|Cast Away (2000)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 05 March 2002|
In fact, it’s probably a good idea to watch "Cast Away" once for the full film experience, then listen to sound designer Randy Thom point out not just big effects like the Chapter 7 plane crash, but tiny details like how a Chapter 4 scene begins with the slap of datebooks striking a surface or the exact pitch of a copy machine. After that, go back and re-hear to the movie with all of Thom’s secrets in mind for an enlightening new audio experience. Director Robert Zemeckis and three other key production members are equally articulate about their own work.
No matter what your other reactions to "Cast Away" are, if you want to see a frightening movie about man vs. ocean, this is the one to pick. Sure, "The Perfect Storm" has the vertical wave and various other terrifying effects going for it, but in "Cast Away," Zemeckis creates such a sense of helpless vulnerability to the elements that some moments of pit-of-the-stomach, visceral dread are almost too scary to watch.
Any movie that can work up so much real emotion at any point has something going for it. In fact, "Cast Away" (nominated for a batch of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor) has a great deal to recomment it, even though it occupies a curious zone between genuine contemplative drama and crowd-pleaser. Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx honcho who’s preoccupied with his job despite his love for fiancée Kelly (Helen Hunt). Work pulls Chuck away from Kelly – and into a plane crash in the Pacific. All alone, Chuck slowly but surely learned how to survive, creating fire without aid of matches, eating fish and sheltering in caves. He is utterly alone for five years, his only "companion" a volleyball he dubs Wilson. Finally, Chuck decides that the risk of death on the open ocean is preferable to eternal isolation.
The hour-plus-long section of the film, during which Chuck is the only person in sight, is pretty daring. Screenwriter William Broyles Jr., director Zemeckis and actor Hanks actually pull this off. First of all, between the first signs of air turbulence in Chapter 6 and Chuck’s eventual arrival on land in Chapter 9, we’ve been through such an ordeal at his side that we feel thoroughly invested in his continued existence. Hanks builds steadily on this goodwill. As a performer, Hanks has the uncommon ability to make what he’s doing involving without making the activity itself appear larger than life, a trick far harder than it sounds. The script (a rare instance in which the lone writing credit indicates that Broyles did indeed craft the screenplay solo, albeit with constant input from Hanks and eventually Zemeckis) creates a logical flow of events, and Zemeckis stages and photographs Chuck’s survival chores dramatically, but Hanks’ humanizing touch is essential.
The film’s concluding section clearly strikes the intended notes for many viewers. Others, however, may feel that the shift in tone and the specific events depicted tend to undercut the impact of what has come before. There’s an argument to be made that, if the finale is the ultimate point of "Cast Away," it should have been afforded more screen time; conversely, if it is simply a part of the whole, it lingers longer than required to deliver its message.
Sound, as stated above, is superb. The plane crash (which essentially runs from Chapters 6-8) gives us objects, frigid air and water coming at us from all directions in increments, enveloping us in the environment so that at all times, we have a sense of the aircraft around us. For example, check out the package hurtling across the cabin in Chapter 7 – you may think your viewing room is tilting with the plane. When Chuck is adrift on the ocean in Chapters 23-25, the quality and volume of waves – lapping, towering and everything in between – is so precisely calibrated that we are sonically cued to know the raft’s placement, not only behind or ahead of the breakers, but also above or below. It’s powerful, expert use of surround technology.
"Cast Away" sometimes uses humor to lighten Chuck’s mood and our own. We may wonder whether it’s appropriate, but the character’s suffering needs leavening if it is to be watchable at such length. For some, the movie will be intensely meaningful, while others will be intrigued but find themselves worn down by the denouement. The film is plausible and, without coming across as heavy-handed, extends an irresistible temptation to viewers to ask ourselves how we’d fare in similar straits. This in itself is a laudable accomplishment, one that makes "Cast Away" worthwhile. The DVD supplement, meanwhile, features an audio artist talking about his craft and at length, which makes this an important item for anyone with a sincere interest in feature-film audio.