Originally a comedy filmmaker with a great sense of timing (1980's Used Cars , 1985's Back to the Future), director Robert Zemeckis has since become fascinated with cinematic sleights of hand. He's worked on some of the most technically audacious films to come out of Hollywood, with 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1994's Forrest Gump, and 1997's Contact among them all films that have advanced computer technology and celluloid trickery to new levels, so much so that they can be appreciated solely for that alone. Zemeckis made two hit films in 2000 with the benefit of said tricks, Cast Away and What Lies Beneath (filmed during the hiatus from shooting Cast Away so star Tom Hanks could drop a lot of weight). Chronologically first, Beneath is technically savvy as with most Zemeckis films but vapid, failing in all the areas that Cast Away doesn't. Instead, Cast Away succeeds because it puts its dazzling effects at the service of a poignant human story. On a stop home for Christmas, workaholic FedEx troubleshooter Chuck Noland (Hanks) finds himself ready to propose to his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt), but he is dispatched on an airborne errand, only to have his plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The accident's sole survivor, Noland washes ashore on a deserted island with only a couple of recovered FedEx boxes (one with a volleyball that he later paints and names Wilson) and a toothache to keep him company. As years pass, Noland finds that he has to survive and accept the banality of his life on the island, only to find hope in a section of a port-o-potty that might be used as a sail. Much like What Lies Beneath , Cast Away was roundly criticized in its release for a spoiler-ridden trailer (both divulge the setting of the final act), but in this case the critics missed the point of the film: The trailer can't destroy the picture's storytelling force, which is not about where the story takes our main character, but instead how the ordeal alters him.
* * *
Cast Away shows in the simplest way possible a man's journey to understand the value of his time and his life. Hanks skillfully portrays this transformation, and it would be easy to overlook the two-time Oscar winner's genius in the part we've come to accept Hanks as an everyman but he has a genuine gift at making experiences seem real, and perhaps no other actor would be as palatable to watch alone on a desert island. Co-star Helen Hunt was ubiquitous when this film arrived in 2000 (she had three other films arrive within three months of this one, all of which she was awful in), but here she provides the necessary star-wattage to make her minimal screen-time count (and, rare for her, she's actually good). Both actors are well-guided by Zemeckis, who directs with laudable simplicity, allowing the story to unfold at its own pace without Hollywood pap (cf. the lack of score on the island). Hanks is alone in the middle of the ocean, and as the supplements on the DVD show, much of that was achieved by computer effects more than would be guessed. But these effects are nearly seamless, with many of them undetectable unless pointed out beforehand. Such current technology was the only way the story could be told (based on William Broyles Jr.'s simple-but-involving screenplay), making Cast Away one of the rare cases where Hollywood was the only place that could deliver this movie right, and yet didn't screw it up in the process.
Fox's two-DVD set is loaded with information that may spoil some of that digital trickery, but it also is a testament to the impressive layers of work that went into creating such effects. Disc One features the film in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES, and standard English and French Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks. Also on board is an assembled audio commentary with director Zemeckis, director of photography Don Burgess, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, co-visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas, and sound designer Randy Thom. Disc Two features "The Making of Cast Away," which originally aired as an HBO "First Look" short; the featurettes "S.T.O.P.: Surviving As a Cast Away," "The Island," and "Wilson: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra"; Charlie Rose's TV interview with Tom Hanks; six scenes broken down for special-effects analysis by Ralston and Villegas; two theatrical trailers and multiple TV spots; and galleries of behind-the-scenes images, storyboards, conceptual art, and illustrations. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.