Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Bless the Child: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Paramount Pictures - Mankind's Last Hope Just Turned Six

In the tradition of The Sixth Sense and The Omen comes this riveting supernatural thriller filled with spine-tingling chills and white-knuckle suspense.

Academy Award Winner Kim Basinger stars as Maggie O'Connor, a single woman whose life revolves around her career as a nurse - until the surprise appearance of her sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) and Jenna's newborn baby girl, Cody. When Jenna suddenly disappears, Maggie is left to raise Cody (Holliston Coleman), an austic child, by herself. But after Jenna returns with a mysterious cult leader (Rufus Sewell) and abducts Cody, Maggie discovers that the child possesses extraordinary powers, powers that forces of evil have waited centuries to control.

Together with a FBI specialist in occult-related crimes (Jimmy Smits), Maggie races to save the life of the innocent girl who may hold the key to save mankind, or destroy it. Costarring Christina Ricci and Ian Holm, Bless The Child is a thrilling offering for film fans.

Director: Chuck Russell
Cast: Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell, Ian Holm, Angela Bettis, Christina Ricci, Yan Birch, Lumi Cavazos, Holliston Coleman
Box Office: Budget: $40 million. Opening Weekend: $9.413 million. Gross: $29.374 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 10 chapters; rated R; 107 min.; $29.99; street date 2/13/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director Chuck Russell and Effects Supervisor Joel Hynek; 10-minute Cast and Crew Interviews "A Look Inside".
Purchase: DVD | Novel - Cathy Cash Spellman | Score soundtrack - Christopher Young

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/C+

Call this one The Seventh Sense, I guess. While Bless the Child doesnít overtly rip off 1999ís smash hit The Sixth Sense, it bears enough similarities to be kissing cousins.

Actually, this comparison may be somewhat unfair, as the main relation between the two stems from their young protagonists, both of whom possess supernatural gifts. The connection simply seems most logical because of the success of TSS; for the next few years, any movie that features a young star with unusual powers will naturally be compared to TSS.

Probably a closer link exists between BTC and 1976ís The Omen. Though the two films view different sides of the coin - The Omen had an evil kid, whereas BTCís is a force for good - they both follow similar plots and have work along largely the same paths.

I didnít much care for The Omen, and frankly BTC did little for me either, but my disaffection for the two films had nothing to do with the young protagonists. In the case of BTC, I found the film to be a moderately compelling battle between good and evil but I generally felt a strong case of ďbeen there, done thatĒ; it bears a strong resemblance to the movies already mentioned and other efforts like 1999ís End of Days.

BTC focuses on nurse Maggie OíConnor (Kim Basinger). Her life is interrupted when her trouble sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) suddenly appears on the scene with her infant daughter Cody. Jenna quickly hits the road, which leaves Maggie in charge of the little girl. She takes her in as her own and loves the child despite Codyís apparent autism. We quickly learn that Cody (played by Holliston Coleman as a six-year-old, the age that dominates the film) has some special gifts. A devil-related tale ensues as a cult leader named Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) tries to use Cody for his own ends.

Frankly, the plot is more or less just some confused mumbo-jumbo, and the film progresses along a somewhat muddled path. It can never quite decide if it wants to be a supernatural thriller or a detective story, though itís clearly oriented more firmly toward the former; the film gets into a series of murders of six-year-olds, but the identities of the culprits never seems less than obvious as FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) works on the case.

As such, BTC lives and dies on how creepy and spooky it can be. Unfortunately, it never gets more than moderately effective, and the various flaws are too substantial to overcome. On the positive side, Sewell makes for a fairly nasty villain. Heís vaguely handsome but still odd-looking, and his bug-eyed appearance creates a sense of unease that allows him to unsettle the audience.

We also see a little of Christina Ricci as a former cult member. Too little, really, since Ricci is a very compelling actress and she makes her few scenes much better than they should have been. Why a fairly prominent performer like Ricci is slumming in this drab production seems mysterious, especially since itís such a small part. Maybe she owed someone a favor.

