Wild Things

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Synopsis

A spoiled rich kid, a troubled teen from the wrong side of the tracks, a carefree playboy and a dogged detective find themselves all caught up in the sex crime of the century in this steamy star-studded crime thriller from the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Popular and charming, student counsellor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is no stranger to being the focus of female attention within the moneyed cliques of Florida’s Blue Bay. His fortunes are about to change dramatically, however, when one of the wealthiest students at his high school, sultry siren Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), accuses him of rape. The charge looks sure to stick when another girl from the other end of the social spectrum, Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), steps forward with her own allegations, but Detective Duquette (Kevin Bacon) smells something fishy, and the truth is as murky and dangerous as the alligator-infested swamps in the hinterlands of this affluent beach community.

Presented in new 4K restorations of its original theatrical version and extended ‘Unrated Edition’, Wild Things is a classic piece of sexy late-90s neo-noir from director John McNaughton and writer Stephen Peters, whose serpentine plotting will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end credits roll.

Picture 9/10

Arrow Video presents John McNaughton’s Wild Things on 4K UHD, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of about 2.39:1 on a triple-layer disc. The film has received a new 4K restoration, performed by Sony, and the presentation has been encoded here at 2160p/24hz with Dolby Vision. Arrow includes both the theatrical and extended cuts, presented via seamless branching.

Though I would have never thought the film was one that was crying for a new 4K restoration, Sony apparently disagrees, and they have done it an incredible service because, boy oh boy, does it ever look good. I own the original DVD for the film and have not seen the prior Sony Blu-ray edition, but it’s still very easy to see that the film has received a notable boost from the upgrade.

The source materials and the original photography can limit things a little bit, a few longer shots looking a tad hazy around the edges, but the overall image is incredibly sharp and crisp, objects and tighter details all cleanly defined. Close-ups look exceptional, with a staggering level of detail during its stronger moments, with every hair, every pore, every thread, and every scale on the various reptiles all clear as day. Textures look very life like as well, the swamp settings coming out stronger than they have before, and film grain is rendered cleanly and naturally, giving the film that texture I love to see.

Arrow also provides solid looking encode, and the restoration work is exceptional, no blemish or mark of any sort appearing to remain (the original DVD was littered with debris and marks), but what makes this presentation a home run is the application of HDR and Dolby Vision. The sunny Florida setting gets a nice boost, whether it’s from how the light reflects off of the ocean or off that pastel blue suit Bill Murray’s lawyer wears in the courtroom scene. Highlights are also better, allowing more details in the clouds and the ocean backdrop. But it’s the film’s many darker, nighttime sequences that benefit most, from the moonlit bogs to sleazy hotels. A few sequences like this are clearly brightened on the DVD, I assume due to the limited range of the format, but that wider level of range here allows for far more nuance in the shadows, leading to more detail. Interestingly, this all ends up being addressed in the 1998 commentary that is included as a bonus track on the disc, where it’s mentioned how the home video format’s (DVD in this case) limited dynamic range impacts how the film looks, either hiding details or moments that just don’t look right thanks to weaker shadows. They lament that video can’t quite capture how the film looks when projected. This topic comes up in reference to a nighttime scene closer to the end where, on the DVD, the details of a banyan tree are limited, and the reflection off of a polished shoe ends up looking like a character is wearing white socks. To be honest, you could still make out aspects of the tree on the DVD’s presentation due to an adjustment in brightness and/or contrast, but, yes, it does look like a character is wearing white socks with black shoes. With this new presentation, the sequence is darker and looks like it’s taking place during the appropriate time of the evening, and it still delivers details in the shadows, leading that tree being visible, all thanks to the wider dynamic range. It’s also clearer now that the light is reflecting off of the character’s polished shoes and not that the character makes poor fashion choices.

These improvements also carry on through to the rest of the film, leading to the dank hotel looking extra danky, the low light illuminating the dark setting wonderfully thanks to a clean gradient and discernable details in the darker background. There are some hotter moments, too, the MaxCLL just under 2000, but it’s used effectively and still looks natural, whether it be the neon signs or string lights along a dark road, the moon’s light reflecting off of a wet road, or even headlights piercing through the night. It all looks just perfect.

Colours also look great, blues and reds looking really strong, and some of the neons that pop up are some of the better-looking ones I’ve seen on video. I wasn’t really expecting all that much, but the film (each version) really does deliver, and I feel the film remarkably shows off the strengths of the format.

Audio 8/10

The film comes with a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. I only listened to the 5.1 track.

The mix is fairly simple, with only a few moments taking advantage of the surrounds. Still, most of that limited to ambient noise, but it’s crisp and clear with incredible range, George S. Clinton’s sweltering noir-ish score doing an especially solid job filling out the soundfield. Dialogue is sharp and clear, and there is no noise or distortion to speak of.

Extras 7/10

Arrow’s limited special edition isn’t what one might called “stacked” but it at least ports over supplements from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions while also adding on some new material. The disc first includes two audio commentaries: a new one, recorded exclusively for this edition, featuring McNaughton and producer Steven A. Jones, and the original 1998 DVD commentary featuring McNaughton and Jones along with cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball, producer Rodney Liber, editor Elena Maganini, and composer George S. Clinton. Both are only included with the theatrical version of the film. Sadly, neither track proves all that noteworthy. The original group track (all participants recorded together) is probably the better of the two, with everyone covering their duties and tasks on the film, but I swear most of it focuses on the film’s locations, from scouting them to getting permission to use them for the film, with most difficulties sounding to have been centered around the courthouse sequence. The newer track does expand on things a little bit but ends up being surprisingly sparse with a fair amount of dead space.

