• The Lighthouse (Lionsgate Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Lionsgate Entertainment
    Released on: January 7th, 2020.
    Director: Robert Eggers
    Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman
    Year: 2019
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Lighthouse – Movie Review:

    The second feature film from Robert Eggers, the director of The Witch, 2019’s The Lighthouse opens with a remarkably desolate shot where a boat arrives at a small rocky island somewhere on the eastern seaboard. A young man (Robert Pattinson) and an older, more experienced man (Willam Dafoe) get off the boat and begin the first day of their four week stint tending to the lighthouse on the island, completely cut off from the rest of civilization.

    It’s made clear from the start that the older man, who we come to learn is named Thomas Wake, is the one in charge. The younger man, who goes by Ephraim Winslow, is told in no uncertain terms that things will be done Thomas’ way. That means if Thomas wants to drink on the job, he will – even if it’s against the rules. It also means that Ephraim will fill his days with grunt work, polishing the machinery and dealing with the clogged cistern, and not having anything to do with the lantern itself even if the employee handbook makes it clear that they should be working it on alternating nights.

    As the days go by, Ephraim becomes increasingly fed up with Thomas’ ways. The old man is a bossy, foul-mouthed, flatulent and superstitious loudmouth and a demanding old drunk with an aversion to telling the truth. Ephraim’s mental state soon becomes questionable. As he obsesses over what Thomas might be doing up in the top of the lighthouse, an area Ephraim is forbidden to enter, he starts to fantasize about a beautiful mermaid (Valeriia Karaman) and suspect that the senior wickie might be something else entirely. Thomas, on the other hand, keeps up appearances as best he can – until Ephraim kills a gull, a very bad move given that the old man believes the birds to be the spirits of sailors who have gone to meet their maker. As the weather gets increasingly worse and Ephraim takes to drinking as well, it seems that both men are losing their minds entirely.

    Working in sea-centric folklore, references to Greek mythology and classic German paintings, the film also throws in doses of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of the old, dark gods and a bit of Herman Melville for good measure to create something remarkably unique by the standards of modern day cinema. Shot entirely on 35mm black and white film stock using vintage lenses (some of which were over a hundred years old) with the outdoor scenes almost at a remote Nova Scotia location completely at the mercy of the area’s harsh weather conditions, The Lighthouse is a visually impressive picture. The cinematography from Jarin Blaschke, who also worked on The Witch with Eggers, makes use of some interesting angles and high contrast lighting to make the many tight, cramped indoor locations seem increasingly claustrophobic as the story plays out. The score from Mark Korven is also excellent, really pulling you into the movie in a bit way and getting under your skin a bit as this strange film gets increasingly more bizarre. Sound designer Damian Volpe’s work is also noteworthy, particularly the use of gull noises and the massive foghorn that recurs throughout the film. Eggers’ direction is excellent, he paces the film (which clocks in at just under two-hours in length) very nicely, building character development as effectively as tension and knowing when to pull back and focus on the actors as well as when to really let the visuals shine.

    As to the performances, Pattinson is excellent here. His character, as Eggers says in the supplements, likes to keep to himself while making a show of doing just that. As things ramp up between the two men and Pattinson’s character becomes increasingly unhinged, his performance goes to manic heights and becomes wonderfully lunatic. As good as Pattinson is, however, Dafoe outdoes him just a little bit. His character almost seems as it were written just for him, it suits his style so well. Looking every bit the old timey seaman with his bushy grey beard and weathered face, Dafoe goes all in on this part. The only other cast member in the film is Valeriia Karaman as the mermaid, whose performance is memorable in more ways than one, but she doesn’t get nearly the amount of screen time as the two leads. Regardless, the acting in the movie is impressive across the board, full marks for all involved.

