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Geoffrey Sax
Michael Keaton, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Sarah Strange, Nicholas Elia, Mike Dopud
Writing Credits:
Niall Johnson

The dead are trying to get a hold of you.

The year’s most disturbing thriller explores the unsettling possibility that the dead can contact us … all we have to do is listen.

When architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) loses his wife in a tragic accident, he turns to the shadowy, unnerving world of Electronic Voice Phenomenon - communication from beyond the grave. But as he begins to penetrate the mysteries of EVP, Jonathan makes a shocking discovery: once a portal to the other world is opened, there’s no telling what will come through it.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$24.113 million on 2261 screens.
Domestic Gross
$55.865 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 5/17/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Geoffrey Sax and Actor Michael Keaton
• “Making Contact: EVP Experts” Featurette
• “Recording the Afterlife at Home” Featurette
• “Hearing is Believing: Actual EVP Sessions” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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White Noise (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 6, 2005)

After firmly residing in the “whatever happened to…” file for quite some time, former comedian and Batman Michael Keaton resurfaces in an unlikely project: a supernatural thriller called White Noise. The one-time caped crusader plays Jonathan Rivers, architect, husband to newly-pregnant author Anna (Chandra West) and father to son Mike (Nicholas Elia). He worries when Anna doesn’t return from a girls night out - and with good reason, as she soon goes missing.

Weeks pass with no clues or signs of Anna, and a depressed John tries to deal with his probable loss. Matters turn odd when Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) tells John that Anna’s dead and has been sending him messages from the “other side”. John discards Raymond as a nut, though he was right on at least one account, as Anna eventually turns up dead.

Six months later, John continues to deal with his pain, and he decides to move to a new house to get away from those painful reminders of Anna. That becomes tougher when he gets calls identified as being from “Anna’s cell” and also some crackly phone messages. Much of this occurs when the clock strikes 2:30, a time that demonstrates continued significance throughout the movie.

Eventually this leads John back to chat with Raymond, through whom he meets Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger), another client of Price’s who tries to contact her dead fiancé. Raymond introduces John to the concept of Electric Voice Phenomenon (EVP), which the movie’s opening crawl refers to as “the recording of voices and images of the dead, using detuned receiving apparatus.” Raymond claims he can facilitate this and help John hear from Anna.

As one might expect, John remains skeptical, but he comes to embrace the method and starts to listen to fuzzy recordings all the time. Soon he discovers Anna’s not alone out there, as the airwaves include snippets from nastier forces as well. The rest of the film balances John’s obsession with contacting Anna and the threats from the darker spirits.

Sometimes I think filmmakers can’t win. If they create flicks that stick strongly within the parameters of one genre, critics lambaste them for a lack of creativity and variation. Look at all the one-dimensional horror movies out there and how generic so many of them seem. On the other hand, when filmmakers attempt to vary their stories and incorporate elements of different genres, critics accuse them of not knowing what kind of flick they wanted to make.

That’s my main problem with White Noise: it flits from one genre to another without much thought, and it never seems to know what it wants to be. Admittedly, I do admire it for not becoming mired in one realm, so I feel a little bad that its lack of focus bothers me. However, my concerns don’t occur because I think all films should neatly fit into one box or another. Good flicks can span a mix of genres and do so effortlessly; ideally, you never notice how wide a net such movies cast.

In the hands of lesser filmmakers, however, movies that span many genres usually end up as messy and incoherent. That’s what happens with Noise. It sporadically delivers some enjoyment, but it can’t concentrate its attention on one area long enough to maintain our interest.

Promotional materials clearly tout Noise as a supernatural thriller with horror elements, and it does touch on those realms. They become especially prominent as the movie progresses, though they never quite dominate. The picture starts as a sappy effort that almost falls into the Lifetime chick flick domain before it eventually morphs into its attempted scares, though it occasionally returns to its drippy and weepy roots. Half the time you’ll think Noise is an essay on overcoming grief, and the other time you’ll think it’s a remake of Poltergeist.

Actually, it’s incorrect to use “half” to describe the elements, since Noise packs in other bits like a murder mystery as well. At its best, the movie provides decent tension, and it does usually keep us guessing. It telegraphs most of its jolts but it often ensures that we’re not totally sure where the story will go. I think some of that results from cheats - this isn’t a concise narrative, and it resorts to left field shifts to surprise us - but at least this means it never becomes boring.

Unfortunately, it never turns into anything terribly satisfying either. Noise dabbles in many genres but fails to succeed at any of them. This seems unfortunate since the story offers an unusual take on the supernatural. Yeah, it does borrow from Poltergeist, but I can’t call Noise a rip-off since it twists things quite a bit. The idea of EVP is pretty fresh, and it appears ripe for an effective movie.

