Jodie Foster plays a game of cat and mouse with a trio of house burglars in the marvellously claustrophobic Panic Room. The movie-going majority agreed that director David Fincher created "a perfectly constructed recipe for buttock-clenching, palm-sweating tension". Now this fantastic three-disc Special Edition DVD lays out, in painstaking detail, the frightening technical exactitude of the man who placed this B-movie on the A-list of modern thrillers.
Thinking Out Of The Box
Directors, stars, and screenwriter each offer a commentary on disc one. David Fincher is surprisingly mellow for a man so pernickety as he explains in detail how he achieved the impersonal "Terminator-like" feel about the way the camera glides through the house. Apparently it was the notion of "being in a fishbowl, looking out and seeing the cat" which attracted him to David Koepp's script.
Koepp's own track, with veteran screenwriter William Goldman, is similarly methodical and thoroughly entertaining. Budding screenwriters simply cannot afford to miss this masterclass full of insanely practical tips - for example, the best time to send out your spec script is Tuesday! Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam spend most of their commentary relating the many fascinating lessons they learned from the super-finicky Fincher.
Safe As Houses?
Disc two covers pre-production, including the technique of previsualisation - essentially a computer-animated storyboard. The first 40 minutes of the film are broken down into an unusually in-depth multi-angle feature that compares storyboards, dailies, and 'previzes' with the final product. There are also two optional audio commentaries from the storyboard artist and previz expert to guide you through the entire decision-making process.
In The Testing Phase, cinematographer Conrad Hall presents reams of test footage, going into exhaustive detail about the differences between certain lenses and light filters, and the particular challenges he faced in shooting within a darkened house. You'll also get to see a propane tank blown up in 100 different ways, and the Safe-Cracking School provides the DVD equivalent of guys sitting around a tool shed talking about drill bits and "hot babes".
An even more thorough deconstruction of the film's key scenes is available in a multi-angle feature on disc three, which focuses on postproduction. Sequences are taken back to script stage and followed through to storyboarding, video testing, shooting, cutting the dailies, and even scoring. Eleven visual effects are also thoroughly deconstructed - of particular interest is the so-called "big shot", which drifts ostentatiously up and around the house as the burglars attempt to break in.
An hour-long documentary on the making of Panic Room gives a detailed overview of all aspects of production, and even includes rehearsal tapes with Nicole Kidman (who was originally cast in the movie). There's also copious behind-the-scenes footage that sees Fincher in top form, ordering his technical crew to level out the crooked New York street signs, and - on his $6m soundstage - yelling at Dwight Yoakam: "It sounds like you're reading off cue cards!"
After the days you'll spend ploughing through all of these special features, you'll believe Jodie Foster when she shakes her head in disbelief and says: "I've never worked with anybody so meticulous in all my life." In a word: frightening!