Release Date(s)2018 (December 18, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/Reliance Entertainment (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
Based upon a series of books by John Bellairs, specifically the first in a series, The House with a Clock in Its Walls tells the story of Lewis, a recently-orphaned young boy who goes to live with his peculiar uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and his friend Florence (Cate Blanchett). In Jonathan’s home, which is a menagerie of priceless artifacts and objects that magically come to life, he soon reveals to Lewis that he’s a warlock and that Florence is a witch. Lewis learns that they’re searching for a ticking clock within the house’s walls, which was left behind by the previous owner, an evil warlock named Isaac (Kyle MacLachlan). Lewis soon becomes their apprentice and must fight to stop time from being reversed and ending humanity’s existence.
The biggest positive that I walked away with when I saw The House with a Clock in Its Walls for the first time was that it was one of the best examples of gateway horror for young viewers in recent memory. It’s just family-friendly enough to get by with a PG rating, but also scary enough to get them addicted. It’s not that it’s something that we haven’t seen before – many of its key traits and characters aren’t much different than other films from other, bigger franchises, but I still found it to be engaging and enjoyable. It also helped that I saw it with the 3D release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the head of it, which was shown during the film’s IMAX release. It was like an ooey, gooey, comfort food type amalgam of fun genre entertainment in one pleasant evening.
That said, there were some minor issues that popped up for me occasionally, such as some of the puking and diarrhea gags, as well as, and it should go without saying, the nightmarish mechanical Jack Black baby seen towards the end of the film. On the positive end of the creep spectrum, there’s also a collection of mechanical automatons in a couple of scenes, which were apparently taken from the personal collection of Steven Spielberg. They’re by far the eeriest things in the film. On top of all of that you have wonderful set design and a dark and atmospheric old house, which seems to be bursting with fantastic activity.
It’s also a plus that Jack Black is grounded as a character, which is good because he’s an actor that must be reined in editorially to be effective. He carries his character with a sense of old-world pride but also amusement, proving that occasionally, he can give a good performance if shaped well by a competent director and editor combo. Cate Blanchett is, of course, excellent as always, and young Owen Vaccaro is wonderful as Lewis. There’s also Kyle MacLachlan, often in full prosthetic make-up, looking thoroughly evil. It’s a fine cast, all around.
Judging by the negative comments surrounding the film and a lack of major box office success, it’s safe to say that there won’t be more adventures in this world, which I’m personally disheartened by. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is certainly one of those films that’s going to be more appreciated on home video, but not seeing what happens next in Lewis’ weird and wonderful world is a shame. To say the least, it’s a fun and spooky movie and, in my opinion, Eli Roth’s best film by a country mile, which is not a sentence I ever thought I would be writing.
Universal Pictures brings the film to Blu-ray with an expectedly but not unappreciated beautiful widescreen transfer. Shot digitally, it manages to still capture some depth due to a series of well-lit sets and mysterious, shadowy backgrounds. There’s a tinge of noise and softness, which is mostly inherent in the filmed format, but otherwise, there’s lovely color reproduction, high levels of detail, excellent contrast, and deep, inky blacks. In other words, nothing worthy of complaint.
For the audio, there’s an English Dolby Atmos track, as well as Spanish and French 7.1 DTS-HD tracks, and an English 2.0 DVS track. The Atmos track thoroughly delivers the goods with big, booming moments contrasted splendidly with quieter, ambient activity. Dialogue reproduction is perfect while the score and sound effects fill the surrounding speakers out well. It’s a very active and hard-hitting soundtrack in all the right ways you would expect from a modern adventure type film. Optional subtitles are also included in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The extras for this release may appear massive on the surface, but actually encapsulate much of the film’s promotional materials. Included is an audio commentary with director Eli Roth and actor Jack Black; an alternate opening and ending to the film, both with optional commentary by Roth and Black, as well as a Play All option; a set of 8 deleted scenes, also with optional commentary by Roth and Black and a Play All option (More Books, Please, A Horrible Practical Joke, Tarby Ditches Lewis, Eat Up, Play For Him, Get Out of the Way, Time is of the Essence, The Clock That Never Breaks, 12 Minutes to Go); a 4-minute Gag Reel; various sets of featurettes, including Warlocks and Witches (Finding Lewis, Jack’s Magical Journey, The Great Cate, The Terrifying Isaac Izard – 10 minutes with a Play All option); Movie Magic (The Ultimate Haunted House, Automatons Attack, Pumpkin Puke, Moving Pieces, Baby Jack – 10 minutes with a Play All option); Tick Tock: Bringing the Book to Life – 3 minutes; Eli Roth: Director’s Journals (Candler Mansion, Newman, GA, The Chair, Comrade Ivan, New Zebedee Elementary – 8 minutes with a Play All option); Owen Goes Behind the Scenes (Around the Set, Behind the Camera, The Big Interview, Downtime on Set – 4 minutes with a Play All option); various Digital HD promos (Theme Song Challenge – 3 minutes, Do You Know Jack Black? – 4 minutes, Abracadabra! – 1 minute, Jack Black’s Greatest Fear – 1 minute, The Mighty Wurlitzer – 3 minutes); a DVD copy; and a paper insert with a Digital Copy code. Unfortunately, there are no trailers, TV spots, or documentaries that go a little more in depth.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is one of those films that’s worth revisiting upon multiple occasions, especially during the Halloween season. It has all of the elements that a horror-loving family will enjoy. Universal’s Blu-ray release gives it that much more staying power with a nice A/V presentation and decent extras. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons