A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner Bros., 2010)
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most enduring (and profitable, natch) horror franchises in history — and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company has turned horror reboots into…well, maybe not an art form, exactly, but definitely a viable business model. So naturally, it was only a matter of time before Platinum Dunes added Freddy Krueger to the list of iconic slashers who have received a little Bay-minted box office CPR. And hey, the 21st century Nightmare has Academy Award-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley playing Krueger! It’s got to be great, right? Well, not so much. But more on that in a minute.
Synopsis: Freddy Krueger returns in A Nightmare on Elm Street, a contemporary re-imagining of the horror classic. A group of suburban teenagers share one common bond: they are all being stalked by Freddy Krueger, a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they can protect one another…but when they sleep. there is no escape.
Video: Say what you will about its dubious artistic merits, but with a healthy $35 million budget, this Nightmare can’t help but look better than its 1984 counterpart; not only have special effects come a long way since then, but with a dual-layer VC-1 encoding, this 1080p transfer is fairly spotless. This technical attention to detail doesn’t carry over to the film’s script, directing, cinematography, or acting — and in some cases, like the famous bit where Freddy stretches a bedroom wall to get at Nancy (played by Rooney Mara), the CGI actually looks worse than the original effect — but reboots like this exist to add prettier, slicker visuals where they were too expensive to insert before, and in that respect, this Nightmare delivers.
Audio: Just like the video transfer, Nightmare‘s audio track is technically superior, offering spacious sound design and a nice balance between dialogue and eerie sound effects — or sound effects that would be eerie if the movie had any real scares to offer. At 24 bits and six channels, the DTS-HD Master Audio track is probably better than the movie deserves; that said, if you’re susceptible to this kind of thing, you’ll have no complaints, and if you’re a film audio geek, you should come away impressed.
Special Features: There’s actually a pretty decent selection of added content here, including roughly eight minutes of deleted scenes (including an alternate beginning and ending), a 14-minute featurette looking at the behind-the-scenes process that led to the reboot, a “Maniacal Movie Mode” track that adds picture-in-picture commentary, interviews, concept art, and test footage to the movie — and about 20 minutes of “Focus Points” that branch off from the film into looks at stuff like the makeup and costume design.
Bottom Line: While it’s true that not everything about the original Nightmare on Elm Street has aged well, it’s still a modern horror classic, and even the bottom line-focused folks at Platinum Dunes should have known that “re-imagining” it was pointless if they weren’t going to add something besides souped-up special effects. Alas and alack, the new Nightmare is more dull than scary; it mimics the original in some respects, following the same rough plot outline and replicating most of the more iconic scenes, but everything that’s different feels wrong. The heightened pace doesn’t allow for character development at all — the Nightmare kids were never exactly three-dimensional, but here, they’re just archetypes, and their parents barely register as an afterthought. That leaves the weight of the whole mess on Haley’s narrow shoulders, and although he’s certainly capable of playing creepy child molester types (see Little Children), he doesn’t have the physicality to be threatening — he’s clearly shorter and scrawnier than most of the kids he’s terrorizing here, and even in the flashbacks where pre-burned Freddy is interacting with kindergartners, it’s hard not to imagine that a well-timed kick to the nuts would have ended the whole Nightmare before it started.
There’s also the matter of the mountains of makeup Haley’s sporting here, which make this Freddy more realistic, but at the expense of the wicked personality that always made Krueger such a hoot. It could be almost anyone under all that latex, and although it’s nice to spend some time in the company of a Freddy who isn’t making dumb jokes every few minutes, it’d be even better if he could scare us in the bargain. Still, the reboot made buckets of money, and with a few tweaks, it’s not impossible to imagine a sequel that manages to get it right. Keep your freaky finger knives crossed.
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