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Blu-ray Review: Charlie St. Cloud

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My initial instinct upon seeing that there was a movie starring teen heartthrob Zac Efron was to run away screaming. In fact, it took I had to muster up a significant amount of courage in order to willingly view Charlie St. Cloud without the aid of an equally significant amount of alcohol. And yet, as it turns out, Charlie St. Cloud wasn’t as bad as I had feared it would be. Oddly enough, the story — while somewhat predicable at times — almost came across as a heartfelt dramatic version of The Sixth Sense aimed at the Disney-oriented family audiences, with just a scooch of Dellamorte Dellamore. Well, at least it did in my eyes.

We begin with the happy white-bread world of our titular character, as portrayed by Efron (who really isn’t all that bad in the role). Charlie’s a promising young sailing buff in a small coastal town, whose life takes a turn for the worse when a car accident kills his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). The accident also deprives Charlie himself of the ability to breathe — but he’s promptly rescued from the realm of nothingness by a paramedic (Ray Liotta). Several years later, Charlie — now a recluse — works in a cemetery. In his spare time, he retreats to a spot in the forest where he converses and plays ball with the spirit of his dead brother (yes, Zac Efron sees dead people).

His peers mostly view him as a creepy, “dark” sort of fellow — although that doesn’t stop some of the local girls from lusting after the caterpillar-browed young hunk (which doesn’t happen, guys, trust me). Charlie, however, has no interest in reaching out to those in the world of the living. Why, he’s even grown distant from his own mother (Kim Basinger, in a rather small role)! All this changes, naturally, when he meets a like-minded sailing enthusiast named Tess (Amanda Crew), and a relationship begins to form that causes the ethereal Sam to become jealous (ghosts just have too much time on their hands).

But, perhaps Charlie’s ability to peer into the neighborhood of otherworldliness is a true godsend. A random encounter with the now terminally-ill paramedic who once saved his life brings to light that many things happen for a reason, and the former EMT sees Charlie’s second chance at life as a gift that could very well change his own life as well as the lives of others.

As I had said before, Charlie St. Cloud — which is based on the Ben Sherwood novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud (a title they probably should have stuck with for this film adaptation in my opinion) — is fairly predictable. The film presents itself in a reasonably fine fashion overall (I’m guessing it had a rather modest budget), and its stars deliver some bright and believable performances (seriously, I was actually somewhat impressed by Zac’s acting!).

Despite the fact that the subject matter may leave viewers wondering what the hell they have stepped in, Charlie St. Cloud has its share of flaws in the “pacing” department. Sure, the movie is a breeze to sit through, but it seems to be missing something when it comes to utterly captivating its audience. Supporting characters wander into a few shots, recite a few lines of dialogue, and then disappear for good. Our main character’s plight, on the other hand, never really builds up the sense of mystery that it should have. And then, there’s our script, which has a “paint-by-numbers” feel to it: the writers apparently want you to walk away from this one with a feeling of emptiness rather than enlightenment.

While the movie itself may leave you with a somewhat unfulfilled feeling on the whole, Universal Studios’ Blu-ray release of Charlie St. Cloud at least makes up for some of it. The 50GB disc presents the movie in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer, preserving the movie’s 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Colors are extremely rich and lifelike here, from lush forest environments to the aqua-tones of the sea. Detail is also pretty plentiful here, and you can almost see where one of Zac’s brow hairs ends and another begins! The contrast here is also commendable, giving this slightly supernatural family flick a more believable appearance than it probably needs.

On the audio end of the High Def spectrum, Charlie St. Cloud boasts an notable DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 track. You wouldn’t think such a film would give your stereo setup a decent workout, but between the background effects, musical score (caution: there are modern pop songs included in the film’s soundtrack), and the vivid sounds found above and below sea level, Charlie St. Cloud delivers. The disc also includes French and Spanish DTS 5.1 soundtracks, and optional subtitles accompany the film in English (SDH), French and Spanish.

Goodies? Yes, Charlie St. Cloud has a few. We begin with an audio commentary by director Burr Steers; one that may actually be recommended by physicians someday for people suffering from insomnia at that. If I had to describe it in five words, I would say “it is dry, dry, dry.” Next up are a handful of promotional behind-the-scenes featurettes that focus on the making of the movie and our lead actor — as well as that spiritual world beyond the movie relies on to tell its story. Several deleted scenes are also included, with optional (dry) commentary by director Steers again.

Finally, the initial Blu-ray releases of Charlie St. Cloud give viewers the option to a free streaming movie (Internet required) through the wonders of BD-Live. Normally, this isn’t a bad thing. In this case, though, our only two options are What Dreams May Come or Lorenzo’s Oil (ugh). While I’m sure that fans of the film will enjoy the selection of bonus tidbits that Universal has assembled for Charlie St. Cloud, others will more than likely never bother touching ‘em.

In short, Charlie St. Cloud is a decent film. It never really succeeds in pulling you in, but I could think of worse ways to spend the better portion of two hours (such as What Dreams May Come or Lorenzo’s Oil).

But at least we don’t have to see Zac Efron dance in this one!

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.