When it comes to films that are eligible for the “stupidest movie of the year award” (or the Razzies if you prefer to go with an actual award), The Box will no doubt be a serious contender. The film itself was a horrendous mess that not only bewildered and confused its audience, but it also pretty much offended it to the point that no one wanted to even sit through it in its entirety. The main problem this film had was that it was marketed as some big moral dilemma that Cameron Diaz and James Marsden must face. The trailers don’t even mention that there’s an alien species involved in all of this or that this film is set back in the 1970s. No, the trailers instead focused on one of the least interesting elements of the film and the marketing campaign for it steamrolled ahead into some of the most embarrassing and ridiculous movie trailers I’ve ever seen.
Push a red button on a little black box, get a million bucks cash. Just like that, all of Norma (Diaz) and Arthur Lewis’s (Marsden) financial problems will be over. But there’s a catch, according to the strange visitor (Lagella) who placed the box on the couple’s doorstep. Someone, somewhere – someone they don’t know – will die. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a couple confronted by agonizing temptation yet unaware they’re already part of an orchestrated an – for them and us – mind-blowing chain of events.
This was definitely not the worst film I’ve ever seen before, but it ranks up there in terms of how disappointed I was after viewing a film. I knew the trailers for the film were bullcrap, especially since I saw Richard Kelly’s name on the end of the trailer. I’m a huge fan of Donnie Darko and as such I was more than willing to look past the obviously stunted advertising this film received. Unfortunately when I looked past the big “moral dilemma,” I ended up with just a confusing pile of a film that was more confusing than it was enjoyable. And, again, I loved Donnie Darko. But unlike that film, The Box didn’t get better with repeat viewings. This film was just weird from the start and never once had an avenue to redeem itself in.
While the film itself had plenty of flaws in terms of pacing and execution, the biggest issue I had with it was just the portrayal of some of the characters. One of the strangest moments stemmed from the classroom scene with Diaz and her students. A particularly strange student, who later appears in the film as…well, I’m not sure what exactly, but he inquires about her limp and asks if he could see her foot. I mean that question alone is weird as hell, but she then obliges, thus freaking the entire class out. I get that we, as an audience, needed a window into Diaz’s characters disfigurement…but it really could’ve been a hell of a lot more subtle. I still don’t understand that the significance of that scene was; I’ve watched the film a couple times now, hoping that some great light will click above my head…but while Donnie Darko filled me with questions I desperately wanted the answers to, The Box filled me with annoyances I couldn’t care less about.
As far as the rest of the film goes it was pretty stunted too. Whenever a revelation came to pass, about the box or Langella’s character, it was all just bewilderment. The whole library sequence still remains a complete and utter mystery to me and what the three floating water puddles had to do with anything, I just don’t know. I get that that’s Kelly’s usual schtick, but, again, while Darko was original and intriguing enough to make me want to find the answers to my questions, The Box just made me want to shut the film off. The final big “twist” in the film with the Lewis’s son being blinded and deafened as a result of their choices was also incredibly stupid; who in their right mind would choose to make the kid an orphan just so he could see and hear? I get that it’s tragic, but how is leaving your child parentless less tragic? If he was stricken with a fatal and incurable illness then I could see…but nope. No dice.
The film definitely had potential. I loved the little twists and turns it was taking, but where it ended up at the end was simply too much to swallow. The performances were all pretty believable, as far as performances in a sci-fi film can be I suppose, but as Twilight Zone as it all got, I could’ve definitely used a lot more explanation and less ridiculous sequences that ultimately lead to nowhere. If you’re a Kelly fan then it’s at least worth a Rental, but if you aren’t a fan of his past works then you really aren’t missing anything with this one.
Warner unleashes The Box (and The Informant!) in their first ever non-children’s movie wave of Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combos. Thankfully they’ve just put the DVD and digital copy on the same disc so it’s just a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case housing the goodies inside. Also included is an insert including the digital copy redemption code as well as another denoting the importance of firmware upgrades to your player.
Video is a VC-1 encoded transfer and the quality is what you’d expect from a modern film. The budget on this film wasn’t too bad, a little over $30 million (which made the resulting $15 million it received in theaters all the more sad), so there are plenty of solid visuals to take in as well the unique visual effects. The 70s time setting makes the color palette a lot softer than we’re probably used to, and the overall visuals are a bit on the soft side as well. Still, it’s a very clean transfer nonetheless; detail is rampant and the crazy 70s wall patterns that adorn the houses and buildings in the film all pop off the screen in that slightly sickly yellow hue that often gets paired up with the decade.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which is slightly surprising considering Warner doesn’t really release these on their films all that often. It’s a lot more exciting in the surrounds and LFE than one would think based on the trailers for the film, but since it’s more sci-fi than it is drama/thriller based, the end result is a pretty lively track. Surrounds are generally reserved for the more subdued sound effects like muffled screams or crowd chatter at parties, but there are more than a few moments of rumbling from the woofer.
Extras are actually rather surprising and include:
Richard Mattheson: In His Own Words
Commentary with Richard Kelly
The Box: Grounded In Reality
MUSIC VIDEO PREQUELS: Exhibits A-B-C
Visual Effects Revealed
Most of these pieces are rather short and kind of pointless. The visual effects one especially—yeah, the watery portal stuff was unique looking, but it was very reminiscent of what Kelly did with the Darko bits already, so it was kind of dated already in terms of SF/X. But the remaining extras are definitely worth a viewing (or listen) if you’re a Kelly fan. I found the commentary to be rather enlightening and helped make me dislike the film a lot less than I did after viewing it a couple times…but in the end the film just left a bad taste in my mouth to the point where I doubt I could ever watch it again. It’s a shame, since Kelly definitely expresses some love for the film and it is indeed a good short story that could have been really intriguing…but some of the adaptation of it just didn’t transfer over well to a full-length film and even if they had tweaked the final moral/life altering dilemma at the end of the film, I think it could’ve been a great deal more enjoyable. As is this is a strict Rental only.
The Box arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on February 23rd.