The story is of a 'Haunted House in space' with a crew sent to find out what happened to the ship of the film's title which disappeared seven years previously after generating its own black hole to travel who-knows-where. The ship has suddenly returned... but where has it been? Where are the crew? And is there something alien aboard it?
Sam Neill stars as the scientist who designed the ship's revolutionary engine, still having nightmares over his wife's suicide which happened during one of his long trips away from home, and forced on the ship's reluctant crew as leader of the mission. Laurence Fishburne is the captain still haunted by the loss of a crew member on his watch some years ago and unhappy that he and his crew are missing out on their vacation for some half-baked mission. The rest of the crew played by actors with relatively minor roles, but pretty much all of whom will be familiar to most modern movie goers, especially Brits.
Director Paul Anderson starts off well, letting the story (and the terror) build up slowly. The cinematography and 'Notre Dame as a spaceship' sets are stunning, and shown to great effect on this stunning DVD transfer. Surround-sound is used to maximum effect, particularly in the DTS mix included in this special edition, and there are plenty of jump-a-foot-out-of-your-seat moments. The film has all the signs of being a classic. Unfortunately nobody really thought beyond the basic 'Haunted House' premise, and the last half hour throws away all the good done in the first hour, with a silly action-oriented blood-bath that just gets sillier and sillier without any kind of killer pay-off. Ultimately one ends the film feeling cheated - it's as if someone forgot to write a proper ending.
I'm generally against silly gimmicky-shaped boxes that make items like this hard to stack, but have to confess that this special edition represents great value for money in terms of the physical collateral it ships with. In a hinged, ornate, gothic case, not dis-similar from the sort of shape used for the first releases of the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series, the case for the DVD is a thing of beauty. Inside in a CD-sized digipack are a luxury booklet in a pocket sleeve and two DVDs - the first containing an incredibly good transfer of the film which at times looks like it's hi-def, the second containing a whole bunch of features, each clocking in at close to half an hour, built primarily around interviews with the director, producer and actor Jason Isaacs. A commentary from the producer and director can be skipped as it just repeats much of what's in the more interesting featurettes. There are also some deleted and extended scenes. In short, there's plenty here for the most obsessed fan.
The packaging is so lavish for the low price I was tempted to give this eight out of 10. Where it falls down is that, once again, we Brits get an inferior version of what has already been released in the States. The commentary track talks about the forthcoming film Troy which gives you an idea of when this package was prepared, and it's disappointing, given that this is a British production filmed at Pinewood, with all the extra's recorded here too that we've had to wait so long for this to get a British release. Worse, the American release included an extended version of the film - this British version doesn't, and yet the included booklet refers to the package contents as if it did. Someone's just taken the American material and not checked it for accuracy or relevance. I really am beginning to regret not sticking with 'Region 1 only' DVDs when we Brits get screwed as often as we do, paying twice the price for half the content of the equivalent American releases. With the region coding taken off the forthcoming HD-DVD format I wonder if the lazy, rip-off British suppliers realise just how little business they're going to be doing with their British releases if the HD-DVD format takes off (the first seven British HD-DVD titles have been announced - and they are a pathetic, lacklustre set when compared with US releases that include 'day and date' release of some high-profile DVD releases).
That being said, if you can't be bothered to import DVDs this represents good value for money when compared with similar offerings at the same price point that are on the shop shelves. This release seems to be rather hard to track down in the retail stores - the producers have clearly spent the money on the product rather than paying the backhanders necessary to the likes of HMV to ensure the release gets visibility in the 'New Releases' rack. If you're not too worried about a poor final act, and want something to show off your home cinema system then this is a 'purchase' rather than a 'rental', despite the fact that the film itself turns out to be a huge disappointment.