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Stephen King has been responsible for some of the most captivating plots in movie history; The Shawshank Redemption,  Carrie, Stand by Me, The Shining and, err, Children of the Corn. If done successfully, a King adaptation can generate great reviews, solid box-office or, heavens forbid, both of these at the same time.

Secret Window
Earlier this year, director and screenwriter, David Koepp, took a stab at adapting King's novella,  Secret Window, Secret Garden. Dropping the garden suffix to avoid comparisons with a well-known children’s book, Keopp enlisted Oscar nominee and occasional pirate, Johnny Depp, and a strong supporting cast. However, this psychological thriller took a beating at the box-office from Jesus Christ and his much-trumpeted passion. Will DVD give Secret Window a new lease of life?

Film
Johnny Depp plays Mort Rainey, a successful novelist who lives just North of nowhere following a break-up with his wife. Living alone in a house in a Forested area, Mort has become something of a recluse as he struggles to complete his latest novel. Company arrives in the form of John Shooter (John Turturro), a strange threatening figure who claims that Mort has plagiarised his work. Things take a turn for the sinister as Shooter becomes more violent, leaving a path of destruction and a rising body count.

It is perhaps apt that, for a film that concerns plagiarism, the audience cannot help but feel that they've been here before. Secret Window is the sort of film that Hollywood was repeatedly churning out during the late eighties and early nineties. The plot can be summarised as thus: stranger arrives and turns protagonist's life upside down, and can be found in anything from The Hand the Rocks the Cradle to Pacific Heights.

This is not to say that Secret Window is completely devoid of originality but there's a severe lack of suspense due to the fact that this is such familiar territory. Keopp gives us some nice camera tricks to make sure we’re paying attention, but one wishes he'd given the screenplay the same sort of consideration. Instead, the viewer must put up with too many hoary conventions—murdered pets, disinterested policemen, shadows at the door; they're all here, folks!

Secret Window
The problems are apparent from the beginning. Johnny Depp's reclusive novelist is so reclusive, that numerous scenes elapse with him talking aloud to no one but himself, which is never a pleasing effect in any film. Depp deals with this satisfactorily enough, but one gets the impression that he's just biding his time for the final reel when he'll be given something substantial to do. Meanwhile, the introduction of Turturro would be welcome, but for the fact that he's a pretty weak villain, evoking laughs rather than scares. Other characters are so broadly written that it becomes insulting when the director expects us to give two hoots about what happens to them.

The movie ends with a twist that is heavily reminiscent of another, more recent, film. To reveal exactly which one would spoil what little effect it has, but it's worth pointing out that the clues are there...if you can be bothered to look for them.

Secret Window is not a bad film, but it’s largely forgettable and contains so many common film clichés, that only newcomers to the thriller genre will take anything from it.  

Secret Window
Video
The picture quality gives a good indication of how recently the movie was filmed. A sizeable amount of Secret Window takes place in darkness, and these scenes truly showcase a pleasing transfer. For those rare moments when the movie shows us a 'light sunny day', the colours are vibrant and strong.

In the commentary, the director talks about his intention to keep Depp's character pale and un-tanned to indicate his reclusive and housebound lifestyle. This intention is fully realised with the tricky area of skin tones being well represented. There's a good contrast between similar colours too, particularly for the forest sequences. Only occasionally does the picture seem over-saturated.

Audio
One of the more successful aspects of this film is a haunting score, which sounds superb through the five speakers. However, as important as a soundtrack is to a psychological thriller, perhaps more integral are those moments of silence where the audience waits for those pesky inevitable 'shocks'. The 5.1 track handles this with a minimum of hiss allowing for the well-defined sound effects to sound all the more effective when they come into play.

The dialogue is handled very well though the front speaker, but even better are those rare instances where a sound effect can be heard from a certain direction. Coupled with the fact that these moments usually occur during silence, and you have a genuinely pleasing effect that occurs too rarely.

Secret Window
Extras
David Koepp begins his feature-length director's commentary by stating that he recorded it just days after the film opened. Because of this, he's unaware of whether it was successful. This adds an interesting dynamic and allows him to talk passionately about the movie. Solo commentaries live or die purely because of the commentator and Koepp fully understands the conventions of this feature. Few pauses, maximum amount of information.

Three featurettes ( From Book to Film,  A Look Through It and Scenes Revealed) are on hand to tell you a little more about the movie and clock in at twenty, thirty and fifteen minutes respectively. Interspersed with interviews and footage of the filming, they should be of genuine interest to fans of the film. Depp is not the greatest of interviewees, but director Koepp once again talks enthusiastically about the creative process. Since these featurettes are fairly lengthy, it’s a disappointment that there are no chapter points to make navigation a little easier.

There are four Deleted Scenes for your perusal. Two of them contain commentary by the director, while two of them -oddly enough do not. Only one of the sequences could offer a slightly different reading on the film, but generally there’re no surprises that these failed to make it to the final print.

For the technically minded amongst you, the Animatics should be of interest. These are rough computer-created examples of how the camera will move in four key scenes. A commentary from the technical staff would have been welcome, but these are mostly silent.

Acting as filler, we have the trailers. The first is, unsurprisingly, for Secret Window, but the others are releases that are at least partially related to the feature. Identity, The Missing and Panic Room are all key examples of thrillers, while Kingdom Hospital holds the obvious Stephen King link.

Secret Window
Overall
Secret Window is certainly not the greatest thriller out there. It sorely lacks originality and the narrative seems tired and dull. Its appeal lies in its leading man and it's this performance which carries the film to the end credits. The DVD itself boasts a strong transfer and a short, but reasonable, list of extras. Depp fans, of which there are many, may find this to be passable entry on his resume, but would still be better off leaving this as a rental.


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