Silent Hill Review (Blu-ray)

Video gamers collectively cheer and moan when word comes Hollywood is adapting one of their beloved titles or series into a major motion picture. They cheer for the realization of favorite characters, guns and settings on the big screen then moan at the reality most video game films are directed by Uwe Boll, not worth the film stock they’re shot on, or both. Ironically no matter how shoddy the film turns out, these lifelong fans will ultimately first in line for their beloved game-turned-movie and translate to an immediate and certain audience.

Silent Hill, based on the long-running Konami horror survival video game series, is rolling out as a rare new-theatrical release in the midst of Blu-ray’s first months of existence. When early adopters are willing to grab titles they’d never look twice at on standard DVD ” such as video game translations. The timely “Silent Hill” release will attract a new audience not familiar with the game or series, raising the importance that it not only looks good in high definition, a hit-or-miss experience for Blu-ray adopters, but also works as a standalone story the uninitiated can grasp onto and enjoy.

As someone who falls into the uninitiated group, I found Silent Hill works best when the flow of information surrounding events is left appropriately silent. Early on an air of mystery builds tension while Rose (Radha Mitchell) journeys to the forbidden and abandoned West Virginia mining town of Silent Hill in order to uncover the cause behind her adopted daughter Sharon’s demonic visions and mutterings of the town’s name. This tension peaks as Rose crashes her vehicle into the town, awakens to find her daughter missing and then is forced to explore the gray, ashen surroundings until an evil darkness teeming with hell’s creations is forewarned by a air raid siren, leaving Rose fighting for her life.

These monsters are obviously a key element of the game, but in terms of supporting the film’s story beyond scares, they feel haphazardly tossed in to appease Silent Hill fans and nothing more. I feel like Sean Bean’s wasted Sharon’s father character; left behind and frustrated when unable to find answers that may or may not exist. I’m dieing to know why there’s a giant muscle man with a pyramid on his head. Game fanatics can probably spew out this character’s entire history without batting an eyelash, while I’m left pondering where he falls in the monster hierarchy and why he even exists at all. I also want to know why some monsters look like mummies while others look like gobs of goop, and why Sharon’s mouth is missing on the cover art. Instead, the only explanations support the main B-movie grade plotline of why the town turned into purgatory and why Rose’s daughter is drawn to it.

Silent Hill

Compared to other recent video game translations to film like Doom and Resident Evil, Silent Hill manages to take an evolutionary step forward with genre-worthy set and monster design, a favorable amount of R-rated gratuitous torture and gore, and a consistently spooky tone on-par with Pet Cemetery. Unfortunately a weak, unexciting story and unexplained game fanfare partially alienates both newcomers to the series and fans of the source material.

Silent Hill’s two-hour plus runtime, lossless PCM 5.1 audio, frenetic imagery and ashen gray or dark settings provide a daunting amount of material for Blu-ray Disc’s MPEG-2 compression to cram onto a single 25GB disc. Even with the absence of extra features found on the DVD version, this transfer is unable to consistently keep up with the source material. The appearance of annoying digital noise and muddy blacks come and go with the frequency of the darkness that haunts the town of Silent Hill. These switches that instantly shift the color palette from grim blacks to bright whites and grays bring out the flaws, including a small amount of print specks, the most. In contrast, during another scene when a goop monster approaches Rose and the police officer at the town’s limits, the transfer holds up remarkably well as ash falls from the sky and the monster makes his move.

Sony has yet to disappoint when it comes to powerful audio and Silent Hill’s PCM 5.1 soundtrack is no exception. When my dogs jump up barking as a reaction to a movie, as they did when the air raid siren first goes off, I know the mix has struck an ear-popping chord I’m proud to power through my speakers. All speakers receive a well-balanced workout from Silent Hill’s abundance of scream, shrieks, loud clanging noises, infamous air raid siren and all the enveloping sounds hell’s doorstep creates. The only complaint I might consider filing against the mix is – at times – the blaring sounds of hell can overpower dialogue.

Silent Hill

I did encounter a couple oddities or glitches while playing back this disc on the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player that may or may not affect you. First, I was unable to access the disc at all until I set a parental control in the player’s menu. I’ve never had to do this for a Blu-ray Disc before and hopefully won’t have to do it again. Then during playback, I had some hiccup issues at the 1:18 mark that caused the screen to stutter for several seconds before correcting itself. I played through this time marker multiple times to confirm this wasn’t a freak occurrence, and it was not. I’ll be curious to hear if anyone else has experienced this or if it’s a flaw unique to my disc.

Of all the Blu-ray Discs Sony has released to-date, Silent Hill would have benefited from a BD-50 disc treatment more than any other. The added space would have first and foremost cleaned up the erratic roller coaster picture clarity ride, and also allowed the filmmakers and even Konami to explain the background behind all the cool hell imagery through commentaries and featurettes. Instead, “Silent Hill” on Blu-ray Disc will leave diehard fans of the game series scratching their head at the uninspired origin story, newcomers scratching their head at the barrage of unexplained hell imagery, and everyone scratching their head at another missed opportunity for Blu-ray Disc to shine by letting us “Experience (True) High Definition” on a rare new theatrical release and commendable video game-to-film adaptation.

– Dan Bradley

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