Those who are looking whether to go see a movie in theaters or rent a DVD often read reviews of what to expect from a film they’re interested in watching. Whether you read reviews here or in your local paper or in whatever favorite weekly magazine from the newsstands, most of the high profile reviews are all collected on a website called Rotten Tomatoes. While I normally find the general consensus on movies there to be on the level with my opinions of a film, the 8% rotten rating that The Number 23 has is the most baffling collection of reviews I’ve seen so far for a film.
Ever notice how phenomena and events tie to the number 23? Walter Sparrow has: 2012 (20+1+2), the end of the Mayan calendar…23 pairs of chromosomes in the human body…February 3 (2/3), Walter’s birthday. Here, there, everywhere, Walter sees connections. And it may be driving him to madness and murder. Jim Carrey puts aside his comedy persona to portray haunted, desperate Walter in an immersive psychological thriller guided by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys). The connections grow. The mystery deepens. The thrills add up in The Number 23.
The Number 23 is not without its flaws, but there certainly aren’t enough of them to warrant such an atrocious rating and while the quotes from the back of the box are the usual over-embellishing type, they fit the film more than some of the comments I’ve read about the film. Quite simply put, The Number 23 is filled with a few “fantastic” elements that are hard to believe if you really start to think about it, but if you just want to be entertained by the phenomenon of the number 23, then you’ll very easily be entertained by this film.
The film follows Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey), a regular joe who works as a dog catcher and his life which eventually takes a drastic turn after his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen), buys a used book for him entitled “The Number 23.” While she apparently reads the entire book while waiting for Walter in the book store (he runs late due to a failed attempt at catching a dog), Walter reads it at a slower pace which builds his paranoia about his world. He begins seeing the number everywhere, whether it’s on addresses or on the back of people’s shirts, and his obsession with the number begins to overtake his life. He begins having nightmares of killing his wife and eventually goes on a hunt for the author of the book to attempt to find out the meaning behind it.
As I said before, the film is not without its flaws. The most notable is that of Agatha reading the entire book (admittedly it isn’t that long) while waiting for her husband. Granted, I recall a line about her simply skimming it, but one also has to wonder why Walter takes so damn long to read the book if he’s that enthralled by it. A book of that size could easily have been read in a day or less, but the whole story stretches over the course of five or six days. While the film is easy to pull apart and attack, the only reason I can come up with for the intense thrashing this film got from critics is they were expecting and entirely different film than what we got. While the film messes with your head, it’s not nearly as much of a mind bender as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind nor is it as fright fest. The film has a slight “creepy” tinge to it, but it’s not something that will serve a heart attack or cause sleepless nights (unless you’re obsessed with the number already).
There’s also an amount of disbelief you have to have when watching movies. Unless it’s a documentary, rarely should you watch a movie, fully expecting it to be grounded in reality. No one faults the Die Hard films for being light on plot, while heavy on action. As unbelievable as the stunts in those films are, you have to suspend your perceptions of the real word when watching it and doing the same with The Number 23 makes the experience much more entertaining. The events in The Number 23 are all extremely convenient and you may want to laugh at how everything aligns to give Walter the largest mind screwing of his life in the span of a few days, but in the end the film is a bit about redemption and setting things right.
Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the film as much as I did was due to the strength of the acting performances. The Sparrow’s were played superbly (with only one odd bit of acting sticking out on Carrey’s part, in his discussion/fight with Agatha in the hotel at the end) and the characters of Fingerling, Fabrizia and Suicide Blonde are played with the proper amount of camp that’s required of their characters. In the book scenes in the film, the world feels almost like Sin City, with a lot of grime and a noir look to the sets and characters. There are a lot of great visuals in this world, especially during Fabrizia’s first appearance as well as Fingerling’s childhood. Schumacher commented that he could have done a whole movie around Fingerling and Suicide Blonde’s characters and it’s easy to see why—there’s a lot of depth to their characters, even though we don’t see them for the majority of the film.
