If The Haunted Mansion (the third film in as many years adapted from a Disney theme park ride) is remotely tolerable, that may have to do with Elf screenwriter David Berenbaum. The opening credits set up the flimsy history that brings real estate power couple Jim (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) to a rundown estate they think they’re going to sell to someone else. Soon the backstory moves front-and-center and the Evers clan begins to butt heads with all sorts of kooky ghosts, flying musical instruments, and rotting corpses. The haunted house tropes are overly familiar. From the threatening paintings to the dry-heaving doors, the film’s haunted house tropes are as familiar here as they are in Nintendo’s GameCube’s “Lugi’s Haunted House.” Courtesy of director Rob Minkoff, there’s a non-threatening storybook quality to the film that should go over well with the kids but may just bore parents to death. Less dorky than you’d imagine, The Haunted Mansion also isn’t very inspired. The biggest surprise here may be that Jennifer Tilly, as a ghostly fourtune-teller trapped inside her own crystal ball, is not the best thing about the film. That honor goes to Terence Stamp’s voice inflection. Though the perpetually toothy Murphy needs to be cock-blocked a few times (“At Evers and Evers, we want you to be happy for evers and evers” is his company’s shrill motto), Berenbaum seems to have fun making Jim and his son Michael (Marc John Jefferies) the chicken-shits of the film’s story. Jim tries to help Michael kill a spider but can’t seem to smash the poor thing. His daughter, Megan (Aree Davis), does it for him, and as she walks off, Daddy tells his son, “Whack your own spider!” That’s about as subversive as The Haunted Mansion gets, which is kind of sad considering how genuinely inspired the set designs really are.
Considering how many times the so-so CGI in the film gives the folks at BVHE the opportunity to fuck up, it's no small feat that this transfer looks so good. Not once did I spot an edge halo, and detail is exceptional from front to back (no matter how far the moving object). The print is clean, skin tones are outstanding and shadow delineation is beautiful. The image is a little on the grainy side, but this actually makes the film play more intimately. As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 track: Dialogue is crisp, and though bass levels are not exactly impressive, the track makes excellent use of both right and left channels. Definitely a full-bodied sonic experience.
Rather than linger on the commentary tracks included here (especially since they're really designed for people who know the name of the person who does the voice-over for the Haunted Mansion theme park ride), I would like someone to hunt down the person(s) or corporation(s) responsible for proofreading DVD covers. Despite what the back cover tells you, there are two commentary tracks included here, one by producer Don Hahn, visual effect supervisor Jay Redd and writer David Berenbaum and a second by director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mona May. The latter is arguably the more important one, yet you won't find it advertised on back. Oh well. Better than the commentaries any way is a "Secrets Revealed" featurette that goes into the geek-ery that went into bringing the theme park to the big screen and an "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette that goes into the particulars of the Ghost Graveyard sequence. I couldn't be bothered to play the DVD Virtual Ride (the introduction and instructions took too long), but it will take you only a minute to watch the Deleted Scene (yes, folks, just one!). Next up is an Outtakes Reel (or Bloopers, as advertised on back), a "Superstition" video by ex-Cosby Show cutie-patooty-turned-chunk Raven Simone (the bad news: it's nowhere near as campy as the "No Secrets" video featured on the Sleeping Beauty DVD), and trailers for the upcoming Aladdin Special Edition, The Incredibles and Ghosts of the Abyss.
Who would have thought that BVHE would do right by The Haunted Mansion but not Kill Bill: Vol. 1?