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Mark Pellington
Richard Gere, David Eigenberg, Bob Tracey, Ron Emanuel
Richard Hatem, based on the novel by John A. Keel

What Do You See?
Box Office:
Budget $42 million.
Opening weekend $11.208 million on 2331 screens.
Domestic gross $35.228 million.
Rated PG-13 for terror, some sexuality and language.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $27.96
Release Date: 6/4/2002

• “Half Light” Music Video
• Theatrical Trailer
• Production Notes

Score soundtrack

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The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

At one point during The Mothman Prophecies, our main character travels from Washington, DC to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. He relates that he drove 80 mph the whole way and it should have taken him about six hours to get there. That means the movie posits that Point Pleasant resides more than 400 miles from DC, a concept that seemed wrong to me as I watched it. A lifelong DC-area resident, I didn’t think any part of West Virginia was quite that far from here, though I was incorrect; I checked, and Point Pleasant’s indeed about 417 miles from DC.

I bring this up not because the potential factual gaffe bothered me. Heck, Kate and Leopold presents scads of anachronisms, but they didn’t irritate me. That occurred because I actually enjoyed Kate enough to ignore the errors. In the case of Mothman, however, I felt so bored with the material that I couldn’t help but focus on its possible inaccuracies.

Apparently based on real events, Mothman focuses on the experiences of star Washington Post reported John Klein (Richard Gere). He seems to live a great life, especially because he and wife Mary (Debra Messing) appear to be totally in love with each other. At the start of the film, they purchase their dream house and everything’s great.

However, on the drive back from this event, Mary thinks she sees some funky winged figure and jerks the steering wheel to avoid this specter who John doesn’t observe. As the car spins, she smashes her head against the window. In and of itself, that injury doesn’t cause critical damage to Mary, but during their examinations, the doctors find a rare brain disorder that soon kills her.

Depressed, John tries to go on with his life, but doesn’t do very well. Still, he continues his job at the Post. One night, he needs to head to Richmond to interview the governor of Virginia, a man with presidential aspirations. Mysteriously, however, John detours and winds up far west of Richmond in Point Pleasant, a town that abuts Ohio.

Further weirdness ensues. John traveled this distance in less than two hours. His car conks out for unknown reasons, and he stops at a rural house to ask for help. However, Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton), one of the residents, becomes bizarrely belligerent when he meets John. Gordon claims that John’s been there for the last two nights at precisely the same time.

The local police get involved via officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney), and the mystery starts to unravel. It appears that many Point Pleasant residents have seen a “mothman” creature similar to the one experienced by Mary, and she begins to actively haunt him. Gordon also gets calls from “Indrid Cold”, who appears to be Mothy him/her/itself. Various vague prophecies emerge from Cold, all of which come true, such as the crash of an airplane. John ignores his job to pursue this mystery and find out what Cold wants with him.

That’s all well and good, but what I couldn’t figure out was how a story with such potential turned into something so relentlessly boring. Oh, the filmmakers make desperate attempts to convey a sense of tensions and anxiety. Mothman features lots of spooky music, edgy effects, and creepy photography. Actually, the movie periodically reminds me of Se7en due to these elements.

However, Se7en provided taut storytelling, effective filmmaking techniques, and strong performances, three things virtually absent from Mothman. Often, the film comes across like a particularly pointless and dull episode of The X-Files. We watch the mystery unfold but it never seems to go anywhere. Matters tie up mildly at the end, but not to a satisfying degree. Perhaps some of this results from the alleged factual basis of the material; the matters remain unresolved, so the filmmakers might have preferred to do the same with their version.

However, there is such a thing as creative liberty, and Mothman could use that. I don’t need Mothy to become a big, bad villain ala Jeepers Creepers, a straight horror flick with a winged critter, but some character definition would be nice. Some greater indication what Cold is/was and what spurred all the events also would have helped. As it stands, the movie simply seems random and vague about everything.

