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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Phone Booth (Blu-ray)

Phone Booth (Blu-ray)


Picture: A-     Sound: A-     Extras: C+     Film: B



When Joel Schumacher applies himself, he can take on any filmmaker in the world.  He has a knack for getting great material and knowing what to do with it, even if this not the case with every film he has made.  With some impressive thrillers to his credit (Falling Down, 8mm) he was in the same state of filmmaking mind when he got his hands on writer/director Larry Cohen’s screenplay for Phone Booth.  The script had been bouncing around Hollywood for a while with a great reputation, with Will Smith even attached to it at one time.


Finally the film was made with Colin Farrell and released in 2003 to decent business, though I never felt it became the huge blockbuster it deserved to be.  Fortunately, its growing reputation and growing curiosity interest in co-stars Kiefer Sutherland (of the hit TV show 24, but always a good actor), Forest Whittaker (another great actor and sometimes director hitting yet another career high with his uncanny portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland), Katie Holmes (Mrs. Tom Cruise who has become more famous prior to their association with more hits after this film like Pieces Of April and Batman Begins) and the still up-and-coming stars like Paula Jai Parker (Idlewild, Hustle & Flow) and Radha Mitchell, from the silly Horror hit Silent Hill and so terrific in both Mozart & The Whale (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Woody Allen’s Melinda & Melinda, all showing once again that Schumacher can get a strong cast together of exceptional talent ahead of most of Hollywood.


Farrell is hotshot Stu Shepard, a slick talent agent who is always double talking everyone.  However, he is being watched and both his integrity and his skills will be challenged when he gets on the phone in the last phone booth in New York and the voice at the other end starts making threats against him and people around him if he does not do as he is told by that voice.  At first, Stu thinks it is a joke, but when someone is shot dead, he knows the man on the other line is not just trying to “out slick” him.  What will Stu do next?  Can he survive?  Who will die next?


Seeing the film again after a while, I was amazed at how well though out it really is, how intense the 81 minutes still is and what a superior piece of filmmaking it remains.  Few thrillers since have been so good, how everything works and works so very well.  Hollywood used to be able to make films like this all the time, but they have lost the knack and their way, not even trying to be half this ambitious.  It was great news that this would be one of Fox’s early Blu-[ray releases, but then I played the disc and was even more stunned.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital MPEG-2 @ 26 MBPS image was shot in Super 35mm by Matthew Libatique, A.S.C., and is one of the best-looking Blu-ray discs to date.  Instead of gutting the color, you get some very good color range, fine detail and a clean print for a transfer that makes you say “Wow”!  Having already put Darren Aronofsky on the map with his amazing camerawork for Pi and Requiem For A Dream, he had previous worked with Schumacher and Farrell on the much under seen Tigerland.  Though silly deconstructionist Dogme and even then-bad video was considered for the shoot, Schumacher wisely decided to got for 35mm of some kind and despite being restricted to the title location, while they agreed to use the Deluxe Lab’s CCE silver retention process David Fincher used so effectively on Se7en, but not to the extreme extent he did.


The result is the kind of amazing transfer that though still dark, looks great and shows off the various shades of Video Black and Grey Scale that the HD-DVD of Batman Begins (reviewed elsewhere on this site) has become legendary for.  It gets slightly grainier as it goes along as a narrative ploy, but like the rest of the look of the film, this is very well thought out and the result is a complex shoot that pumps up the already disturbing suspense.  It is also one of the best-looking HD discs in either format to date.  Since then, Libatique has lensed Gothika, She Hate Me & Inside Man for Spike Lee, Everything Is Illuminated and Aranofsky’s The Fountain, establishing himself as one of the best Directors of Photography in the business.  That alone should drive everyone to want to see this disc in action.


For more of a technically expansive explanation of Libatique’s camerawork on this film, see the November 2002 issue of American Cinematographer with Pierce Brosnan/Die Another Day on the cover.


Fortunately, the same can be said for the sound, presented here in a terrific DTS HD Master Audio lossless 192kHz/24-bit presentation and we could not even play this to its best extent as the DTS HD chip has yet to hit the market.  However, the surrounds are working constantly on all levels, ambient, diegetic, non-diegetic (including Harry Gregson-Williams fine score), communicating various mental states and expanding the cinematic space in clever ways that make it one of the best examples of sound editing ion recent years.  It was issued in all three digital formats theatrically (DTS, Dolby, SDDS) and combined with the amazing picture, you get demo quality HD Blu-ray material for a great film for a change.


The only extras are the original theatrical trailer in HD and another terrific feature length audio commentary by Schumacher everyone should hear.  Overall, Phone Booth is a must-own disc for all serious film and Blu-ray libraries.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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