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Behind the veil with “The Others” – The Criterion Collection


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / SDR FRAME SHOTS

Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Stewart, a devout Roman Catholic mother, who lives with her two young children. Mysteriously, her husband Charles (Christopher Eccleston), who she thought was killed in action during World War II, appears at the family’s remote country house on Jersey Island between England and France.



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“THE OTHERS” – THE CRITERION COLLECTION

4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 2001; PG-13 for thematic elements and frightening moments

Best extra: The new “A Look Back at ‘The Others’” featurette









SPANISH director/writer/composer Alejandro Amenábar (“The Sea Inside,” “Open Your Eyes”) delivered an effective, stunningly ghostly movie with “The Others.”

It was nominated for and won multiple international awards including Spain’s Oscars (The Goyas) for Best Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and Best Sound, a nod for the top prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, a couple of BAFTA nominations, and a Golden Globe nomination for Nicole Kidman as Best Actress.

PLOT/STORY

The film is set on the British Channel Island of Jersey in 1943. Grace (Kidman) is a widow living in a big, dark old house with her young daughter Anne (Annakina Mann) and son Nicholas (James Bentley). A dour trio of domestic servants (Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes, and Elaine Cassidy) appears at the door one day, seemingly out of the blue, and Grace hires them to replace the staff she says had recently vanished. Grace instructs the servants to never expose the children to sunlight because, she says, they have a genetic disease which would make such exposure fatal. So – ideally for a spooky movie – most of the film takes place in near-darkness, illuminated only by dim lamplight. The rare outdoor scenes are either at night or shrouded in heavy fog.


(1) Grace awakes with a terrifying scream. (2&3) A knock at the front door and Grace finds a trio of domestic servants - gardener Edmund Tuttle (Eric Sykes), a mute girl Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) and Mrs. Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan). (4&5) Grace gives them instructions while leading them on a tour of the dark house.





Grace is deeply religious and devotes a lot of her time to teaching the children catechism and reading the Bible, which Anne (the elder of the two children) often chafes against. The child also insists she’s been seeing and hearing ghosts, which terrifies her younger brother, and infuriates her mother.

Grace’s husband (Christopher Eccleston), whom she had assumed died in the war, suddenly materializes out of the fog one day, and reunites with his family – but only temporarily, insisting he has to go back to the front, leaving Grace newly devastated. Gradually, as barriers between real and imagined, and between the living and the dead, begin to disappear, a dreadful truth about the house and the family in it comes to light. Amenábar creates a totally engrossing, ominous atmosphere, and the brilliant acting of the entire cast, most notably Kidman’s, make “The Others” a modern classic of psychological and other-worldly suspense.

VIDEO

The original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 4K in Madrid, Spain, and the striking restoration was handled by Mercury Films. Most of the dirt and marks were removed, but we still found some small imperfections with dust marks and photochemical spots at times. Overall, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Strangely, the 4K disc is not encoded for any HDR toning, and the same with the European 4K disc released by StudioCanal. Amenábar who supervised the restoration must have felt the contrast levels and the Rec 709 color space were just fine. The cold color palette of browns and grays with only hints of a warm glow from lanterns sets the dramatic mood from Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (“The Road,” “Talk to Her”).

The 4K imagery was encoded onto a 100 GB disc, averaging a superb 90-plus Megabits per second, while the enclosed Blu-ray runs around 35 Mbps. The additional 50-plus Mbps gives the 4K film grain more definition and structure, while the additional resolution provides more clarity for the fabric patterns and edges around the actors and objects.


(1-3) Grace teaches the children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) catechism and readings from the Bible, which Anne often chafes against. (4) Grace begins to fear the unknown presence of others.





AUDIO

The 4K and Blu-ray include a new enveloping eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack. It’s quite terrifying, especially the opening scream from Grace, which leaps to height speakers and soars throughout the room. The score was also created by Amenábar, much like American filmmaker John Carpenter, who can also do it all. The orchestrated music cues has hints of Hitchcock’s lead composer Bernard Herrmann (“Vertigo,” “Psycho”) dominating the front speakers and also lift to height speakers.


EXTRAS

It’s no surprise the Criterion Blu-ray disc is loaded with meaty bonus features, some of which repeat from an earlier DVD version. In addition to an excellent recent commentary by Amenábar, there is a 2023 conversation between him and film critic Pau Gómez, as well as archival featurettes focused on the film’s production, soundtrack, and visual effects. Also find an audition video of Mann and Bentley; photography from “The Book of the Dead’; deleted scenes; and a booklet containing an essay by film scholar Philip Horne.

“A Look Back at ‘The Others’” features Amenábar, producer Fernando Bovaira, Kidman, and Eccleston, each recalling his or her experiences of the film. It was Amenábar’s third feature film, which he says he wrote “for fun.” It came together very quickly, after he had made the sci-fi hit, “Abre Los Ojos.” Amenábar was born in Chile, but raised in Spain, and had originally set the film in a “European” area of southern Chile, populated by many English-speaking expats. He decided to change the setting to the Channel Islands after learning that Jersey had been invaded by the Nazis during World War II and that its population is predominantly Catholic, which made it perfect for his story. He says he didn’t speak English at first, so had to work with an interpreter.

He discusses getting the film financed, which was helped by its low budget, as most of the movie takes place inside a house. Tom Cruise signed on as executive producer, as a result of having already bought the rights to “Abre Los Ojos,” which was remade as a star vehicle for himself in the U.S.: “Open Your Eyes.” He sent the screenplay for “The Others” to his then-wife Kidman, and she contacted Amenábar, because she wanted so much to play Grace. He had already offered the role to another actress, whom he felt was ideal for the role, but she never got back to him. He eventually realized Kidman was “perfect for the part of Grace,” noting her “classic” beauty and appreciating the “added glamour” she gave to the production.


(1) Grace instructs Mr. Tuttle to check a small nearby cemetery for the burial of a small boy named Victor. (2&3) Out of the fog Grace’s husband Charles appears and they walk toward the house.





Amenábar later moved to London in his search for the child actors. He learned to speak English, and visited numerous schools, until he discovered Mann and Bentley. He admits he wasn’t comfortable working with the children – he doesn’t have any of his own – and he took the young actors to an amusement park in order to gain their confidence.

Eccleston remarks on his initial impression of Amenábar who, he said had a “positive light coming out of him,” and seemed gentle. The director attended a London play Eccleston was in and hired him on the basis of it. He did all of his acting in a London studio, so they needed a double for the exterior scenes. During the shoot, he found out that Kidman was wearing a locket with his photo in it, which is never shown in the film, and that made him “feel important and welcome and relaxed.”

Kidman recalls being “terrified” as she got more into her character, and talked with Amenàbar about making changes in Grace’s personality. She hoped to humanize Grace and show her being motivated by her love for her children – a desire to save them, not hurt them. She thinks “The Others” is “like a Greek tragedy,” and “almost operatic, while being intimate and primal.” She saw the role of Grace as “complex … with enormous depth.” Playing the lead, which meant she carried the film, was “pivotal” for her career. Similar to “To Die For,” which she says proved she could play dark comedy, “[‘The Others’] opened many doors for me … as well as for other women.”

— Peggy Earle


(1) Grace shields Anne from the sunlight, after discovering all the curtains in the house have been removed. (2) The children begin to understand what's going on. (3) But Grace blames the servants and orders them to leave. (4) Mrs. Mills explains that it won't be long before Grace accepts the situation. (5) Grace finally comes to terms with her and the children’s fate.

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