Again, that allows it to more closely resemble real life, where we don’t see everything wrapped up neatly. However, this kind of thriller needs a greater sense of linear storytelling to work. With all of the material so loose, it never inspires much tension or scariness. Mothy remains a weird voice on the phone with little threat. He’s kinda spooky at times, but that’s not much onto which one can hang a movie.

It doesn’t help that much of the film seems obvious. Since Linney’s name came before Messing’s in the credits, I knew that meant one thing: the wife must die! Granted, Mothman doesn’t really try to create a romance between John and Connie, but the events definitely point in that direction. I realized there was no way a movie would feature a babe like Linney along with still-hunky Gere and not let the audience believe love was in the air.

The two show little chemistry, and that goes for the rest of the cast as well. Everyone seems vaguely bored, which means I became infected with the same ennui. They try desperately to get involved in the material, but it lacks enough drive and energy to take them anywhere.

Somewhere buried deep within The Mothman Prophecies, the roots of a good movie reside. This isn’t it, unfortunately. Very little about Mothman stands out as particularly terrible, but the entire film fails to deliver the appropriate levels of apprehension and anxiety. Instead, the flick simply plods along for a couple of hours.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus D-

The Mothman Prophecies appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Although a few small problems appeared, usually Mothman presented a very strong picture.

Sharpness generally seemed excellent. A few wide shots displayed very slight softness, but those examples occurred infrequently. Much of the movie remained nicely accurate and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, but I did notice a little very minor edge enhancement at times. Print flaws seemed almost non-existent. Some light grain popped up at times, but I saw no other examples of defects.

Mothman featured a stylized palette. At times, colors became intentionally cold and stark, whereas other times, the hues were made to seem oversaturated and dense. The DVD handled the various gradations well, as the tones always came across as solid and appropriately defined. Black levels seemed deep and dark, while shadow detail was clear and sensibly heavy without excessive thickness. Overall, The Mothman Prophecies provided a satisfying image.

The Mothman Prophecies also offered a positive auditory experience. The film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed fairly heavily oriented toward the front spectrum, but it broadened nicely much of the time. The forward channels showed fine stereo imaging for the score, and they also provided a good sense of general atmosphere. Really, that attitude dominated Mothman. Not many scenes featured direct localization; the bridge collapse worked well in that domain, but it was an exception. Instead, the soundtrack more strongly favored a creepy ambience meant to accentuate the movie’s chills. It didn’t work, but that tone emanated nicely from the surrounds.

Audio quality appeared good. Dialogue always remained natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed bright and vivid, and the score showed solid dynamics and clarity. Effects also came across as accurate and vibrant, and the whole track evidence excellent low-end response at times. When appropriate, the flick demonstrated a very strong bass punch that lacked any boominess or distortion. Ultimately, the mix for The Mothman Prophecies failed to make “A”-level due to its relative lack of multichannel ambition, but the track seemed pleasing nonetheless.

Mothman includes a very sparse roster of extras. We find a music video for “Half Light” by Low with tomandandy featuring Indrid Cold. Created by Mothman director Mark Pellington, the four-minute and 48-second clip ties to the film more closely than most videos in this genre. However, it still uses the tired combination of movie snippets and lip-synched performances by the musicians, so it doesn’t go much of anywhere.

In addition, the DVD includes the movie’s theatrical trailer, which appears in anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. We also find some short but compelling details about the “real-life” mothman in the DVD’s booklet. Although Mothman didn’t do well at the box office, I still felt surprised that Columbia-Tristar created such a basic DVD. Most modern flicks of this sort get more extensive packages.

Not that I’m too disappointed by the lack of supplements, since I can’t say I wanted to spend more time with The Mothman Prophecies. The movie lacks the energy to become genuinely bad. Instead, it simply seems bland and lifeless, as the story bumbles along without much point. The DVD offers very good picture and sound but fails to deliver any substantial extras. If you already know you like Mothman, the DVD should work for you despite its “bare-bones” quality. However, I can’t recommend this dull effort to anyone else.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 21
6 3:
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