|Haunted Mansion, The|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 20 April 2004|
Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) is a real estate agent who always puts his job first, ahead of his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) and children Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis). Putting a family vacation on hold to meet with the owner of a New Orleans mansion, the Evers clan find themselves drawn into a centuries-old curse that threatens to destroy their family.
Based on the Disneyland theme park attraction of the same name, The Haunted Mansion isn't as cloying as The Country Bears nor is it as effectively thrilling and spooky as Pirates of the Caribbean. Terence Stamp chews scenery as the Hammer Horror Film-esque Ramsley, the butler who is seemingly everywhere. Murphy manages (an enviable feat) to make Jim likeable and sympathetic, rather than annoying, and the kids are cute as buttons. Wallace Shawn, Dina Waters and the ditzy Jennifer Tilly are fun as the good ghosts trying to help Jim break the curse. Unfortunately, Marsha Thompson's Sara is reduced to damsel in distress halfway through, as the movie really belongs to Murphy, Stamp, Davis and Jefferies. Nathaniel Parker, as the tragic Wuthering Heights type Master Gracey, is similarly sidelined after his initial role as red herring. Once the true villain is revealed, the movie simply takes too long to reach its inevitable conclusion. Aside from the pacing, the plot is too convoluted (and, incidentally, ripped off from Dark Shadows). While kids might enjoy the Rick Baker-designed zombies and the subplot regarding Michael's overcoming his fear of spiders, the tone of the movie is so uneven that adults may become restless. The movie has the depth and appeal of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. While the scares might be a bit too much for younger children, older kids should embrace the silliness.
The transfer is crisp and clean, doing a good job of presenting the rich color palette of the movie. Some of the darker scenes do seem a touch murky compared with the brightly lit first act of the film. However, the flesh tones are consistent throughout, and the image is packed with detail. Of particular note are the main title sequence, which is lush and golden in the flashbacks to the ball, and the Evers family's coach ride through the graveyard as they see the assembled ghosts who are trapped by the curse. There is no artefacting. Some slight edge enhancement is visible, but it’s not enough to be distracting.
The 5.1 sound mix really doesn't impress until a third of the way into the movie, when the Evers family starts wandering the spooky haunted mansion during the rainstorm. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout, and the mix makes good use of the directionals. As disembodied crystal ball Madame Leota (Tilly) sends Jim spinning into the air, leading to a chase scene involving a CGI orchestra that give the rears and sides a good workout.
The disc is packed with extras, including two commentary tracks (only one of which is noted on the packaging). The first features lively commentary with Don Hahn (producer), Jay Redd (visual effects supervisor), David Berenbaum (writer) discussing not just the challenges of bringing the attraction to life and the rigorous special effects, but also how the story evolved over the course of pre-production and post-production. The second commentary, however, with director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mona May, feels almost like an afterthought and covers a lot of the same territory as the first. The featurettes included on the disc focus heavily on the special effects, particularly Baker's creature make-up designs, and the effects used to create the ghosts themselves. While the featurettes feature brief interviews with the film’s stars, the extras playing the ghosts in the graveyard scene are showcased in the "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, and the "Zombie School" section of the Behind the Scenes featurette. The outtakes reel is clever and fun, though the "deleted scenes" are skimpy (especially considering--from the gag reel--how much footage was actually cut from the final film) and one wonders why the Ezra and Emma scene was actually cut, as it provides valuable back story, not to mention the first reveal that the mansion staff are, in fact, ghosts. The virtual tour may be fun for kids who might view it more as a game, but can prove tedious for adults and is largely skipable. The Raven music video is strictly for the young singer/actor’s tween fans, and is likewise quite skipable.
For folks nostalgic for the thrills of the theme park ride, the film will no doubt be a trip down memory lane, as so many of the creatures and gags from the ride make their way into the film. Otherwise, it might be fun for the kids but the grown-ups will most likely be bored.