Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Film length: 2hr 17mins
Theatrical Release: 2000
Blu-ray release: 2007
After I first watched Cast Away (I must have rented it when it first came out on DVD), I remember telling my friends that this film deserves every Oscar the Academy could throw at it. I got a lot of eye rolling from those who hadn’t seen it yet since Tom Hanks had just come off an amazing run in the 90’s (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, and The Green Mile) where his films either won or were nominated for various prestigious Oscar categories.
I suppose everyone had “Tom Hanks fatigue” by then and it is too bad if anyone might have skipped it for that reason, because out of all of those films Cast Away might be the best in that line up.
The film (5/5)
“I’ll be right back!”
Cast Away begins in 1995 and centers around Chuck Noland (Hanks), a busy Fed Ex Systems Engineer. He is the type to get his hands dirty, and motivate employees to better their delivery times. He is meticulous and dedicated to his job.
So, when his work pager (remember those?) goes off during Christmas dinner, he heads off to Malaysia leaving behind his (almost) fiancée, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), with the promise of returning home to Memphis, Tennessee before New Years Day. When his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean during a storm, it leaves him stranded alone on a small, isolated island. Since his plane was far off course when it went down, his chance of being found is a remote one.
Cast Away is much more than “Will this guy get off of the island?” story. Tom Hanks came up with the idea for the movie while filming Apollo 13, and wanted to ask the question of how someone would feel while isolated on a small island. The result is a film that explores not only survival, but loneliness and how isolation affects him.
Chuck goes through a dramatic physical transformation before our eyes (Hanks lost 55 lbs and let his hair and beard grow wild for a year before they shot the second half of the film). But, it is not the typical “movie story” about the self-centered arse who goes through a traumatic event, and becomes a better person by the end. Without getting too spoiler-ish, we eventually discover that Chuck cannot go back to who he was at the beginning of the film, and we mourn that loss. From that moment on, his personal growth is subtle and savored until in the film’s final moments. It is a wonderful payoff.
What stood out to me/Memorable moments
The camera stays on Hanks
We only see and know what Chuck does. The opening scenes of the film shows a Fed Ex package being delivered to him in Russia. Once it is in his hands, the camera rarely shows us a shot without Chuck in it.
When the plane is going down we only see what is happening to Chuck. Pilots are talking jargon that we don’t understand because Chuck doesn’t. We hear the side door being ripped open, but we only see how it affects Chuck. At one point we hear a thumping noise off-screen while Chuck is trying to sleep on the beach. We don’t discover the cause of the noise until Chuck does.
When he uses the blade of an ice skate as an impromptu mirror to look at his abscessed tooth. We don’t see a camera shot of what is happening inside of his mouth. We only get to see the same reflection in the blade that Chuck does. When Chuck’s friend is telling a co-worker about his wife’s cancer treatment, the camera is on Chuck’s uncomfortable face.
You can’t see the special effects
Cast Away is loaded with special effects that you probably won’t notice unless you dive into some behind-the-scenes content. A huge effort went into finding the right island for this film, but still it wasn’t perfect. In reality, other islands can be seen on the horizon and the beach is flanked by hills on both sides. The special effects department took great lengths to remove these islands and a second hill to give you a better feeling of isolation.
There is one scene where Chuck is looking down at the island. The two real things in the shot is Tom Hanks and a rock he is standing on in a studio parking lot. The rest is CG. It is incredible how they were able to pull this off in 2000 and still have it look good in 2017.
I just need to mention the film’s stand out co-star. You know what I’m talking about if you have watched Cast Away already.
There are many bright outdoor scenes that expose a lot of film grain, and the result is a movie that looks older than it should. You can see the odd piece of dirt flick by at times too. It’s not bad overall, but not great. Bring on a remaster.
The audio is top-notch and how a Blu-ray should sound. This is the most impressed I have been by a DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track as it gave my set up a nice workout. My sub-woofer rumbled along with the crashing ocean waves during the storm, and the scream of the jet plane crash was loud. The surround sound was in constant use during the quieter times on the island as the sound of the crashing surf was always in the distance. Very impressed.
Special Features (2/5)
What is here is regurgitated from the film’s DVD release and half of it is missing from the special 2 disc edition. The commentary track is solid. It features director Robert Zemeckis, the director of photography, a special effects dude, and one of the sound engineers. You can tell it is spliced together from several different conversations but I did catch them talking to each other once. Regardless, it is crammed with plenty of behind the curtain info and back story. Worth listening to if you are a fan and haven’t yet.
The rest is a couple of HD trailers and a Fox “trivia track”. Nothing to write home about. A remaster with all the content from the original DVD 2 disc set and some updated “looking back” content would be worth picking up.
Cast Away is the result of one person’s desire to take a standard story beyond what has already been done. Hanks brought some of Hollywood’s best talent together to help him pull it off and the result is a great movie. It may not be the single film I’d choose to have with me if I was… stranded on a deserted island… but it is close.