Movie adaptations of Stephen King stories range from superb (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption) to awful (Maximum Overdrive, Graveyard Shift). 1408, while not the best in the catalog of King-inspired movies, is thankfully closer to the former than the latter. Theatrically released in 2007, 1408 is now getting the Blu-ray treatment from Genius Products, providing a director’s cut that adds several minutes of footage including a more-appropriate ending. In the process, it shows that it’s still possible to do a Stephen King movie right.
The plot in 1408 focuses on Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a non-fiction writer and with no real passion for his work debunking paranormal claims. When he is drawn to room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, however, his attitude changes, as he finds himself engaged in various forms of psychological warfare with the room. These interactions range from vague manipulations of space and time to visions of suppressed parts of his psyche dealing with his father, deceased daughter and estranged wife.
1408 is as much psychological thriller as horror film. At its best, the movie is nail-bitingly unnerving, with multiple jump-out-of-your-seat moments that balance explorations of the main character’s emotional past. The director and screenwriters note in their commentary that none of the latter was present in King’s original short story; the character details were added to flesh-out the script and add a level of complexity that helps the movie rise above just providing cheap scares.
The first hour of the film is engrossingly frightening, but the film’s allure weakens during the second half. The cerebral games the room initially provides are subtle, which allows viewers’ imagination to come into play, and the overall effect produces a chilling sense of terror. Cusack also carries the momentum of the story with excellently timed reactions to the slowly impending madness experienced by his character. As the room’s threats escalate, so does the overall scale of production, with somewhat detrimental results.
Though the production value of the later scenes cannot be faulted, the constant barrage of mind games becomes repetitive. The increasingly large-scale designs make the mechanisms of the story a bit too apparent, detracting from both the psychological/emotional and horror elements. In fact, the movie could have benefited from having 15 minutes trimmed from its second half. To its credit, 1408 gets back on track by its finale, which makes this 112-minute director’s cut (up from the original 104) bring a satisfying, if not totally coherent, closure to the story. Unlike the DVD release, the theatrical version of 1408 is not included on this Blu-ray Disc, though the original ending is one of the alternate scenes.
The 1080p VC-1 encoded video looks acceptable but unspectacular, with detail not being overly abundant except in extreme close-ups. The print itself is pristine, with only very rare moments where grain spikes, and no heavy-handed digital noise reduction or edge enhancement appears to have been applied. However, the visual tone seems slightly flat, with washed-out colors and no sense of dimension. The color palette changes depending on a scene’s location indoors or out, with scenes outside the room a bit more vibrant, but never stunning. Lighting, too, will wash over entire scenes in such a way that skin tones look unnatural and inherent detail is minimized. So, while it’s an improvement over the standard-definition DVD, 1408 on Blu-ray is nowhere near the most-impressive high-definition 1080p transfer.
Because 1408 marks the Weinstein Company’s Blu-ray debut, we hope the film’s inclusion of English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 as an option is a sign of the company’s commitment to lossless audio for all Blu-ray releases. A Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is also included, but there are no foreign language dubs. A comparison between the two tracks shows the Dobly TrueHD lossless audio consistently outshines the Dolby Digital. The TrueHD track is fuller and more enveloping, providing a more substantial sense of atmosphere. All six channels are put to good use throughout, and dialogue is consistently clear and well-balanced, never lost under the supporting effects or musical score.
There are many moments when the sound effects diverge from the action on screen to enhance the sense of psychological disorientation. I actually paused the movie a few times because I wanted to verify that the unnerving noises I was hearing around me were an intended part of the experience. While the video is less than ideal, the lossless-audio surround mix comes very close to being a showcase audio track.
1408 includes a number of Blu-ray extras. The good news is that they’re all presented in high definition. The bad news is that the video either was not mastered in high definition, or the source material just looked bad. The theatrical trailer is the only extra that is obviously mastered in HD. The rest, with the exception of some moments in the featurettes, produce no better results than standard-definition, even though they are VC-1 encoded with the requisite bitrate.
Feature Length Commentary: I was not sure what to expect from this commentary track but was pleasantly surprised. Director Mikael Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski fill the full length of the movie with informative details behind the adaptation of King’s story, the shooting locales, production information and even the differences between the various endings and the newly included scenes for the director’s cut. This track is probably a bit too detailed for the casual viewer, but fans of the film should find it very worthwhile.
Deleted Scenes (11:23): Alternate or extended versions of five scenes that are interesting to watch but not essential.
Alternate Endings (10:39): The first ending included on the disc is the ending from the theatrical release; the second is a variation of the first. Optional commentary is offered which details how these endings differ from the director’s cut finale and match up with the original short story. They are both cheerier than the director’s-cut ending, which better suits the tone of the movie.
Webisodes (4:40): These two webisodes (John Cusack on 1408 and Inside 1408) are comprised mostly of interviews with Cusack. Both are so short that they have little depth, making it painfully obvious that they were designed to serve strictly a promotional function.
Featurettes (22:56): Four featurettes dealing with Characters (Cusack’s and Jackson’s), Director (Hafstrom), Physical Effects and Production Design. These were all obviously culled from the same source and, with the level of thematic overlap between them, would have been better served as a single featurette.
Trailer (2:33): Theatrical trailer of the movie, but in HD.
1408, though it suffers from some pacing issues in its second hour, is one of the better film adaptations of a Stephen King story in recent memory. The Blu-ray package includes adequate video and stunning lossless audio, the latter of which is always important to films of this creepy nature. With decent but not incredible extras, 1408 is definitely worth a rental, and fans of Stephen King and psychological horror should consider adding it to their Blu-ray library.
Get the best price on 1408 on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.2
- This creepy film is the best Stephen King adaptation in years, but the redundancy in the last half and the lack of good extras weigh down the overall score.
— Robert Searle