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The House With a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 12/18/2018

All Ratings out of
Movie: Ĺ
Video: Ĺ

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/26/2018

As a child, when a meal called for a spread for bread, we would have margarine. At some point, I discovered real butter in a restaurant and wondered why my family would have something like margarine when butter was available. Since that time, I've been very wary of accepting substitutes when a superior product is available. This approach can be applied to movies as well. It can be a challenge to enjoy a film when you've seen something which was similar and better. In the world of movies based on YA novels, we've seen a lot of movies which have analogous themes and ideas, and we have to separate to trend-setters from the also-rans. Be prepared to do this with The House With a Clock in Its Walls.

The year is 1955, and following the death of his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Uncle Jonathan lives in a weird old house, a house which is full of clocks. He spends much of his time with his friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). Lewis soon learns that Jonathan is a warlock and that Florence is knowledgeable about magic as well. But, Lewis has bigger concerns, as heís struggling to fit in at school, where a smart kid who wears aviator goggles isnít readily accepted. Lewis begins to pass the time by learning about magic and becomes convinced that he can win friends using the things which Jonathan has taught him. But, Lewis is unaware of the houseís sinister past and the dark side of magic.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is based on a novel by John Bellairs which was published in 1993, over twenty years before Harry Potter was introduced to the world. But, that doesnít change the fact that the film version appears nearly twenty years after the students of Hogwarts hit the big-screen. Thus, itís impossible to ignore the similarities between the two, as an orphaned boy is sent to live with relatives, only to discover the world of magic. Following this, the boy must learn to use magic in order to defeat a wizard. Beyond that, the tone and the scope of the filmís are certainly different. While Harry Potter introduced us to a whole world of wizardry, The House With a Clock in Its Walls confines most of its action to the old house. This film vacillates between a mystery and a fantasy, while attempting to remain grounded in the real world.

But, while The House With a Clock in Its Walls may remind us of another boy wizard, the movie pales in comparison and sports some very obvious flaws. Lewis is not only meant to be the main character, but heís the audienceís anchor as the movie enters some bizarre territory. Yet, heís not very likeable. Itís difficult to tell if is the writing or Vaccroís performance, but from his first appearance on-screen, thereís nothing appealing about Lewis. Uncle Jonathanís exuberance is obviously supposed to be the opposite of Lewisí demeanor, but Jack Blackís energy simply overwhelms Vaccaro (and itís clear that Black has attempted to tone it down here). While some rules are implicitly spelled-out, much of the world here remains ill-defined. The story meanders and the finale feelís very hackneyed (not to mention that some poor CGI doesnít help).

Along with the fact that we feel as if weíve seen this all before, Director Eli Roth must shoulder much of the blame. He has built a career creating sub-par horror films and now, for some reason, has turned his attention to somewhat lighter fare. In the past, Roth has proven that he likes to choose spectacle over storytelling and thatís certainly on display here. Thereís nothing wrong with injecting some scary moments into a film like this, but Roth never finds a balance in tone, as dark moments and sophomoric rear their heads quite often, throwing off the flow of the film.

Itís highly likely that fans of the original novel (and itís multiple sequels) felt that Harry Potter borrowed some ideas from that book, and Iím sure that in 1973 the novelís ideas felt very fresh. Today, The House With a Clock in Its Walls feels like a big-budget imitator and itís impossible to watch the film and not think about other properties. The production-design is great and itís fun to watch Black and Blanchett play off of one-another, but the film canít escape itís been there, done that feel.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls overuses a litter-box joke on 4K UHD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 50 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and despite the fact that this is a dark film, the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent, as we can make out textures on objects, and the depth works well. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences deliver a nice array of surround sound and stereo effects. The sound moves smoothly from front-to-back. The subwoofer effects are powerful and add to the experience.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls 4K UHD contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Eli Roth and Jack Black. The Disc offers nine DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Roth and Black. These are all brief and don't offer any new characters or subplots. In addition to these scenes, we get an "Alternate Opening" (4 minutes), which shows more of a flashback which was glimpsed in the movie, and an "Alternate Ending" (1 minute), which doesn't change the overall finale. There is also a 4-minute GAG REEL. The remainder of the extras are found on the included Blu-ray Disc. "Warlocks and Witches" (10 minutes) is a four-part featurette which examines the cast, including interviews with the actors and comments from Roth. "Movie Magic" (10 minutes) is a five-part featurette which draws attention to the set design and the visual effects. This includes a tour of the house set. "Tick Tock: Bringing to Book to Life" (3 minutes) has the creative team discussing their love for the novel and the approach to adapting the book. "Eli Roth: Director's Journals" (7 minutes) is a six-part featurette which shows Roth doing various things on-set and interacting with the cast. "Owen Goes Behind the Scenes" (4 minutes) is a four-part featurette which shows Owen Vaccaro wandering the set, showing off various parts of the production. "Theme Song Challenge" (3 minutes) has Black and some others performing famous songs from shows. "Do You Know Jack Black?" (4 minutes) is an odd segment in which Black asks his castmates questions about him. "Abracadabra!" (1 minute) has Roth and Vaccaro doing a card trick. "Jack Black's Greatest Fear" (1 minute) features a goat cameo. "The Mighty Wurlitzer" (2 minutes) has Composer Nathan Barr showing off an antique organ.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long