The more I think about this film the more I enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s because of my history of watching (and enjoying) comic book movies that I felt so at home while watching this film because in retrospect, it really did feel like a comic book, even though it had no basis to feel as such. And for those wondering if the difference between the theatrical and unrated cuts on the DVD release is that difference, I honestly didn’t even notice any change in tone for the film, so the difference is negligible.
Overall it’s an enjoyable ride and while it may not have much to offer on repeat viewings, the first is a ton of fun. While I know it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming amount of negative press this film received, I can easily Recommend this film for viewing.
I remarked in the original DVD review I did for this film (waaaay back in July of 2007) that the most disappointing thing about the disc was the transfer for the film. But one of the coolest things was the red slipcover packaging that allowed only Carrey’s eyes to slip through on the top of the cover. So the Blu-ray arrives, sans slip cover, but bolstered with a much nicer video transfer (obviously). So you win some and you lose some, I suppose. The disc itself is housed inside a standard Elite Blu-ray case without anything of significance inside.
Video is a VC-1 encoded 1080p effort and, as previously mentioned, it is leagues beyond what the DVD in 2007 offered. There was simply too much crammed onto that single disc DVD release to withstand a proper transfer, but this Blu-ray disc handles the film much better. Gone is the irksome interlacing and over compression of reds and in are the…well, non-crushed reds. See, even though the film has a nice bitrate and solid transfer throughout, the films just so damn dark anyway that trying to see anything of significance inside the transfer is nigh impossible. There’s detail there to be sure as well as some grain on the transfer, but as nice as it is it’s just such a muted and laid back color palette that it’s hard to get too enthralled by the transfer alone…although the Fingerling scenes were certainly nicer looking.
Audio arrives in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mix. Why they didn’t go for a 7.1 I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter—the original compressed track on the DVD edition was satisfactory and as is this lossless DTS-HD mix. It’s got plenty of surround work, decent subwoofer output and just an overall solid mixture all around.
Moving onto the extras we get sixteen Deleted Scenes which were rightfully cut from the film. The scenes aren’t bad; they just contain a large amount of humor that wouldn’t have flowed well with the rest of the films dark tone. While the film does have a few humorous bits in the beginning, it quickly takes a darker turn once the book is introduced and these scenes would’ve felt extraneous in the later portions of the film. The alternate ending isn’t much different from the final version we see in the film, we just see that Robin Sparrow (Logan Lerman) has taken up his father’s obsession and was writing the numbers all over his arm (does this family not have paper?).
The making of documentary goes into the usual behind the scenes dialogue with comments from cast and crew, while the “Creating the World of Fingerling” shows off how the effects are done in the film, what little there are. Both are interesting pieces and when accompanied by the Number 23 Enigma documentary (featuring interviews with mathematicians and other experts in their fields spouting off a lot of words that ultimately do nothing else but confuse and bewilder me) and the “How to Find Your Life Path Numbers” featurette (learn how your life can be dictated by numbers), gives you an overall feel of what it was like to work on the film and just how far the obsession with numbers in general can take your beliefs, both mentally and spiritually.
Up last is the commentary by Schumacher which is over the theatrical cut of the film. Schumacher remains lively and entertaining throughout, even mocking his own film and previous works. Say what you will about the man and his previous works (and I’ve said plenty about his Batman films), but he loves making movies and he doesn’t waste a breath on the commentary explaining it to us. There are no dull moments in this track and it’s littered with off-topic discussions about life and comments on the actors and the crew that helped make the film. I actually found myself disappointed when the track came to an end (one that was premature, as he stopped talking once Sparrow runs outside of the hotel), as it was fully entertaining and full of information about the film, very little of which was repeated from the special features.
While you may want to rent the film first before purchasing it, I think you’ll find many things to enjoy about the film if you simply let go of your expectations of the movie. The trailers for the film painted to be much more of a horror/thriller than it really is and the listing of “Drama” on the cases spine is a much more fitting genre for the film. If you own the DVD already the only reason to upgrade would be for the new transfer as the extras are all the same from the previous edition. So if you’re that concerned about the transfer then this is Recommended. Likewise if you don’t previously own the film.
The Number 23 (Unrated) is now available on Blu-ray.