The Box [Blu-ray] (2009)

Actors: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne
Directors: Richard Kelly
Format: Color, Widescreen, Subtitled
Language: French (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 2
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: February 23, 2010
Run Time: 115 minutes



The Box certainly sounded like a good idea at the time . . .

Here is a movie that (a) was directed by a talented and idiosyncratic newcomer, namely Richard Kelly who made a splash with the cult Donnie Darko hit; and (b) is based on a bona fide science fiction story by I Am Legend scribe Richard Matheson.

Add to this an evocative mid-1970s setting centred on a real historical event (the Viking probe landing on Mars) along with literary quotes by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur C. Clarke. Heck, the movie even has input by long-time Clarke collaborator Gentry Lee, who actually makes a cameo appearance in the film!

Besides, the film is centred around a crackerjack moral dilemma: would you accept a million dollars (back in 1976 this was still a shit load of money!) if you knew taking it will lead to a complete stranger's death, but with no consequences to your own actions?

This is the moral dilemma facing the thirtysomething couple played by James Marsden (X-Men) and Cameron Diaz in The Box.

Audiences weren't however as keen on this particular moral dilemma as they were on the one in Indecent Proposal back in 1993. (?Would you sleep with Robert Redford for one million dollars?? Heck, back then most women would do it for free! Don't know about nowadays though . . .)

Audiences stayed away in droves and The Box wound up being one of last year's biggest financial flops, the sort that destroys careers, particularly in the case of young director Kelly who already has an unmitigated disaster (Southland Tales) on his CV.

The movie's biggest problem is that it takes what is the neat premise behind a six-page short story and tries to expand upon it to fill up a 116 minute-long feature film. The Box tries to stretch out the material by trying to answer the obvious question, "who would go around spending one million dollars per shot on behaviour psychology experiments?"

[PLOT SPOILERS!] Well, aliens of course! All of which makes The Box an extended version of those old Star Trek episodes in which superior alien entities try to figure out whether humanity is worth saving or not - can people be altruistic and self-sacrificing, or are we just a bunch of jerks who are trying to screw one another over as Ripley maintained in Aliens? Why bother rigging up elaborate experiments if all you need to do is check out the daily newspapers to find an answer to that question? (In that case, the aliens would probably be nuking us from orbit or whatever in no time then!) [END SPOILERS!]

THE DISC: Now you can experience some of the most hideous 'Seventies wallpaper known to man in 1080p 16x9 high definition - yay!

Seriously though, The Box's production designers seem to have OD'ed on James Lileks' coffee table book from hell, Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s, before starting work on this film!

The various featurettes are on the short and dry side. Director Kelly's commentary is however worth sitting through in its entirety, especially if you didn't follow a word of what was going on in the movie itself. Kelly explains all. He also explains in detail how he mixed real-life autobiographical details into the movie (the onscreen couple are in fact heavily inspired by his own parents).

WORTH IT? Unfortunately director Kelly couldn't repeat his early Donnie Darko success with The Box. The film lacks any of the brooding menace and suspense that made Darko so memorable. Maybe the success lay in Michael Andrews? haunting score for that movie, who knows?

But The Box is too simplistic on the one hand and too muddled on the other.

Towards the end the various plot strands simply fall apart and one gets the idea that Kelly is simply trying to be weird for weirdness' sake. (This is however not the case. On his director's commentary he lucidly explains the plot logic behind onscreen events. Pity one needs a voice-over commentary to follow what the heck is going on in the first place!)



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