After a box is dropped off in the Lewis home, The Box begins what are supposed to be tense conversations about pushing a button. Doing so will net the Lewis family $1 million, but kill a random person in the world.
The problem here is that everyone knows the button is pushed. Without pressing it, there is no movie. This gives the script, based on a short story by Richard Matheson, a chance to develop character. It doesn’t.
Norma (Cameron Diaz), with a canned southern accent, is hesitant. Who wouldn’t be? Arthur (James Marsden) is indifferent, believing the entire thing is a hoax. Who wouldn’t? If this set up is trying to establish the couple as average, despite Arthur being an intelligent NASA scientist, then it must work.
If The Box loses you here, and this comprises the entire first act, what is to come will completely throw you. What the box is, where it came from, who the mystery man is that brought it (Frank Langella with some distracting digital make-up), and whether or not anyone dies because of it are all answered.
That places The Box in that difficult position in which discussion leads to spoilers, and even minute spoilers ruin the film. Needless to say, the trailers completely avoid the fantastical elements of the plot, pieces that pull the viewer into space, the metaphysical, Mars, heaven, hell, and a library where portals are suddenly available.
The Box introduces an enormous level of concepts, ideas, and intrigue. Whether or not they are all answered is debatable. Whether the ones that are clearly answered are satisfactory, well, that also remains up for debate. As The Box continues to pile on complexity, logic is opened up to allow for almost anything. The Box does not have many rules, yet the build-up to the eventual reveals are eerie because anything seems possible.
This film could go any direction, but whether or not you are along for the ride, or buy its message, depends fully on these characters. Since they are entirely average, the expected emotional pull is lax, and The Box lacks that satisfying punch in the end.
Director Richard Kelly shot The Box digitally, utilizing the Panavision Genesis. Warner’s VC-1 encode immediately appears digital, with flat faces, minimal depth, and weak blacks. The contrast is fine, lights typically delivering an intentional bloom effect.
Colors are natural although subdued, leading to generally pale flesh tones. Aliasing is a struggle throughout, from the minor instances such as the hood of a model car at 26:51, to the distracting, such as the ceiling lights at 1:12:13. In-focus environmental detail can exhibit excellent definition, especially around the Lewis home and the early long shots of the NASA work floor.
Facial textures are a rare occurrence, the best instance inside a car on James Marsden at 55-minutes. It is a far too uncommon moment for this VC-1 effort. Some of the establishing city shots can appear impressive, despite the digital sheen. There are no digital anomalies to note as the presentation is free of noise and ringing.
The Box opens with a nifty piece of sound design. As words are typed on the screen, the click of typewriter keys accurately and distinctly move left to right in the front channels. The effect is convincing enough to be a small surprise, as most movies would contain that to the center.
Mild ambiance is generally this DTS-HD effort’s mantra. Outdoors, birds chirp and dogs bark in the surrounds. School bells ring in all channels, creating an echo effect. A wedding rehearsal and the eventual wedding deliver the expected immersive and enveloping chatter.
Highlights include a walk down a motel hallway, where doors open and a TV broadcast swivels around through the sound field. When one of the characters pops from some water (it makes sense in the movie), the bass and surround effect are superb. There is no real action to speak of, generally keeping the non-intrusive, clean score as the sole audio highlight.
Warner’s rental exclusive policy and lack of a review copy again hamper the review process. Since this is based on a rental copy, no extras are included. When a retail version is obtained, this section will be updated.