Whether you treat Biblical stories as fact, metaphor or slight exaggeration, there’s no denying their enduring qualities and powerful imagery. Among the most vivid and famous of these tales addresses the ten plagues in Egypt, an Old Testament tale that’s been debated for longer than most of us have been alive. Warner Home Video’s The Reaping provides a thrilling and modern take on the plagues, complete with scientists trying to debunk the myths. Yet while the plague story itself might stand the test of time, it’s debatable whether the Blu-ray Disc release itself will do the same.
At its core, The Reaping tells the story of a woman struggling to come to terms with her faith in light of her tragic past and her nigh-inexplicable present. Hilary Swank plays that woman, an ordained missionary-turned-atheist name Katherine Winter who has built her post-religious career by debunking so-called miracles. Accompanied by her assistant-turned-coworker, Ben (masterfully portrayed by Idris Elba), Katherine ventures into the sleepy town of Haven, Louisiana, to try to scientifically explain what residents describe as a series of plagues brought on by a “devil worshipping” 12-year-old girl. By the time the tenth plague rolls around, viewers have experienced no fewer than three plot twists, five deaths and 1 million locusts, each frame oozing both style and well-plotted character.
If only the high definition presentation were as strong as the film itself. The multimedia elements are just fine, with both the video and audio transfers easily holding their own in the recent wave of high-def releases. The VC-1 video transfer generally has good differentiation between dark and light tones, with the contrast and saturation standing out particularly well in the bayou scenes. Several darker scenes show some grain, but this is the case with many movies” dark scenes, and in a way it adds to the “fright factor” of the film, almost like an old horror flick. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 also holds up well, both in terms of its well-balanced high and low values and its use of environmental surround-sound effects to really draw viewers in to the bayou setting.
But the bonus features”let’s just say they leave much to be desired. Only five in number (and only 32:16 in total length), several of the bonus features were conceptually compelling enough that they deserve more fleshing out, while at least two seem like throw-aways. The most compelling by far is also the longest: Science of the Ten Plagues (16:00). In this feature, the producers interview religious scholars, scientists, a paranormal investigator and researchers to further explore the scientific explanation for the plagues as described by Swank’s character in the film. Its mix of movie footage and on-camera interviews is serviceable, and although its entirety is essentially a drawn-out explanation of a 30-second in-film scene, the information it contains is still fascinating.
A Place Called Haven (5:02), which quickly describes the process of selecting set locations and the hospitality of local residents, is one of the features that deserved much more attention from the production team. At about the four-minute mark, it’s revealed that The Reaping was on-location in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, and that 80 percent of its crew was left homeless by the devastating storm. But after just 45 seconds, all Katrina mentions are stopped and the featurette moves right along. Being so intimately associated with such a monumental natural disaster, even to the point that one of the interviewees pauses slightly when recalling the storm, it’s hard to fathom why the producers didn’t delve into Katrina’s impact more than they did, or perhaps even devote an entire bonus feature to it.
Instead, they made room for The Reaping (1:08), a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it feature about Idris Elba’s distaste for locusts, and The Characters (7:00), a series of mostly superficial interviews with the four primary cast members about their characters” motivation (which we know from watching the film) and the actors” on-set chemistry. Fortunately, the Blu-ray Disc ends its bonuses on a somewhat-high note, with Easter Egg (3:06), a short story written and narrated by AnnaSophia Robb, the girl who plays the “devil-worshipping” 12-year old. Considering this was written by a “tween,” the story is surprisingly powerful and creative, but it does make one wonder about the girl’s state of mind.
But not including an audio commentary? Such a track featuring the director and writer could’ve been incredible. No theatrical trailers? That’s almost a “gimme” nowadays. No in-depth discussion about the effects of Katrina on production or a cast-and-crew photo gallery of the devastation? Sure, that’s just me playing director, but such items would’ve added to the longevity and interest of the bonus features.
As a thriller, The Reaping certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint, and its exploration of the intersection of science and religion definitely makes one stop and think. But as a Blu-ray release, The Reaping is plagued by too few and too-short featurettes, quickly undoing most of the goodwill that its solid video and audio transfers will win among the home-theater and home-movie crowd.
– Jonas Allen