Contaminated Man (2000) review

Contaminated Man DVD artIf nothing else, you have to give CONTAMINATED MAN credit for laying all its cards on the table: as you might have guessed from the title, it is indeed about a contaminated man. In a world of information overload, where ADHD video viewers might have skimmed past something titled “The Budapest Crisis” (or some such) without ever knowing the nature of the crisis, you can bet that, thanks to truth-in-titling, said viewers can quickly make an informed decision about whether or not they want to watch a movie about a contaminated man. If they opt in, they have no one to blame but themselves – well, and the filmmakers.
In 1986 Los Angeles, lab researcher David R. Whitman accidentally infects his wife and child with a deadly disease. How David can live long enough to pass on the disease, while his family perish in mere minutes, is a question the film will save for decades later, when we find Whitman, who has understandably left his previous employer, cleaning up toxic spills in Budapest. Meanwhile, Joseph Muller (Peter Weller) confronts the boss who just fired him from his job as a security at a chemical laboratory; an altercation leads to Muller being infected with a disease suspiciously similar to the one that afflicted Whitman. Whitman is called in to clean up the mess and track down Muller, but the situation is complicated by the presence of NSA agents Holly Anderson (Natascha McElhone) and Wyles (Michael Brandon), who suspect that terrorism may be afoot.
CONTAMINATED MAN begins with a hint of promise. The initial deaths are shocking and horrific, and Weller manages to disappear inside his character, offering a convincing and sympathetic portrait of a man driven by desperate circumstances. (Muller’s loss of employment affects his ability to pay alimony, which negates his child custody agreement with his former wife.)
Unfortunately, the conflict between Whitman and Wyles is leaden, turning what could have been a fascinating contamination-procedural thriller (a la 2011’s CONTAGION) into a B-movie spy thriller without any real spy. Despite the NSA agent’s’ suspicions, it is clear that Muller simply wants to return to Germany to reunite with his family.The only question is whether Whitman can convince Wyles to stand down, and the answer is a not very surprising: no.
Hurt strives to find some dramatic gravitas inside the formulaic script; his character senses the parallel between himself and Muller and hopes to redeem the horrible past by saving Muller’s family from a similar fate. However, the overblown melodrama ultimately defeats the actor, as the film subverts its few good qualities with gratuitous plot twists and a “surprise” revelation that ties the prologue in with present events: back in ’86, the NSA deliberately infected Whitman as a test-run of the disease. This leads to the predictable conclusion wherein Whitman settles the score with Wyles, turning the attempted story of personal redemption into pulp-style revenge.
The disease – created in the lab as a bio-weapon – has a rather convenient set of rules in order to keep the plot running: the carrier can live for up to a week without symptoms, and there is a simple antidote; those he touches, however, die almost instantly. If that were not contrived enough, Muller realizes early on that he is contaminated, but he makes only a token effort at avoiding contact with others (e.g., he avoids shaking hands, but he doesn’t wear gloves, and he doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed that he risks infecting his estranged family). With victims dropping like flies, you wonder why it is so hard to track down Muller (who by the way is surprisingly durable and athletic for such an old guy – at least in long shots when the stuntman can take over).
Eventually, CONTAMINATED MAN descends to milking “suspense” from sequences that simply have none to give. Whitman is re-infected with the disease; we assume he has immunity from his previous exposure, but the film presents this resolution as a surprise. Later, Muller puts his infected blood in a remote-controlled miniature submarine (a toy intended for his son) and threatens to explode it in the local water supply if his family is not brought to him. This leads to one of the most absurd action sequences in the history of film, with Whitman and Anderson tracking and capturing the sub, then racing to keep one step ahead – and thus out of remote-control range – as Muller follows them. The fact that they are on a motorboat halfway across a huge lake, while Muller is running on shore, makes the outcome a no-brainer, yet the sequences is cut to suggest that somehow, Muller might overtake them.
Oh well, sillier films have been entertaining. But that requires a little pizzazz from the cast and crew, which is in short supply here. McElhone is miscast as Agent Anderson; we can’t blame her for failing to gneerate sparks with the much older Hurt, but her attempts to talk tough are so unconvincing that romantic chemistry is the only possible justification for her presence. Brandon makes Wyles a convincing prick, but he never rises to the level of villainy that would make him a memorable “man you love to hate.”
Director Anthony Hickcox (who made some quirky horror comedies in the 1980s, such as WAXWORK and SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT) does competent but anonymous work here. The effects of the disease and handled with convincing horror, but he never comes to grips with the screenplay’s absurdities, presenting them with a straight face when it might have been better to send them up.
Only Peter Weller emerges with his dignity and reputation intact. He almost sells the film, but neither the writer nor the director are smart enough to that killing off the heart of your story leaves a big gaping hole that needs to be filled by something other than chase-scenes and cheesy payback.
But then again, if you watch a movie as bluntly titles as CONTAMINATED MAN, why would you expect anything more subtle?

