Damn you, Hannibal Lecter, damn you! After 'The Silence of the Lambs' earned wads of cash at the box office and took home five Oscars (including Best Picture, a first for a horror film), a virtual smorgasbord of similar serial killer-themed movies invariably followed in its wake. Since Hollywood doesn't so much create as imitate, the market was quickly flooded with a seemingly unending succession of movies that featured an A-list star on the hunt for a demented madman, usually one with a proclivity for torturing and murdering young females in various stages of undress, and each with an M.O. even grislier than the last. While a few of these "inspired by" formulaic thrillers were good (most notably David Fincher's superior 'Se7en'), most ranged from the merely pedestrian ('Copycat,' 'Taking Lives,' 'Murder by Numbers') to the godawful ('Suspect Zero,' 'The Watcher,' 'Hannibal'). Sadly, during the majority of '90s cinema, it was far more common to see a nubile, bloodied young female cringing at the bottom of a well than it was to see two people fall in love.
Universal's big entry into the serial killer sweepstakes was 'The Bone Collector,' a film that is neither the best nor the worst of the post-'Lambs' knock-offs. The plot is standard-issue madman-on-the-loose fare. Denzel Washington plays Lincoln Rhyme, a Quadriplegic ex-forensics expert(!!!) who, with the help of his kindly live-in nurse (Queen Latifah) is planning his own suicide rather than live out his life in confinement. But Rhymes' life is turned upside-down when he learns that a serial killer is on the loose, abducting people by taxi and torturing them in particularly sadistic ways. With time counting down between each abduction and his own "transition" looming, Rhyme recruits rookie cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) to the case. But Amelia is haunted by her cop father's recent suicide and is reluctant to get involved. That is until the killer targets her as his next victim, leaving Amelia no choice but to stop the evildoer -- and maybe even save Rhyme in the process.
Upon second viewing, is funny how dated 'The Bone Collector' now seems. Though released only seven years ago, it is about as scary as an episode of 'CSI.' Perhaps that is in part because television has largely usurped the serial killer movie, by way of the legion of grisly police procedurals that currently comprises about half of the major networks' primetime schedules. But 'The Bone Collector' also felt so passe to me because it brings nothing new to the dinner table. Despite the obvious talent involved, watching the flick is like marking off a checklist of hoary genre conventions and woefully predictable plot twists. There's pouty Jolie, playing a second-rate, daddy-damaged Clarice Starling. (Check!) There's Denzel strapped to a bed like the fairy godfather version of Hannibal Lecter, only he doesn't like to eat people. (Check!) Add to that the usual ineffectual police force (check!), the kindly assistant (Latifah) who you just know is gonna get it (check!), and of course the film's real raison d'etre, its gimmicky gory serial killings -- but then the title already tells you all you need to know about the killer's M.O., so there is no surprise (check!) So what are we left with to feast on in 'The Bone Collector?' Well, how about a malnourished menu of predictable cliches, lackluster plotting and a final reveal that is about as enticing a dessert as a flat souffle? Check please!
Still, 'The Bone Collector' is not completely unappetizing. I still enjoy serial killer flicks, even those with lousy whodunits, and at least this one benefits from moody atmosphere, competent direction by Philip ('Dead Calm') Noyce and a great cast. If nothing else, it is interesting in hindsight to watch Denzel and Jolie together -- it was clear even back in 1999 that she had the makings of a star, and Washington seems to enjoy playing off her considerable intensity. Of course, it is rather odd to stick your leading man in bed for the whole movie, but then this movie is stuck, too -- in conventional mode. Even though Denzel as a Quadriplegic was obviously just a setup for the intended nail-biting climax, at least such a contrivance was halfway inspired and might have produced an appropriate 'Rear Window'-esque, Hitchcockian big finish. Sadly, it only serves instead as fitting analogy for 'The Bone Collector' as a whole -- here is one movie so stuck in its own rigid conventions it makes cinematic euthanasia seem like a good idea.
Universal presents 'The Bone Collector' in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p video, and the results are a bit dated, just like the movie itself. Though I have no proof, I wouldn't be surprised if this new HD DVD transfer was minted from the same master used for the DVD released back in 2000. Not that it looks bad mind you -- rather, it has moments that are quite good -- but it still looks a little less impressive than most of the recent HD DVD titles I've reviewed.
