Dream House has an awful lot going for it; a cast with an impressive pedigree, a director with no fewer than six Oscar nominations, and major studio backing. Yet Jim Sheridan's film holds the dubious honour of having a far more compulsive off-screen story than its clumsily executed on-screen plot, with the end product here being a watchable yet largely lifeless jumble of professionally shot and acted sequences which gain little momentum or engaging flow.
What sort of off-screen shenanigans could have caused a director of such acclaim and proven track record to preside over a film of such scant merit? Reports suggest that Sheridan experienced a turbulent relationship with producer James G Robinson, resulting in numerous clashes over the direction the film would take, including the contents of the film's script. As a result, and after Sheridan had re-shot some scenes after running the initial cut past test audiences, the film company decided to re-cut the film themselves. Consequently, Sheridan made an attempt to disassociate his name from the film, and to exacerbate the disaster, Craig and Weisz - disappointed with the final cut - also declined to do press interviews.
Could things get much worse? Alas, yes. Morgan Creek, presumably in some sort of redoubled effort to ensure the film's success, created a revealing trailer for the newly cut movie, and in doing so ensured that a large number of people were exposed to the huge reveal which occurs at the midpoint of this movie. Cue more criticism, and another nail into the the coffin of a film which hadn't even been released at this point. To drive home the misery, it was allegedly decided that the film would not be screened to critics before its cinematic release, and with such subtle mastery of the film critic community, the Dream House nightmare was surely firmly cemented.
So what of the final product? Proceedings open slowly, with Craig seemingly locked in Bond mode, delivering his lines as lead Will Atenton in unconvincing grunts. Some intrigue is introduced as Atenton arrives at his snowy new home and meets up with wife Libby (Rachel Weisz), Craig loosens up somewhat, and a modicum of tension mounts as the couple's two children discover a shadowy stranger skulking around the grounds of the shadowy estate. There's the requisite jumps and hints towards the supernatural as the unfolding events chart a familiar course, when suddenly - with a bizarrely outrageous mid-film plot twist - the film's perspective undergoes a gargantuan shift, and the shift is delivered with such ham-fisted clumsiness, that any bubble of accumulated belief is unceremoniously burst.
From this point onwards, the viewer feels so deceived by this graceless manoeuvre that subsequent events are devoid of any credible impact, and whilst the unfolding of the tale is a watchable affair, it falls far below the standard we would expect from someone of Sheridan's calibre, though it is surely only the off-screen antics which are responsible for the failings of this visually slick tale. Certainly, the actors acquit themselves well under the circumstances, with Craig eventually warming up as his pairing with Weisz becomes more established, and Naomi Watts shining gently in an uncertain role which is not quite peripheral, but certainly understated for an actress of her ability.
From a starting point of enormous potential - a glowing cast and highly regarded director - Dream House falls victim to its off-screen shenanigans and degenerates into a mildly watchable sequence of well-shot yet ill-fitting scenes. It's a film that could have left you with an unsettling chill, or a poignant sense of sadness, but all that's left as the credits roll is an empty sensation of what could have been.
Warner Bros release Dream House on a region 2 encoded DVD, in the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Unlike so many other parts of this film, the DVD transfer is handled competently, with the balance of colour proving consistent and convincing throughout. The darker shades and blacks, of which there are many in this sometimes creepy production, are satisfyingly solid, and the lighter scenes in the snow are presented well, with no sign of over-saturation or blurring. The image looks sharp and accurate, and I've no real complaints.
The menu structure is short and simple, and there are trailers here for the comedy Crazy Stupid Love, and the enjoyable obsessive hand-washer, Contagion.
Subtitles are fairly well served with the offering accommodating English Hard of Hearing, Castilian Spanish, and French.
Audio is delivered equally well in Dolby Digital 5.1. John Debney's acclaimed, impressive score proves clear and vibrant, with the tonal balance doing full justice to the musical arrangement.
Levels are generally very well pitched, although I thought I noticed a slightly unnatural and loud delivery during one of Weisz's outbursts. It's a minor comment and overall there are no genuine complaints here.
Extras are limited to a solitary featurette, Building a Dream House. The segment is a five minute piece which includes interviews with various people involved in the film, including some of the cast, and provides some focus on the effort which went into building a model of the house in question. It's a remarkably forgettable segment.
Unsurprisingly, the DVD does not include a copy of the trailer which landed the film company with such an enormous volume of criticism. If you do intend to watch this film, avoid the trailer at all costs.
The off-screen shenanigans may raise a little interest in this mildly watchable thriller, and the presentation on this DVD is certainly of a decent enough quality, but for most, the lack of a consistently delivered story, and the clumsy introduction of what could have been a compelling plot twist at the mid-point make this Dream House package neither a dream nor a nightmare, but rather a daytime slumber to which you'll likely feel depressingly indifferent.
Behind-the-scenes chaos snatches away the initial promise of Jim Sheridan's Dream House, presented in a minimal but decent enough DVD package from Warner Bros.