Toy Story 1 & 2 Blu-ray review

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It might seem odd that the first two Toy Story films are so often mentioned in the same breath as the Godfather epic; though the films share little in common, there is a unifying bond – in both cases, a masterpiece was actually improved upon in a sequel.  The rarity of this occurrence is well documented among cineastes, putting these 2 disparate sets of films in the same exclusive club.  Disney is certainly hoping not to have Godfather III luck this summer, when the heavily anticipated Toy Story 3-D arrives in theaters; in the meantime, they’ve given fans a treat to hold them over – Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu-Ray.  Now, we won’t waste time with a plot synopsis – if the story of Woody, Buzz and the rest of young Andy’s toys isn’t already familiar, than willful ignorance can be the only culprit.  Instead we’re going to concentrate on the contents of the new discs and see how they stack-up against the previous releases, including the extremely comprehensive (as far as supplemental go) Ultimate Toy Box release.
Back in 1995, the release of Toy Story was a not-so-minor milestone in the process of modern animation.  Not only was it the first Pixar feature film (made on a relatively modest budget with a staff of just over 100 people); it was also the first film to be entirely created using digital animation.  1995 might not seem that long ago, but in terms of technology it could well be a lifetime; its initial home video release was on VHS and Laserdisc, and it would take the 2000 home video release of its sequel, Toy Story 2, before the films received DVD treatment.  It would be another decade, however, before the films received a home video release that replicates the images the original animators created more than 15 years ago.  Both previous DVD sets were considered to be high quality releases of the moment, so our expectations were caught unawares by the near-ethereal image quality present on the Blu-Ray discs.  Looking beyond the bright, bold colors, we were absolutely gob-smacked by the sumptuous textures.  Details that were always present but had been hidden away by 480p transfers (the grain of the wood in Andy’s headboard, the stitching on Jessie and Woody’s vests, or the scales on Rex) now leapt off the screen as if rendered in 3-D (and, in spite of the recent 3D re-release, neither film was shot in that format).  In fact, the image quality is so pristine that some might not even notice the new DTS lossless audio track, adding yet another layer of dimensionality to the show.   
When we first saw Toy Story, the seemingly dull rendering of Andy (the only human that we see enough to concentrate on) made us dubious of the capabilities of digital animation; sure, you can animate inanimate objects, but are actual human beings that far beyond their range?  With the BD release you can finally see not only additional detail in Andy himself but clear evidence that the animators goal was to imbue the plastic toys with as much – or even more – personality than the humans of the world.  Since their release, the art and science of digital animation has grown at a geometric rate; Pixar’s continuing success eventually forced Disney to re-think their own approach to animation, and saw other studios like Fox and DreamWorks opening their own lucrative animation studios, though none would enjoy Pixar’s level of critical and box office success. 
Now, obviously, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 belong on a very short list of DVDs that you can find in virtually every household – regardless of the presence of children.  And we certainly feel that Disney’s new Blu-Ray discs operate at a reference standard that no serious videophile should be without, but the completist will want to take note that not all previously released bonus features made the jump to Blu-Ray.  On the plus side, there are quite a few new features present on the discs – all of which are in HD:
Toy Story bonus features:

  • The Story: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off
  • Paths to Pixar: Artists – a series of shorts in which Pixar’s artists discuss how they arrived at the company
  • Studio Stories – a series of ‘life at Pixar’ shorts that will make you hate your own job that much more
  • Buzz Takes Manhattan – the debut of the Buzz balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade
  • Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw – an early edit of the film that nearly strangled digital animation in the cradle 

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Toy Story 2 bonus features:

  • Characters: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station
  • Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists – same as above, but the techies
  • Studio Stories – more stories to remind you that you don’t work at Pixar
  • Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft – a nicely heartfelt tribute to a noted animation story editor

In addition to the new material, an enormous amount of the previously released bonus material has been included as well, but there is also a decent-sized chunk of material (mostly from the now out-of-print Ultimate Toy Box set) that didn’t make it.  We can’t pretend that we’ll miss the effects-only audio track, but we are a bit surprised to see that the Tin Toy short was omitted (you can view the entire list of missing material over at the Digital Bits).  As with most of Disney’s high profile BD releases, each set also includes a standard-def DVD with the film and bonus materials.

