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David Fincher is no stranger to controversy, with some of his recent movies having gained cult status as a result of their dark and seedy storylines.  Films such as Seven and Fight Club have elevated the director into the big league and have meant that every release since these has been greeted with a high level of expectation. Recently Fincher announced to the world that his next effort would be Panic Room, a thriller based entirely in a New York home. The film had its fair share of disruptions with Nicole Kidman originally cast to play the lead role, but later pulling out due to a knee injury. Jodie Foster stepped into Kidman’s shoes, but even this decision left audiences wondering whether the Oscar-winning actress had the charisma to play such a role. This is a review of the region two release by Columbia Tristar.

Panic Room
Ever wondered what the rich and famous do to protect themselves from burglars? Well, they build massive protective rooms known as “Panic Rooms”. These rooms are constructed with strong materials, normally steel, and cannot be broken into. If someone breaks into your house you can remain in the room and call the police from there on a dedicated phone line, safe in the knowledge that the burglar cannot get to you. This subject matter is dealt with by David Fincher in his latest movie of the same name. As mentioned above, Panic Room is set in New York and centres around Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). Meg has recently divorced and is in need of somewhere for the two of them to live. The search leads her to a large property in Manhattan, which is close to Sarah’s new school. The previous owner of the building had built a panic room on one of the floors to protect his savings. At first Meg is a little apprehensive about this, but soon warms to the idea of having somewhere to hide out in an emergency. The room can be best described as state of the art with its own telephone line, separate air conditioning and ventilation systems, as well as security cameras. Meg doesn’t take much interest in the room as she considers it a luxury that she hopefully won’t need. Both mother and daughter agree that the house is suitable for them and arrange to purchase it immediately.

The pair move in quite quickly and settle down for their first night in the house. Just as Meg drifts off to sleep a car pulls up outside and three criminals begin their task of breaking in. Obviously knowledgeable about the layout of the property, the intruders know the building’s weak points. Fortuitously, Meg awakes and notices the burglars on the security cameras. Obviously terrified by the sighting she immediately wakes her daughter, and the pair make a frantic dash to the panic room. Unaware of the burglars’ motives, Meg assumes that she can call the police to arrest them. Unfortunately for her the criminals have cut the emergency phone line, but even more worrying for Meg is the fact that her daughter is a diabetic and needs her insulin.

Panic Room
Burnham (Forrest Whitaker) and Junior (Jared Leto) are the organisers of the crime, and it soon becomes apparent that the pair are searching for something in particular within the property. They are joined by Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), an accomplice previously unknown to them who has been hired by Junior. The item that the criminals seek is stored in the one room they cannot get into… the panic room. The film turns into a cat and mouse style chase, with both parties trying their best to outwit each other.

David Fincher is renowned for his eccentric camera angles and movement, which has been evident in his previous movies. I recall seeing Panic Room in a pokey cinema in London, and the clever use of cameras was evident even on a small screen. The way in which Fincher navigates the cameras through the house is classy and novel. It is used particularly effectively towards the beginning of the movie, where the criminals try various doors to gain entry to the property. The camera moves through walls and even through ceilings so that the audience gets to see each villain’s attempt to gain entry. Panic Room will also have you on the edge of your seat for the duration of the movie and it my opinion it is one of the best thrillers of the year. There are some extremely tense scenes (in particular scenes involving Sarah’s diabetes) which will have you glued to the screen and your heart pounding. The subject matter is quite eerie, and the musical score compliments this well. The movie has been compared to some of Alfred Hitchcock’s best efforts and it is easy to see why.  Fincher’s recent movies have all had absorbing endings and Panic Room is no different, as the film ends in riveting fashion. Panic Room is a gripping, creepy and intelligent movie which will leave you engrossed from start to finish. I have no hesitation in recommending it.  

Panic Room is presented in its original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is anamorphic as well. I would usually mention the colour reproduction in this type of review, but to be honest this is probably one of the dullest and most subdued films that I have seen in a long time. The film is completely shot at night, so apart from blacks and more blacks, there are very few other colours used. Flesh tones were also hard to assess for the same reason. I am glad to be able to say that black levels are outstanding and appear solid throughout. Darker scenes can also bring out high grain levels, but this transfer was clear and precise with no visible signs of edge enhancements or compression artifacts. This is a very good transfer, but definitely not one to show off your nice new widescreen TV.

Panic Room
I was looking forward to the soundtracks that Columbia Tristar provided with this disc. The tracks are identical to the ones provided with the Superbits region one release. We are treated not just to an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but also to a DTS one. Both tracks are superb and deal with the frantic scenes extremely well. However, the more subtle moments are also portrayed well, with footsteps eerily brought to the rear speakers. In fact they were so realistic that I had to turn around a couple of times to see if anyone was behind me! Not since the DTS track in ‘The Others’ have I been so impressed by the subtlety of a soundtrack. The musical score also plays an important part in this movie, so it was nice to hear the haunting tracks coming from all speakers and not just being refined to the fronts. Dialogue is clear throughout and never appears to get lost amidst all the ensuing chaos. You are probably wondering what the differences are between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. Very minimal is the answer. I tried the different tracks on a few scenes and the DTS one had the slight edge, sounding fuller and more natural. However, either track would have been sufficient on its own, so having two is an added bonus.

Subtitles are provided in Dutch, English, English for the hearing impaired and Hindi. If you are a fan of fancy menus then you will find the ones supplied on this disc to be of particular interest. The menus are made up of a tour of the panic room and include elaborate animation.

Extras provided with this disc are sparse to say the least and are also in line with the region one Superbits release. First up is the teaser trailer which is actually very impressive. It has a running time of just over two minutes, and is every bit as eerie as the movie itself. It starts off by explaining what a panic room is and quick flashes from the movie are shown. This is one of the best teaser trailers I have seen in a long time, and it would certainly convince audiences to watch the movie. The only other extra on the disc is the filmographies, which are a standard catalogue of the cast and crew’s past involvements in films.

Panic Room
Rumoured special editions are going to potentially spoil this DVD release, as consumers may wait for a more extra-packed disc. Merited on the film alone, I have no hesitation in recommending this DVD. Panic Room is a modern day thriller which introduces an original concept and deals with it competently. Fans of David Fincher will love this film, and the casual movie-goer will find it engrossing. However, I cannot help feeling slightly disappointed by the feeble repertoire of extras that we are treated to. DVD Enthusiasts will be happy with the Video and Audio aspects of this disc, and these will probably be left untouched for any further releases. If you are desperate to see Panic Room and don’t mind the lack of extras, then don’t hesitate to make this a purchase, however if you can wait, it might be worth holding out for a disc with more extensive extras.