The source material certainly looks nice, with a clean print free of any noticeable blemishes or defects. There is also a surprising lack of grain for a film this dark and sinister. Blacks are also very rich and contrast consistent across the entire grayscale, which delivers above-average shadow delineation. However, though this transfer does boast considerable detail, it still feels a bit flat in terms of depth and sharpness, with some moments noticeably two-dimensional. I also thought color reproduction was weak. Hues do possess a fair amount of pop and appear consistent in their saturation, but are still less vibrant than the best transfers I've seen. Fleshtones also veer towards the reds, giving Angelina a bit of a pig face at times.
I was also disappointed to see what looked noise in many scenes. For example, there's a moment about mid-way through the film when Jolie stops an oncoming train by flagging it down, and I detected some blockiness on her face that was obvious and distracting. I also noticed that flat, solid-colored backgrounds suffered the worse from an artificial and fuzzy look. Granted, 'The Bone Collector' still looks good, and this transfer does have some of those "great high-def moments," but I don't think this is the best example of what the HD DVD format has to offer.
Getting the Dolby Digital-Plus treatment on HD DVD, 'The Bone Collector' sounds pretty good, if nothing more. Like the transfer it is not a stunner, but delivers enough atmosphere and envelopment to serve the film's subject matter well enough. (Note that Universal has also included the DTS 5.1 mix available on the standard DVD release, though as is usually the case, I again preferred the Dolby Digital-Plus track.)
Fairly aggressive for a mix now seven years old, 'The Bone Collector' boasts some instances of effective surround activity. There are many outdoor and nighttime scenes in the movie, and for the majority of them the film's sound designers seem to make an admirable effort to pump up the rear channels. A few nice instances of atmospheric sounds heighten the drama, specifically the early scenes of Jolie lurking around the dank subway systems for clues. However, during the chase sequences the surrounds often feel gimmicky, with sudden loud bursts of sounds that distract from rather than enhance the action. I also was annoyed by the poor balance between dialogue and effects -- I frequently had to adjust my volume knob just to hear what people were saying during the quieter scenes. Otherwise, dynamic range is commendable, with a full-bodied and natural sound to the mix and solid low-bass extension. Again, this one is no great shakes, but a perfectly decent soundtrack nonetheless.
I'm sure the batch of extras Universal produced for 'The Bone Collector' DVD back in 2000 seemed quite substantial at the time, but now they feel pretty substandard. Largely promotional in nature, there is nothing much here you'll likely give more than a cursory glance.
The only truly worthwhile supplement is the audio commentary by director Philip Noyce. A very engaging, humble guy, Noyce does a good job of filling us in on most aspects of the film's production. He is very congratulatory towards his cast (which for once doesn't feel fake, as we are talking about Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, after all), and he also applauds the screenwriters for creating such an "ingenious" thriller. Unfortunately, I have to disagree, but I can't fault Noyce's enthusiasm. He also lets us in on some fairly entertaining production stories, as well as point out some of the film's inventive uses of CGI that blend in seamlessly in with the film's production design. All in all, a perfectly fine commentary, though it is hard to imagine anyone actually listening to it.
The only other major extra is the 24-minute "Spotlight on Location: 'The Bone Collector.'" This now-infamous line of Universal in-house EPK featurettes were always pretty funny, because they were so rah-rah and prepackaged it was hard to take them seriously. 'The Bone Collector' is no exception, as no one appears to have seen 'The Silence of the Lambs,' nor seems to realize that every plot turn in the script is easy to spot a mile away. Ah, the innocent '90s!
Last but not least is the film's theatrical trailer, which would normally be nothing noteworthy. But as Universal is only now finally starting to include them on their HD DVD releases, it is cause for much glee and confetti.
I must admit to finding Universal's choice of 'The Bone Collector' for an early HD DVD release a perplexing one. It was not a huge box office hit, and the studio must have other, better thrillers in their libraries more deserving of the high-def treatment. Regardless, this is a fairly okay release -- the transfer and soundtrack both feel a bit dated, and the extras are standard-issue stuff. I'd say only diehard fans of serial killer movies and Angelina Jolie need to pick this one up.