After that, the highlights essentially evaporate. Basinger offers a wan and uninteresting presence as Maggie. I never thought she was much of an actress anyway, and she does little to change my mind here. She always seems vaguely weepy, but not in a way that engenders any compassion; instead, I feel as though she needs someone to shake her to life. In BTC, she offers a flat portrayal of a dull character.

Director Chuck Russell showed potential once upon a time. He made arguably the best film in the A Nightmare On Elm Street series with their third one, 1987ís ANOES: Dream Warriors, and he led what remains probably Jim Carreyís most satisfying film via 1994ís The Mask. Since then, however, heís only created one additional flick: 1996ís disappointing Schwarzenegger project Eraser.

Bless the Child did nothing to return Russell to prominence, and thatís for good reason. The film provides a flashy enough visual experience but it fails to ignite much interest; itís an attractive movie but the flair doesnít add to up to anything useful. Granted, Russell is undercut by some terrible computer-generated effects that occasionally make the movie look bad; from time to time, we see some fake rats that are almost absurdly unrealistic.

Ultimately, Bless the Child is a thriller that doesnít thrill. Admittedly, I found the result to be acceptably watchable, as the movie isnít a total disaster. However, itís a weak entry in the supernatural field. There are many other similar films out there that provide more entertaining and compelling experiences.

The DVD:

Bless the Child appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not without flaws, the movie largely looked terrific.

Sharpness seemed consistently excellent. At all times the film appeared crisp and well-defined, with virtually no instances of soft or hazy images. Some moirť effects and jagged edges pop up from time to time, however. Print flaws appeared in the form of a few speckles and bits of black grit, but these were very minor; for the most part, the movie looked fresh and clean.

Colors appeared nicely natural and accurate throughout the film. The hues were clearly saturated without any bleeding, noise or other concerns, and they seemed to accurately replicate the material. Black levels appeared deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately thick but never excessively heavy. All in all, Bless the Child presented a very solid picture.

Also positive was the filmís Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The mix largely favored the forward soundstage, but not to the exclusion of positive ambiance from the rear. The front speakers displayed a nice range of sounds. I mainly heard the stereo, which offered good stereo separation, but a lot of effects came from the front as well, and these blended together cleanly to create a realistic atmosphere. The surrounds kicked in with good support, mainly in the form of music and general ambiance, but they also provided some serious punch when appropriate, such as during thunderstorms and other louder events.

Audio quality appeared strong. Dialogue always sounded natural and distinct with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic and could offer a nice punch when appropriate, such as during those storms I previously mentioned. Music sounded bright and clear, and the track boasted fairly solid low end; I didnít detect much truly deep bass, but the lower register still worked nicely throughout the film. Ultimately, the soundtrack to Bless the Child provided a satisfying auditory experience.

Bless the Child tosses in a few supplements, starting with an audio commentary from director Chuck Russell and visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek. The two men were recorded together for this screen-specific track. Although Hynek occasionally offers some information about his topic of expertise, the commentary is strongly dominated by Russell, who provides a nicely broad and engaging discussion of the material.

Russell touches on a variety of topics. He talks about technical aspects of making the film - which are the times when Hynek is most likely to speak - but he also relates his thoughts about supernatural subjects and their depiction on film. Russell even occasionally discusses other movies from his career such as The Mask and A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Overall, itís a chatty and informative commentary that consistently maintained my interest.

In addition to the filmís theatrical trailer, we get a collection of interviews titled ďBTC: A Look InsideĒ. This nine-minute and 40-second program includes participation from director Russell, producer Mace Neufeld, and actors Basinger, Smits, Ricci and Sewell. The vast majority of the comments fall into the ďwhat a great experience!Ē category as each person praises everything else. I obtained virtually no useful information from these snippets and found them to be fairly tedious.

Since the movie itself isnít much more interesting, I suppose thatís appropriate. Bless the Child isnít a terrible film, but itís a largely derivative and lackluster thriller that adds little to the genre. The DVD provides fine picture and sound plus a good audio commentary. If youíre desperate for a new supernatural thriller, Bless the Child may work for you, but otherwise it should be avoided.

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