The Box (2009) - DVD/Digital Copy Combo [Blu-ray]

Genre(s): Drama / Mystery / Science Fiction
Warner Brothers || PG13 - 116 minutes - $35.99 || February 23, 2010
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2010-03-17

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.

.:: A U D I O ::.

B L U - R A Y

Blu-ray Exclusives

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer(s): Richard Matheson ("Button, Button" short story); Richard Kelly (written by)
Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

Theatrical Release Date: November 6, 2009

Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • 2 Featurettes
  • Visual Effects Comparisons
  • Prequels

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (2.40)
  • English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.


Richard Kelly: Either the man is an insane genius or purely insane. I would’ve gone with the genius label after his fantastic debut film, Donnie Darko. Even today I can’t get that movie out of my mind, so much that I might even pop in the Blu-ray and watch again sometime this week. Kelly’s follow-up, Southland Tales wasn’t as enthralling though it did have some interesting scenes and general concepts and still made you think, and that’s more than I can say for 90% of mainstream movies coming out today. Now comes his third movie, The Box, based upon Richard Matheson’s (“I Am Legend”) short story entitled Button, Button, and unfortunately I think Kelly’s unique vision for storytelling has run off the tracks.

The Box stars James Marsden and Cameron Diaz as Arthur and Norma Lewis, a loving couple with a bright son. One early morning the couple are awaken to the doorbell and Arthur bring the puss he is, allows his wife to check to see who would be at their door at such an ungodly hour. She looks through the peephole to see a car pulling away and outside the door is a plainly wrapped box. Rather than being suspicious as to its content (good thing it wasn’t a bomb), she takes it inside and together they open it up to discover a metallic box with a red button on top covered with a locked dome. This device is accompanied by a stylish note stating one Mr. Arlington Steward will be stopping by at 5pm with instructions.

Meanwhile, Arthur and Norma go on with their normal routines. Norma is a prep school teacher with students who like to embarrass her, for a foot injury sustained as a teenager, in front of others while Arthur is basically a rocket scientist working for NASA. Life for them seem to be going smoothly as they can live in a nice two-story home and Arthur drives to work in an expensive Corvette. But their financial situation takes a turn when Norma’s faculty tuition discount (the son goes to the school as well) and Arthur’s dream to go into the astronaut program is rejected. Add to that, Norma was set to get a much needed surgery to help her foot.

Their finances come into play when Arlington Steward (FRANK LANGELLA) stops by as promised and explains the situation. He gives them a key to unlock the button and tells them that if they press the button they will receive $1,000,000 in cash, tax free, but someone they don’t know will die. Prior, Arthur had open the bottom of the box to discover it is empty but despite the implausibility of Steward’s proposal and the possible moral implications if he was telling the truth, Norma hits the button as she wants to stay in the financial status they have become accustomed to. And to his word, Steward drops by the next day with a briefcase filled with a million dollars and an ominous warning that the box will be reprogrammed and sent to someone else at which point someone who THAT individual does not know will die! Oh snap!

Here’s a synopsis of some of the most ridiculous, incoherent and unintentionally funny scenes that follow:

• Doing a little detective work, Arthur discovers a clue at a murder scene in which a man for no known reason shoots his wife, who didn’t even put up a fight. This clue is a picture with some numbers on it so Arthur figures out it’s an index number for a book. He goes to the library and finds the book (about lightning) but before he can leave, a bunch of weirdo library patrons stalk behind him as he tries to make his escape. He fails and walks right into Steward’s wife who explains something about salvation and damnation. This leads to my next favorite scene...

• Arthur must choose between three questionably CGI generated water gateways. He chooses the second one because the creepy kid (who had earlier embarrassed his wife) flashed the peace sign at an engagement get together. By the way, he knows this twerp embarrassed his wife, yet another puss move to go with what this guy’s clue on which one to pick. In any case, he goes through waterway number two and after a warp journey, he finds himself in a water cube hovering above the bed in his home where Norma is sleeping (not sure how she got there as before she was talking with scarface Steward). The bubble bursts and a giant wave of water floods the bedroom and overflows through the home. Other than the son (though he was still measurably calm), nobody really bats an eye to what has happened.