The Ninth Gate (2000) – Horror Film Review

The original DVD, released on July 18, 2000, now out of print

Roman Polanski’s diabolical little thriller may not rise to the level of his acknowledged classics in the horror genre; nevertheless, it represents a return to form for the director of such memorable films as Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. Decades later, THE NINTH GATE may not be groundbreaking in the way those films were back in the 1960s, but it features the same sure-handed control of cinematic elements.
Unlike modern horror films, THE NINTH GATE takes a more classic approach to its subject matter, slowly and carefully building up and sustaining suspense, with an undercurrent of supernatural dread, while seldom offering overt shocks. The storyline is basically a Satanic variation on Dashiell Hammett’s  The Maltese Falcon, with Johnny Depp as Corso, an ethically unscrupulous procurer of rare books. A rich collector named Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires Corso to authenticate a Satanic volume in his collection. Once he takes the job, Corso encounters a Satan-worshipping widow (Lena Olin) and an enigmatic motorcycle-riding woman (Emmanuelle Seigner), who turns out to be his guardian angel of sorts — although demon may be the more appropriate designation.
The audience is supposed to respect Corso because because he is a talented professional, good at what he does, regardless of the fact that he behaves without ethics. Yet by the end of THE NINTH GATE, Corso has, like Sam Spade before him, given up on just completing the job and collecting his paycheck; he has become consumed by the mystery, which he wishes to solve for its own sake. The film’s wicked joke is that the character’s spiritual awakening dives in the opposite direction of salvation. Apparently Lucifer’s chosen one (for no apparent reason, except perhaps that the Devil likes his style), Corso puts the pieces together and unravels Lucifer’s mysterious puzzle. When last seen, approaching a castle gate (presumably the ninth gate of the title) from which emanates a blazing, glorious light (recall that “Lucifer” originally meant “bringer of light”), Corso is presumably heading toward—what?
Damnation? If so, THE NINTH GATE’s vision of damnation is a strange one. The Devil-worshippers we see preparing for a black mass are derided mercilessly by Balkan, who interrupts and chastises them for chanting “mumbo-jumbo.” His sentiments echoes those expressed earlier in the film by the owner of another copy of the rare Satanic volume. The film seems to tell us that these Satanists are just in it for the orgies and the kicks; they are not carrying on the true faith. Yet somehow Corso, the non-believer, winds up receiving the Devil’s blessing, and in some way, apparently, we are meant to see this as an achievement. Needless to say, this ending (which lacks the visual and/or dramatic punch it really needs in order to cap the film satisfactorily) did not go down well with audiences in theatres, but it does make a kind of sense in the context of the film.


