DOWN (2001) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Dick Maas
Blue Underground

Dick Maas takes THE LIFT on another trip DOWN the shaft with his bloated 2001 remake on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Blue Underground.

When lightning strikes the central computer controlling the seventy-three elevators of the 102-story Millennium Building on New York's east side, the elevators start behaving erratically, professing from giving people entering or exiting an unfriendly nudge with their doors to trapping and nearly overheating a group of pregnant women leaving a Lamaze class causing two of them to give premature birth. Elevator repairmen Mark (TWIN PEAKS' James Marshall) and Jeffrey (Eric Thal, THE PUPPET MASTERS) can find nothing wrong with the electronics or mechanics of the elevator system. When the elevator decapitates a night watchman, sends a blind man and his seeing-eye dog plunging down the shaft to their deaths, and rockets a rollerblader off the observation deck, Jeffrey is strangely uncurious while Mark teams up with tabloid investigative reporter Jennifer Evans (Naomi Watts, THE RING) who would like to run a story about a haunted elevator. While Mark and Jennifer look into the experimental technology behind the elevator's system designed by the mysterious Gunter Steinberg (Michael Ironside, VISITING HOURS) against the warnings of Mark's employer (Ron Perlman, CRONOS), Lieutenant McBain (Dan Hedaya, THE HUNGER) and building manager Milligan (Edward Herrmann, THE LOST BOYS) are looking to pin the blame on a human perpetrator. After word of another mass casualty incident gets all the way to the White House, SWAT storms the building to hunt down terrorists while Mark and Jennifer take on the ghost in the machine.

If THE LIFT copied its structure from JAWS – as stated by Maas on his commentary for the former film – then DOWN seems to be taking its cue from GHOSTBUSTERS, particularly with regards to its depiction of the Millennium Building. Sporting some impressive Art Deco production design by John Graysmark (LIFEFORCE) and more proficient practical effects (marred by the usual poor digital work of even some of the bigger budgeted productions of the period), DOWN does not really improve on the source material in spite of attempts to expand it and tighten up some of the original script's loose ends. Whereas the police and building management found a scapegoat in the death of a background character previously unintroduced until his death scene, DOWN at least establishes the character better while giving Mark another incentive to get at the truth, but the "hyperreal" performances of Dutch extras and American and British principals who themselves sound as if they have been blandly dubbed even though their dialogue was recorded on the set verge on parody more so than the intended humor while the overblown finale is not more gripping than the more subdued original (the terrorism subplot seems ill-timed but the film was actually released in the Netherlands five days before 9/11 and not in the United States until 2003). The use of Aerosmith's godawful "Love in an Elevator" over the end credits seems more facetious than humorous. Among the supporting cast are future MadTV comedian Ike Barinholtz (THE MINDY PROJECT) and future Saturday Night Live player Josh Meyers (BRÜNO).

Released direct-to-DVD in 2003 by Artisan Entertainment in a painfully panned-and-scanned 1.33:1 fullscreen version – with many a shot in which one or both characters on opposite sides of the frame disappear from view – with 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks as THE SHAFT (with artwork that seems to be patterned after THE RING) and in its original aspect ratio everywhere else, DOWN on Blue Underground's Blu-ray comes from a new 2K scan and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer looks a bit more "filmic" (with bowing lines in the wide angle shots like some of the older anamorphic lenses which was adapted as a stylistic choice in a number of films from this period) but still like a very cheap direct-to-video item thanks to the digital effects and the garish colors of the production design. The original 5.1 mix is offered up in DTS-HD Master Audio English and French dubs along with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo downmixes of both while optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

Director Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer (BLACK BOOK) provide an audio commentary moderated by Severin Films' David Gregory in which they discuss the New York location and Amsterdam studio shoots, the casting of the American leads and dubbed Dutch players (among them future Dutch porn star Bobbi Eden), friction with Marshall over the comic aspects of the script and the "hyperreal" performance style favored by Maas, the changes from the original film, and the more elaborate production design and special effects. "The Making of DOWN" featurette (9:24) seems to have been made for international promotion with no interviews or much in the way of spoken on-set audio, focusing instead on the building of the impressive studio sets, the blue-screen exteriors, digital effects, and the shooting of major set pieces. Exclusive to the Blu-ray side of the package is an extensive behind the scenes video selection (151:23) which could stand some more judicious pruning but focuses primarily on the New York location shoot with plenty of scenes of cordoned off streets, filming characters entering and exiting the building, staging extras during the exterior scenes including the rollerbladers, some scenes where cranes or dolly tracks had to be laid in the street, and the crew and cast sheltering from the rain, along with plenty of unused aerial shots of the New York skyline from workprint. It is not the most compelling extra, but it is a thrill to see a comparatively "low budget" and "independent" production stopping New York car and foot traffic. Also included are the film's not particularly gripping theatrical trailer (1:59) and two teasers (0:36 and 1:26), a poster & still gallery, as well as a reversible cover and booklet by Michael Gingold (in which he notes that the original film was inspired by Stephen King's THE MANGLER which had been adapted in 1995 by Tobe Hooper). (Eric Cotenas)