Cast Away (Special Edition)
One of the first novels ever concerned itself with a man alone on a desert island. As such, this is one of the oldest themes provided to film by literature. The latest incarnation of this theme is Cast Away. Although the story is simple it has sparked a lot of discussion. The story follows Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a troubleshooter for Fed Ex. He is a man that lives by the clock, literally. He is sent to places around the world that fail to live up to the demanding schedules of Fed Ex. An efficiency expert that demands as much from the employees under him as he does himself. Some would even call him anal retentive or type A. Still, he has a personal life that he finds very rewarding. He is engaged to a young professional Kelly (Helen Hunt) and it is obvious that there is a very deep love between them. On the night before Christmas Chuck is sent off on a Fed Ex jet to the south Pacific. Unfortunately, the jet is caught up in a large storm and develops engine troubles. The plane is blown far of course and in a dramatic moment the engine explodes crashing the plane to the sea. Only Chuck survives and manages to drift to the shores of a deserted island. For the better part of the film we see Chuck as he tries to cope with the issues of survival. Not only his physical survival is at stake but also his emotional and spiritual survival. A few things help him to cope. One is finding a cave to provide shelter. Next, there are the packages that washed up on shore. He opens all the Fed Ex packages except one, a package with angel wings drawn on it. This one package is kept intact, perhaps as a reminder that the packages must get though, of his former life now washed away. In one package his finds a volleyball, which after a blood hand print provides a face like image, he names it Wilson. In his loneliness Wilson becomes his confidant and friend. Actually, it is a nice ploy to permit some reasonable means for dialogue.
Of course, the mode of this film makes it almost a one-man show. Few actors could possibly have pulled off such a solo performance. Hanks always comes across as the likable guy, real every man. He also brings intelligence to the role. All this is necessary in order for the audience to believe the film. What impressed me most was the change that had to happen to the character. Moving from a man devoted to time to one set adrift where time is not counted by the second hand of a watch but by marks on the wall counting sunsets. The only other character in this part of the film is Wilson. Although it is a supporting role I understand he did all his own stunts! Some of the most important events in the film are not overtly shown. You get hints and suggestions from Chucks conversations with Wilson and finally a flashback to make it all clear. It is this degree of writing that along with the excellent performance by Hanks that makes this film stands above not only other films in the genre but also many other modern films.
Veteran Robert Zemeckis directs this film. He has a long list of hits to his credit, Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Contact and Forrest Gump. All these films share something very important in common, great attention to details. With Cast Away this attention is given to such things as the focus on clocks and time, the way the personality of Chuck is presented, not overbearing as this type of character is usually presented but as a real man with a life outside his job. The pacing of the film is passable but did seem to drag in some places. True, there were some moments where Zemeckis keeps the audience very interested. Even though I knew there was going to be a plane crash I was so caught up with the film that I jumped when it did occur. Zemeckis also did not bog the film down with a lot of trivial scenes about the day to day drudgery of surviving. He shows Chuck establishing himself on the island and then cuts to years later as providence makes possible his escape. The lighting is well done here. Every scene is framed and lit to perfection, but aside from this technical excellence there is little that can hold a candle to the imagination he should with Back to the Future or Gump. Ironically, a man that lives by the clock is shown as being without time as a master yet a picture of his girl friend in a pocket watch keeps him going. Zemeckis shows little touches like this but not enough.
The disc is reference quality. In fact, it is better than most systems can relate. The picture is so clear it could not be better if you were actually there. The video is anamorphic 2.35:1. You can see every detail of each frame. Spectacular! The audio is DTS ES seven channel. Even in six-channel mode you will hear the tiniest sound from the crunch of branches under Chucks feet to the background of waves crashing against the shore. The disc is filled with extras to keep you busy for hours. There is a directors and crew running commentary. An interview by Charlie Rose with Tom Hanks. A feature about Wilson, Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra. A feature about survival, storyboards, HBO first look and a feature about the special effects. There is a lot more including a hidden little extra. This film is a most have.