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Unidentified (DVD Review)

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.comDuring a wild weekend in Las Vegas, four young friends get into trouble with a loan shark and must skip town in a hurry. But gambling problems may be the least of their worries after they get stranded in the Nevada desert. One of the guys discovers a mysterious metal fragment, then promptly goes missing during the night. When the remaining three catch up with their lost friend, there’s something different about him. As his condition worsens, the others realize that something unearthly might be stalking them in the desert. 

 

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.com

 

Film 

Vegas, baby! Yes, Unidentified starts us off with the introduction to a couple of real mean motor scooters. Okay, they’re not mean, they’re just annoying as all hell, some more than others. This group of rag-tag member is comprised of Jodie (Eric Artell), Jeremy (Parry Shen), Dave (Colton Dunn), and Nick (Eddie Mui). After ditching the worries of their ordinary lives for some fun an debauchery in Sin City, things slowly begin to spiral out of control when Nick and Dave  end up getting way over their heads and end up owing a lot o money to a loan shark. Hijinks ensue and it becomes a tale of survival. In the city that never sleeps the group of friends will have to do everything they can to stay alive but loan sharks will be the least of their problems.

On the way back from Vegas the boys get stranded out in the middle of the desert with no way out. Armed with only Jodie’s camera that was originally supposed to be used to capture the insanity of the city (and Nick’s gambling ways so as to report back to his wife, because Nick is also Jodie’s brother-in-law) will now be used to document the weird happenings out in the middle nowhere. Things that go bump in the night, strange guttural rumblings, weird patterned lightning strikes, power surges, etc., seem to the litter their pathway not making it any easier for them to get help on foot.

After some trotting along a rugged path the four friends come upon what looks to be a gas station with an eccentric occupant who tells them that all is not what it seems and that they should be gone before it’s too late. The road to their salvation is going over a mountain into the next town. The problem is that some unseen force has disabled one of our “heroes” and things really go down hill soon thereafter.

Honestly, I really, REALLY wanted to like Unidentified but the first hour is actually pretty grating to get through. The film is shot in the “found footage” style, which is fine, but I only wish the hijinks in Vegas were a bit more fun. The banter between the guys is fine but there is no snark or wit in it all. Jodie is annoying and usually the cause of their trouble but then you sort of feel sorry for the guy, because he’s just an awkward kids with no social skills.

All is not lost, though, because once we get to the desert things pick up with a bang. We go from a dull Vegas story into a horror-science-fiction infused tale of survival that will really mess with your mind. There are strange and terrible things happening out in the desert and the boys are caught up in the mess with virtually no way out. Seriously, if the first part of the film had been like the last 30-minutes of the film – Unidentified would be a cult-classic no questions asked. Watching the film it’s actually abundantly clear that it cost very little to make and Jason Miller pretty much pulled a Robert Rodriguez and did most of the work himself, which is awesome, and it also helped that some of the actors and Miller come from the Adam Green school of filmmaking, which is also awesome in its own right. It’s just frustrating that the film doesn’t work 100% of the time or even 50% of the time.

I’m hoping that Miller and Co. stay the course and make their next project with more resources and a better script. The potential is definitely here and I do look forward to more projects from these filmmakers. As far as recommending the film itself I cannot give it a pass but if you were to see it anyway then I would look at it more from a tutorial point of view. Take it in, learn from it, and make your own movie. It really works more as an instructional film on a micro-budget than a standard film. I would not be surprised if this project was crowd funded (I don’t know that it was), because if you watch the credits it doesn’t look like there were more than 12-24 people that worked on the entire thing.

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.com

Video  

Encoding: MPEG-2

Resolution: 480p upscaled to 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: The image is as clear as can be – it was shot on digital, so it will never look pristine, but does what it can considering its low budget source. There’ absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Depth: There isn’t necessarily pop to the picture until we get to Vegas and the Strip and when the alien occurrences happen. Other than that, some of the conditions are just plain ordinary and the desert scenes look average.

Black Levels: Black levels were really deep and in the scenes involving horror and dread really played up its strengths. Shooting out in the Vegas desert is pretty scary and some of the conditions were only enhanced by how deep the black levels were. Yes, crush was present, but it’s a DVD we’re talking about here not a Blu-ray. I accept the excuse.

Color Reproduction: Color levels and separation were great – on the Strip and outside of it. Some of the scenes that had special effects really did look great with the added dimension of a bright and bold color palette. Banding was inconsequential.

Flesh Tones: All skin tones were warm and natural in appearance.

Noise/Artifacts: There were various noise and artifacts but since the film played as a “found footage” film it wasn’t a big deal since most those nuances were intentional.

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.com

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: I love how the quiet scenes contrasted with the action sequences and it brought out all the little nuances in the surround track.

Low Frequency Extension: This one is a bit weird because even though it’s in 5.1. I kept my eye on the subwoofer and I never saw it turn on. It played as if it were a 5.0 soundtrack. The bass was still there but there was no LFE added.

Surround Sound Presentation: Surround sound effects were actually pretty awesome. During the scenes out in the desert you could really feel the sense of horror as “things” circled the boys as they were stranded. During the big scene at the end the sound field kicks it with a very memorable 360-degree pass.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue levels were fine. I had no trouble understanding what any of the characters were going on about during their ordeal.

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.com

Extras 

Unidentified has few quality extras worthy of note. It’s nice to see that a film such as this one, budget wise, didn’t really skimp on the important features like a commentary or an actual in-depth look at how they shot some of the collect scenes in the film. It’s a nice set of features.

  • Commentary with Writer-Director Jason R. Miller – Writer-Director Jason Miller takes the viewer on an adventure on how Unidentified came into being. It’s a fun and brisk audio commentary and Miller talks about the story, his involvement, the actors, the no-budget special effects, etc. For all of you student filmmakers out there – this commentary is key, because Miller got his film school education by listening to audio commentaries. And you can too! 
  • Jodieman YouTube Videos (SD, 13:55) – Jodieman made individual YouTube character bios for his band of superheroes and uploaded them online. All of them are presented for your annoyance.
  • Unidentified Space Cam (SD, 21.10) – By far, my favorite special feature on this DVD. If you have already seen the film and noticed how cool the ending shots are then you’ll be in for a real surprise when you find out that the effects are all REAL. Our director and actors Eddie Mui and Parry Shan tag along with some proffesional balloon operators as they send off multiple camera rigs off into the atmosphere to capture some stellar footage to use in the film. How they do it, capture it, and make it work, will blow your mind. Sometimes just being resourceful with what you’ve got yields the best results.
  • Trailer  (SD, 2:10) – Theatrical trailer of the film that makes the film out to be straight horror/sci-fi, when there was more comedy elements to it. It’s okay.

Unidentified - www.whysoblu.com

Summary  

Unidentified is not completely unwatchable at all. It’s a nice little micro-budgeted film that could have worked in spades had the first hour of the film been a bit more congruent with the latter part. It went from being a road film with some friends having fun Vegas to a very dark and dreary science-fiction-horror film. The latter worked really well, but the first part did not. The DVD has some okay video and sound specs and some really cool special features. If you’re at all curious about Unidentified then I’d give it a rental.

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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