    The Lighthouse – Blu-ray Review:

    Lionsgate brings The Lighthouse to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc with an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.19.1 with the feature taking up just over 34GBs of space on the disc. While obviously it would have been nice to see this on UHD, the picture quality on this Blu-ray is excellent. The black and white picture, which was shot on 35mm film stock and then finished digitally, shows fantastic detail in pretty much every shot. Black levels are perfect and contrast looks great. We get nice, clean whites and a good grey scale as well. There are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and shadow detail is also frequently very impressive. There’s lots of depth and texture here too – the picture quality is great.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is also superb. Dialogue is always crystal clear and Mark Korven’s score sounds beautiful. While much of the surround mix is fairly front heavy, surround channels are used really well to spread out the sounds of the ocean, the foghorn, the birds on the island and other ambient sounds, as well as the music used throughout the picture. Levels are balanced perfectly and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion at all. Subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish.

    The main extra feature on the disc is an audio commentary track featuring director/co-writer Robert Eggers. He offers, with this track, a very thorough and detailed explanation of what all was involved in getting this picture made. He speaks about co-writing the film with his brother Max, offering a lot of insight into, well, everything from the typography and font used in the opening credits to the lenses used in the film to all of the period detail featured in the picture. He talks about shooting the opening scene out on the open sea, the Nova Scotia location that served as the primary backdrop, working with his cast, his thoughts on being able to direct both Pattinson and Dafoe, the trouble with seagulls on a film set, what they had to build for the location and what was already there, the lighting required for proper exposure on the black and white film used, how lighthouses are still used in Nova Scotia even though all the boats have GPS systems now and how the bunkhouse set was actually built in an airplane hanger. He also points out interesting details such as Pattinson’s reaction in a key scene, where some of the inspiration for the dialogue came from, research that was done to get the dialogue to be as authentic as possible, how certain scenes were tweaked before shooting to help build tension in the first act, the machinery featured inside the lighthouse, details like the intricacies of the bookcase featured in the picture and lots more.

    The disc also includes a featurette called The Lighthouse: A Dark & Storm Tale that runs just shy of thirty-eight-minutes in length. This featurette is broken into three parts. The first, Myths Behind The Madness, opens with Eggers talking about how the film started as an idea his brother Max had, which he then took over. He then speaks about the true story of two Welsh lighthouse keepers named Thomas that led the story being finished. He then speaks about casting and working with Dafoe and Pattinson, both of whom also appear on camera and share their thoughts on the story, the experience shooting the picture and what it was like working together. There’s also talk here about research that Eggers and the two leads did, insight from Director Of Photography Jarin Blaschke on the look of the film, talk about why this was shot in black and white and more.

    The second, Enchantment In The Light, covers the more technical side of things. Lots of talk here about how Eggers and Blaschke worked together to get the right look nailed down for the film. They talk about how shooting in black and white poses its own set of challenges, having to use lanterns for light in certain scenes, why shooting during the day differs from shooting during the night, challenges that arose for the cast members on location, having to use live animals in the shoot ,why specific lenses and filters were used for certain shots and the energy that was needed from the actors during the shoot.

    The final part, Figments Of Imagination, lets Pattinson and Dafoe talk about how thankful they were to get to work on such a unique and original film, how tightly scripted the film was, the chances that Eggers offers his cast members to do something new, and how much they loved working on the film despite the physical challenges and harsh shooting conditions. There’s also talk here about how the score and the sound design come together in the film to accentuate the atmosphere. All three sections feature some great behind the scenes footage as well as clips from the film and footage with the interviewees.

    Lastly, we get a few deleted scenes. There are four scenes here in total – Sweeping The Galley, Old Crying, Young Undressing and Galley And Sleeping Quarters. Combined, they run just over five-minutes.

    The disc also contains trailers for a few other Lionsgate properties, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase is an insert card with a code redeemable for a digital HD download version of the movie. This release also comes packaged with a nice slipcover.

    The Lighthouse – The Final Word:

    The Lighthouse is a fantastic exercise is tension and desperation. It’s a gorgeous looking picture that takes full advantage of its sets and locations, but it’s the performances from both Pattinson and Dafoe that really make it work as well as it does. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds excellent and the supplemental features are interesting and well-done. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Lighthouse Blu-ray screen caps!