• Arthur is taken at gunpoint by the man who had shot his wife. This man goes on to explain part of the plot but as they are speeding along a dark highway, Santa Claus is standing in the middle of the street ringing – ominously, of course – a bell. Before they can comprehend what’s going on, a snowplow sideswipes them killing the man but leaving Arthur with some minor cuts. Santa, the bad ass he is, just keeps ringing the bell. Moral of the story: when ya see Santa this Christmas ringing a bell for donations, give a buck to two... just in case.

Those are just a few of my personal highlights, but there are plenty more.

Anyway, as for the essentials of the film, I really don’t have anything positive to say about the cast. Cameron Diaz puts on one of the worst Southern accents I’ve ever heard while James Marsden plays up the pussy husband well enough but doesn’t have very much charisma. Then there’s the venerable Frank Langella. I kind of feel sorry for him mainly because he’s a great actor but even the greats can faulter when they get very little to work with. Does he have the necessary presence and mystery for the role? Abolsutely. But thanks to the screenplay, I never got a sense for him, though I guess that was the purpose?

As I already said, Richard Kelly is a talented and unique writer. Even his disappointing sophomore picture, Southland Tales had vision and flare and although it never could measure up to Donnie Darko, I could at least appreciate portions of it. Outside of some individual scenes, The Box doesn’t have much going for it. One work people use for Kelly is pretentious. I can’t even heap that word on a film that has little life, intended entertainment or a thought-provoking story.


Richard Matheson: In His Own Words (4:54; HD) – This featurette focuses on the author of Button, Button (The Box), Stir of Echoes (a personal favorite adaptation of mine), What Dreams May Come and I Am Legend where Matheson goes over his career beginning with his first story and finding a steady paycheck in writing.


Feature Commentary – I have to commend Writer/Director Richard Kelly for providing a track to this mess and wreck of a film. For the most part the commentary is easy to listen to as he explains the story origins (from Richard Matheson short story), shooting locations, how he used his own childhood for certain parts, etc, etc, etc. For a solo track, it’s not a half-bad commentary.

The Box: Grounded in Reality (10:42; HD) goes over where the short story came from, how obsessed Richard Kelly was with it and the inspirations Kelly got from his own parents for the main characters (including the deformed foot) as well as his father’s own work at NASA with the Mars Project.

Visual Effects Revealed (3:55; HD) is broken up into three parts (‘Arlington’s Face’, ‘The Water Coffins’ and ‘Transforming Richmond’) covering the main effects used in the film. These are all effects comparisons with the Visual Effects Editor explaining each one to us.

Music Video Prequels (9:14; HD) are surveillance montages that propel you into a secretive world where you are the experiment (according to the BD back cover). It’s not really that interesting...

The second disc includes a DVD/Digital Copy Combo disc.



The Box is presented in 1080p high-definition (VC-1 video codec) and with a 2.40 aspect ratio. The picture on this release is decidedly underwhelming but I think that’s due to how Richard Kelly chose to shoot the movie rather than Warner’s transfer. A good portion of the film looks fairly soft but black levels are good and I noticed no noticeable flaws like dust and/or scratches. Otherwise, this is a good video transfer but due to the darker tone, you’re not going to get much of a pop.

Warner has given this release a decent 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The track isn’t anything special as there’s not a wide range of sound. A good portion of the film is dialogue driven with the rest coming from the score/soundtrack. However, there isn’t really a shining moment that I could discern. The big scene, where water fills the bedroom, sounded a tad flat to my ears rather than encompassing the room.


Sadly, there was an interesting premise here but Richard Kelly failed to flesh it out enough to make The Box an interesting and compelling story. Add in other minor flaws such as Diaz’s phony Southern accent or some unintentionally funny scenes and you’ve got a movie that shows a decline in a writer and director’s talent. I get what Kelly was trying to accomplish, I really do, unfortunately it just didn’t manifest itself very well.