Too bad that White Noise isn’t that film. Don’t get me wrong: the flick has some pleasures and maintains your attention for its 98 minutes. It just never goes any farther than that. With a more concise focus, it may have worked better, but as it stands, the messy narrative dooms it to mediocrity.

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

White Noise 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 the transfer of Noise didn’t attain greatness, it proved consistently satisfying.

Across the board, sharpness seemed good. Occasionally the film looked ever so slightly soft, but those examples were infrequent, and they almost made artistic sense for this kind of ethereal thriller. In any case, the flick usually appeared tight and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occur, and only light edge enhancement was present. I noticed no signs of any source flaws during this clean transfer.

Moody thrillers come with moody palettes, and Noise stayed in that realm. The colors were consistently subdued and tended toward the gray side of things. This was by design, and the tones were perfectly satisfying given the film’s stylistic constraints. Black levels were nicely deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated appropriate levels of density and clarity. Overall, I found the image to work quite well,

Similar thoughts greeted the solid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of White Noise. As a supernatural thriller, quite a few good moments appeared, although much of the movie concentrated on creepy ambience. The audio provided those moments to good effect, as the various spooky elements swept all around the room. Louder bits proved just as compelling. The flick’s scare segments created a good feel for the eerie side of things and made those parts more effective. Music also demonstrated nice stereo imaging, and the package left us with a strong sense of environment.

Across the board, the flick demonstrated good audio quality. Speech always sounded natural and crisp, with no edginess or problems connected to intelligibility. Music seemed robust and dynamic, as the score was well-recorded and full. Effects showed nice definition and life. They came across as concise and kicked into higher gear when necessary. I didn’t think Noise had the auditory impact to jump to “A” level, but it fared nicely.

When we head to the extras, we start with an audio commentary from director Geoffrey Sax and actor Michael Keaton. Via the magic of technology, both watched the movie together and offered a running, screen-specific discussion although they sat in different locations. Note that scheduling conflicts required Keaton to depart around the 75-minute mark.

Not that his exit mattered much in this fairly dull track. Mostly we hear about locations and how well the final product turned out, though the pair also tell us a little about story concerns, visual effects and approaches to characters. The latter area creates the commentary’s only lively moments, especially when Keaton starts to reveal some of his acting methods. Keaton also occasionally criticizes his own performance and tells us what he wishes he'd done differently. Unfortunately, to find these good moments, we suffer through lots of banality and dead air. The commentary reveals too little to make it a worthwhile listen.

Five Deleted Scenes last a total of nine minutes and 36 seconds. Mostly they offer minor filler moments, though we also get some slightly graphic content cut to retain the film’s “PG-13” rating. Nothing particularly compelling appears here. We can watch the segments with or without commentary from Sax. He presents terse but useful remarks that let us know why the different bits got the boot.

Three separate featurettes look at the concept of Electric Voice Phenomenon. Making Contact: EVP Experts runs eight minutes and 42 seconds as it presents archival materials and remarks from AA-EVP co-directors Tom and Lisa Butler, Instrumental Transcommunication Journal founder Dr. Anabela Cardosa, paranormal investigators Claire Andrea Zammit and Dennis William Hauck, AA-EVP founder Sarah Estep, Bridge to the Afterlife founder Martha Copeland, and AA-EVP members Karen Mossey and Judy Quillen. They tell us about EVP and offer their opinions - and defenses - of it. None of this serves to satisfy a skeptic or sell things very well, as the featurette mostly feels like a one-sided infomercial.

Next we see the four-minute and 27-second Recording the Afterlife at Home. It presents remarks from Tom and Lisa Butler as they teach us how to make our own EVP tapes. I have no idea how many viewers will actually attempt this, but it’s kind of a neat little tutorial if you want to give it a shot.

Lastly, Hearing is Believing: Actual EVP Sessions goes for 14 minutes and 33 seconds. This piece includes notes from the Butlers again along with supernatural expert Neil Tobin and Dexter Grey, the owner of an alleged haunted castle. The Butlers talk about their work and we see them investigate a couple of locations. After that we check out the results.

Why do I get the feeling that people like the Butlers used to run every Beatles record backwards to prove that Paul was dead? “Believing” and the other featurettes give us a decent look at the whole EVP thing, but they suffer from their radically one-sided nature. I’d like something with a more critical eye that provides arguments from folks who aren’t true believers. Nothing in “Believing” does anything to convince the skeptics.

Noise starts with a few ads. We get clips for Assault on Precinct 13, Casino and Northern Exposure.

A drab thriller, White Noise fails to live up to its potential. It enjoys a cool concept but can’t decide what kind of film it wants to be, and this robs it of coherence and punch. The DVD offers very good picture and audio along with a decent but lackluster roster of extras. The bland audio commentary comes as a particular disappointment. The same goes for the movie itself, as it could have been something special.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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