Open Water
R4 - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (20th June 2005).
The Film

I donít really get the scary shark thing. I saw Jaws and yeah, I jumped in my seat. It didnít stop me swimming though. I imagine that if I was surrounded by sharks and, obviously, in the water I wouldnít exactly feel comfortable. But still, as the opening credits for Open Water rolled, I suspected that my complete apathy towards the shark attack scenario would inhibit my ability to review this film in an empathetic way. I am glad to say, my fellow film buffs that nothing could be further from the truth.
Open Water was the brainchild of Director Chris Kentis and his wife Laura Lau. With a total production cost of US$130,000 this couple has managed to create a remarkably captivating low budget film. The filmmaking couple are both diving enthusiasts and I felt that this allowed them to provide an attention to detail that gave "Open Water" a more gritty and realistic edge.
The film was shot over many weekends and holidays and completely financed by the husband and wife filmmaking team. In order to keep production costs low and turnover of footage high the crew really only consisted of Kentis and Lau. Open Water made its debut at the 2003 Hamptons International Film Festival but the buzz didnít start until it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival the following year. The film created such a stir several studios were interested in picking it up and was eventually sold to Lionís Gate for a cool $2.5 million and was the fastest sale for any film in the Festivalís history.
The film begins with a well off American couple, Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis), rushing from their white washed suburban home and busy on-the-go careers to an ill-fated get away in the Caribbean. One unfortunate boat trip later they find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean, huddling alone in the boundless blue. Also there are sharks.
The true strength of this film lies not in the plot (because letís face it, its fairly simple here folks) but, as in all good films, in the interactions between the characters. Ryan and Travis display a solid emotional range throughout their ordeal, their frustration, anger and terror is both evocative and when threaded with a sterling soundtrack creates a gripping atmosphere. Considering the filmís short runtime (just over 76 minutes) the majority of the filmís action is obviously spent in the water, hence the title with the two stars and I was pleased that there was hardly a dull moment. The film managed to keep a tight pace without boring or losing the viewer. A major flaw with the film was that the characters were too generic, this meant that while the couple were easy to relate to I came away feeling I had never really gotten to know them. I also found that some of the dialogue was at times well a little too juvenile to be coming out of grown adults, this was mainly limited to their arguments blaming each other for the predicament theyíre in. The two stars where able to at least make it tolerable and pass quickly so as not to be cringe inducing. In the filmís first act there was a rather unnecessary scene in the hotel room which had Ryan nude, the scene feels like it only exits for the purpose of simply showing some T&A, this scene really adds nothing to filmís narrative or to the development of the characters at all, but I'm sure there won't be any complaints from horny viewers because...well Blanchard Ryan isn't exactly ugly.
In summation, A few gripes aside Open Water is a thrilling piece of indie-cinema. Itís tension packed and solid on score and casting but weak on cinematography whilst the script was bland but not lacking. Ití worth seeing perhaps more so if you dig scary fish movies.
P.S: Those of you who got motion sickness while watching The Blair Witch Project should NOT watch this movie.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, this anamorphic transfer is far from perfect for a recent film such as this. However keep in mind that the entire film was shot on DV cameras on a shoestring budget. Viewing the film it become obvious quite early on that it was shot digitally as many shots lack the depth of field attained on film. The majority of the image is rather flat but this is not the fault of the transfer but rather the equipment used to shoot the film.
As I stated before the film transfer is not the best, first of all for a digital image itís not as sharp as Iíd like it to be, there are a few of occasions were the image looses detail. Colours are rather understated, aside from the scenes in the hotel room the yellows and gold colour scheme of the room comes out very well. However black levels and shadow detail demonstrate visible low level noise almost throughout, additional problems also include aliasing as well as blocking or pixelization of the image occurs once in a while.
I gather the transfer was created from the theatrical print source rather than the filmís original digital image. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to do a transfer straight from the original source. All problems aside itís still watch able and not entirely distracting.

Audio

Two audio tracks accompany the film in the form of English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its 5.1 soundtrack.
The film itself was shot with a very small budget, but when it came time to mix the sound Lionís Gate Films (Who bought the film for US distribution) paid for a nice overhaul. The film is predominantly dialogue based so it is very important that every word can be heard clearly, and the DVD does not fail here for the most part it is clear and distortion free. The majority of the 5.1 sound spaces are used to set the mood and atmosphere so directional wind and water surrounds are thrown into the mix with nice effect. The filmís score is also well represented here.
Sadly this film does not include any subtitles.

Extras

The first of two audio commentaries features the filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. The screen-specific commentary covers a wide range of topics from the filmís origins having been based on a true story that Chris read about in a diving magazine and covering the filmís casting choices in Blanchard and Daniel. The commentary is very informative and quite entertaining to listen to, the two participants keep a steady pace throughout the filmís runtime without any sizeable gaps of silence and thatís always a good thing.

The second audio commentary on this disc features the filmís stars Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis. Much like the filmmakerís commentary Ryan and Travis manage to also keep their comments a screen-specific as possible, they discuss the challenges of making this film as well as having to get their diving certificates. Overall the two seem to have enjoyed making the film, despite Ryan being bit by a barracuda during filming and having to be in the water the whole time with real sharks swimming around them.

The first of the four featurettes is entitled Attacking The Shark Myth - Shark Conservation and runs for 10 minutes 27 seconds. Here we have shark experts putting some popular myths and legends about sharks and shark attacks to rest, as well as comment on the realism and attention to detail that Open Water demonstrates about sharkís behaviour. Overall itís a very informative piece that could have been expanded into a longer piece as I felt it was over rather quickly.

The second featurette we have is the making of the film entitled Calm Before The Storm and runs for 15 minutes 50 seconds. This is your standard EPK style featurette with the principles discussing the process they went through making the film as well as its origins and the original article that inspired Kentis to write the script.

Next up is The Indies Essentials: A Filmmakers Guide to Gearing Up for a Profitable Movie featurette runs for 5 minutes 3 seconds and features interviews with some executives from Lionís Gate and discuss what they look for at Festivals and the process of releasing the film into the market.

Finally we also have Open Water Survival Guide: Lessons From Dive Professionals which runs for 8 minutes 15 seconds and is an interesting look at the techniques that divers use to ensure safety in the water as well as various equipment available to divers if they find themselves left behind like the characters in the film.

Also featured on the disc are six deleted scenes that include an alternate opening. The scenes can be viewed separately or with a Play All function:
- "Alternate Opening" (with Music), running at 2 minutes, and just as the title suggests this is an alternate opening showing the diving gear washing up onto shore at the beginning foreshadowing what would come later in the film.
- "We Really Need A Vacation" runs at 1 minute 34 seconds and is a scene in the hotel room where Susan has been on the phone for an hour, they have a little argument that ends in laughter.
- "Into The Sunset" runs for 1 minute 9 seconds and features the two walking along the beach discussing the possibility of an island wedding.
- "Eye Contact" runs for 36 seconds and is a scene with Susan and Daniel in bed together.
- "The Morning of the Dive" runs for 2 minutes 6 seconds and features the two packing their dive bags before the outing.
- "Susan's Not Responding" runs for 21 seconds and features the two in the water as Susan passes out.

Rounding off the extras are the filmís original theatrical teaser and theatrical trailer.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: C- Audio: A Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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