Still, despite their respective shortcomings, both tracks still manage to throw out some fun little tidbits, the most amusing of which may be how the full-frontal nude scene involving Kevin Bacon, a big deal at the time, made it into the film (thinking it was unfair there is rarely male nudity in films, Maganini used what was an incorrectly framed shot, exposing Bacon’s “bacon,” as they call it, and it was kept in the film with the actor’s blessing). I also learned how Bill Murray came on board and was surprised by the fact many were concerned about the casting of Campbell, then known primarily for Party of Five. Yet most of this also ends up being covered in a new 26-minute interview with director John McNaughton, which looks to have been recorded during his session for Arrow’s (UK) release for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. On top of those subjects McNaughton explains his reasoning for doing the film (wanted to do something more commercial), acknowledging that the script offered a fine line between doing something decent and something “lousy,” but he really felt the material could work. He also talks about the difficulty in making something “erotic” that pushed boundaries when it felt like everything had already been done (it ultimately all feels rather tame now, though). He also explains how shooting sex scenes is, in practice, never sexy and just awkward for everyone.

It’s a frank and fun interview, and the same can be said for a new one featuring actor Denise Richards. For her 14-minute discussion Richards explains her reasons for joining the film, feeling she needed something different after just finishing Starship Troopers, before discussing the film’s nude scenes and the odd bureaucratic approach that went into figuring out what would be shown. But she spends most of her time talking about her experience as a newcomer and trying to really put her stamp on the character, her nerves not helped by the fact she was working with a number of old-school pros. Thankfully she found a lot of support, particularly in Theresa Russell and Bill Murray, the latter of whom she calls “adorable.”

I confess I’m one of those that has unfairly picked on Richards through the years, but she comes off very open and grounded here, admits to her weaknesses at the time, caused somewhat by the anxieties of working on something that was a big production relying more on her performance than spectacle, unlike her previous film. Her interview also made me appreciate her performance a little more because she clearly knew the type of character she was playing, and she really did add humanity to what does appear to be a cookie cutter stereotype of a character (inspired by people McNaughton and others met while doing pre-production), further complicated by the twisty nature of the film. It’s a good interview and probably the most pleasant surprise here.

The rest of the material is archival, like a 4-minute production featurette that’s about what you expect: a few interviews with cast and crew covering the basics of the film and their characters. There’s also a supplement called “An Understanding Lawyer” outtakes, featuring around 27-seconds’ worth or Bill Murray’s reactions to a line delivered by Matt Dillon’s character. This was originally a fragment from a collection of deleted scenes that were included on the original DVD. There were a couple of other ones on the DVD, but they appear to have been placed back into the extended version, so I assume Arrow didn’t see the point in including them.

As to the extended version of the film (which is presented on the main menu as an option) it’s just that: a longer version of the film with some new scenes that don’t add anything of significance. I guess I was expecting a more graphic sex scene or far more nudity since the 2004 DVD edition sells the version as “UNRATED,” the marketing suggesting (of course!) this was more graphic, but other than what appears to be an extra nude shot during a nighttime pool sequence there isn’t anything, and there was certainly nothing that put the film in danger of receiving an NC-17 rating. Most of the additions are trivial, but the most noteworthy footage appears during the closing credits, where the film “clears up” several plot twists. This new footage confirms how two characters first met, but I assume it was initially cut because another scene during the credits that appears here and in the extended version already suggests how they met, making it a bit redundant. So, no, the longer edition doesn’t change the film in a substantial way other than making its runtime longer.

The disc closes with a small gallery featuring some production photos, along with a standard-definition upscale of the film’s trailer. Arrow’s limited edition then comes with a fold-out poster, which features the new artwork on one side and the original poster art on the other, along with a 58-page booklet. The booklet ends up being a rather solid addition, filling in that academic gap the disc features otherwise have, first with Anne Billson’s excellent essay about Hollywood’s late 90’s/early 2000’s “sexy” thrillers and this film’s place with them, followed by another good essay by Sean Hogan, who writes about a particular noir sub-genre, the Florida noir. I’m a little disappointed that neither one (or at least Billson’s) wasn’t turned into some sort of visual essay but they still both make for great reads. The booklet ends up being one of the stronger additions to the release.

The release also includes 6 photo reproductions, which are found in the standard 4K UHD case with the disc. That case, along with the poster and booklet, are then packaged inside a sturdy cardboard sleeve.

It’s a wonderful looking release, far more elaborate than I ever would have expected for the film. Sadly, the features don’t entirely live up to what the packaging seems to promise. At the very least, Arrow’s new interviews and the booklet add some great value on their own.

Closing

The film looks absolutely incredible through Arrow's new 4K UHD thanks to the improved rendering of the film’s black levels, shadows, and all of those neon lights.

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Directed by: John McNaughton
Year: 1998
Time: 115 | 108 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: May 24 2022
MSRP: $59.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray
1 Disc | UHD-100
2.39:1 ratio
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region None
HDR: Dolby Vision [Theatrical Cut] ,  Dolby Vision [Unrated Version]
 
 Exclusive new audio commentary by director John McNaughton and producer Steven A. Jones   Commentary by director John McNaughton, cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball, producers Steven A. Jones and Rodney Liber, editor Elena Maganini and score composer George S. Clinton   Exclusive new interview with John McNaughton   Exclusive new interview with Denise Richards   Making of documentary   An Understanding Lawyer outtakes   Trailer   Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson and Sean Hogan   Double-sided fold-out poster   Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions   Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sam Hadley