclap and the firing of a gun all sound grand. Environment is established and never falters, going so far as progressing the story and keeping the on-screen action comprehensible with sound alone.

Edit: I've listened to this disc and the DTS track and can say that the DTS is slightly superior in terms of seperation and just a little more "oomph" when called upon. - Pete

Panic Room: Superbit

Extras
Slim pickings, but that is saying something for a usually bare SuperBit DVD. All we get here is the effective and creepy theatrical teaser for the film, and some lame filmographies. That’s all I have to say about that.

Special notice should be given to the menus. Usually for a SuperBit, there is a generic menu with that Terminator-ish metallic hue. Not so here. What we get are well animated menus that imitate the PREVIS effect, giving us a tour of the panic room from the film. Nifty.

Overall
Panic Room is a unique thriller. It's fast, tense, dramatic and really accomplishes what it sets out to do; make your heart beat just a little bit faster.

As I said, this will not be the last edition of Panic Room, more so since this is Columbia Tri-Star we are talking about, the King of double and triple-dipping. But if you are a technophile, this is the edition you should seek out. You won’t be disappointed.


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