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 7% rotten rating that The Number 23 has is the most baffling collection of reviews I’ve seen so far for a film.
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 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 Number 23 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 is 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.
Arriving in a standard single disc amaray case, a New Line DVD advertisement insert, simple disc art, and a cardboard slip that mirrors the cover of the book in the film (except for the “torn” portion which shows Carrey’s eyes underneath), this disc comes absolutely loaded with extras. I was first intrigued how the DVD was able to house the number of extras it did for a single disc release but later was disappointed because of it (more on that in a bit), as we get beautiful menus, two versions of the film, three featurettes, sixteen deleted scenes (with alternate ending), director commentary and a documentary on the Number 23 itself.
First up on the features list is the film itself. While it sports a remarkable 5.1 EX Surround track (which really lives up to its name—there are plenty of rear channel elements going on in the film), the video transfer suffers from the amount of extras packed onto this disc. While I realize a film that was critically panned should be lucky to get such a packed release, the films transfer (both of them) is weak. If they had left the original cut off or merely done a bit of branching for the extra scenes in the unrated version, more space could have been given to the film itself. The transfer only shows signs of weakness during the scenes with an abundance of red—in particular the woman walking her dog in the beginning of the film with the red scarf shows signs of ghosting/interlacing and the reds in the house and in Fingerlings world are met with an excess of compression, causing minor blocking and soft reds. While the compression is fine in the majority of the film due to its subdued and dark color palette, the compressed reds are a real eyesore at times.
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 number 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 DVDs spine is a much more fitting genre for the film. And while it’s a shame the films transfer had to suffer due to the amount of extras on the set, this DVD, like the film, comes Recommended.
The Number 23 (Unrated) arrives on DVD July 24th.