THE NINTH GATE’s was original released on DVD by Artisan Entertainment on July 18, 2000. That now out-of-print DVD has sinsce been replaced by Lionsgate’s May 22, 2007 DVD, which was followed by Lionsgate’s subsequent Blu-ray disc on August 11, 2009. These later releases essentially recreate the bonus features from the Artisan DVD, while improving upon the Artisan disc’s interminably slow opening menus; the Blu-ray disc also offers a new 1080p high-defintion transfer. The special features include an isolated music score, a featurette, a gallery of satanic drawings, storyboard selections, theatrical trailers and TV spots, cast and crew info, production notes, scene access, and an interactive menu.
The featurette truly puts emphasis on the suffix “ette”—it flashes by in about the length of time one would expect for a commercial, but it does include a nice moment or two (such as Depp’s observation that you begin the film by hating Corso because he’s a bad guy, but by the time you’ve grown to like him near the end, he has in fact grown even worse).
Fortuantely, Roman Polanski’s audio commentary makes up for the disappointing behind-the-scenes featurette. The director is clearly uncomfortable sitting through THE NINTH GATE again; right off the bat he calls the experience “unusual” and emphasizes that he doesn’t go back to his films “unless compelled to.” Later, he explains, “I avoid watching my films because most of the time I feel like I would like to improve certain things. In other moments, I’m straight ashamed of certain things I did, and it just doesn’t do me any good to revisit this.” This discomfort is apparent also in the way that the commentary drops out and returns periodically throughout the film, no doubt indicating various stops-and-starts during the recording process.
Despite this, Polanski turns out to be a thoughtful and amusing commentator on his own work. His voice is slow, and occasionally he apologizes for his pronunciation, but overall his English is good, and he delivers numerous behind-the-scenes details and philosophical tidbits that make the experience amusing and informative. During one of his many explanations for not wanting to re-view his films and ponder the way he might have improved them, he states that after a certain point, one is no longer improving a film; one has only the illusion of making it better and “better is often the enemy of good.”
Most interesting from a technical point of view is that this deceptively simple film is loaded with hundreds of special effects of the most invisible kind (often to establish settings or enhance live-action effects, sometimes to film tricky bits of action without putting the actors in danger). In an amusing early note, Polanski points out that the opening skyline shot of Manhattan was filmed by a second-unit; he discretely neglects to mention that this had to be the case—not because it’s a shot not involving principal actors, but because the director is a fugitive from justice in this country (since pleading guilty to a rape charge in the 1970s) and cannot legally return to the location. There are other amusing omissions. At one point, the director explains his reasons for casting Emmanuelle Seigner (“I thought Emmanuel had the right looks for the role, and she can be enigmatic”), but he neglects to mention that he’s married to her.
In other interesting asides, Polanski also confirms the film’s debt to the writings of Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler, admitting that the proceedings are almost a parody of the private detective genre. He mentions, “It’s a good thing to make a movie about a book…now that it has competition from the computer.” On the subject of his Satanic subject matter (which he handled before in Rosemary’s Baby), he claims, “I’m not a believer, but the Devil is a good guy to make a film about—even if you don’t see him” (as indeed you don’t, in either film). He adds that Rosemary’s Baby was a more serious take on the subject matter, so he felt compelled to set that film up so that everything could be interpreted without recourse to the supernatural—as a paranoid delusion by Rosemary, brought on by the strain and stress of her pregnancy. THE NINTH GATE, on the other hand, is a “fairy tale for adults,” so he felt no concern about downplaying the supernatural element.
Polanski briefly addresses this element during the film’s closing scenes. After describing Johnny Depps’s character as a “mercenary” who later comes to want “access to the mystery,” he adds a few words about Seigner’s unnamed character “who clearly represents the Devil.” Still, Polanski stops short of clearing up the details: he leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether the character is merely servant of the Devil or the Devil disguised in a form that would appeal to Corso, and he states clearly, “I’m not going to explain the film.”
Commenting on THE NINTH GATE’s existence on DVD, Polanski says he was thinking of adding missing scenes for the disc, but there were none to be had; although some scenes were trimmed or shortened, none were entirely cut out. Later, he mentions that all the insert shots of books (which revel important clues to the mystery) were very carefully planned for the benefit of nitpickers who like to rewind and check details over and over again, looking for cheats and/or continuity errors.
“I challenge anyone to find any lack of logic in this!” the director proudly states.
Near the end, he states that there is no better way of seeing a movie than in a theatre, but viewing one at home is the next best thing, so he is grateful for the invention of DVDs, because the image quality of VHS is poor and Laserdiscs were too heavy and clunky.
Finally, after a cigar and some chocolate to help him through the film, Polanski signs off by sighing, “Well, this was an experience!”
Perhaps a trying experience for him, as a director forced to sit through one of his finished films when he would much prefer to be looking forward t his next work, but for us in the audience, the experience is perfectly enjoyable. THE NINTH GATE may not be a perfect movie (typical of Polanski, the deliberate pace is a bit too deliberate, and the climax could have used something more…climactic maybe?); nevertheless, this is a worthwhile film, and Polanski’s commentary provides a glimpse of a talented mind still capable of applying the craftsmanship necessary to fashion an effective, suggestive horror film without relying on shock effects.
THE NINTH GATE may not appeal to the MTV audience (Polanski himself states that the film’s style is a reaction against flashy contemporary fashions in cinema), but fans of thoughtful, intelligent horror movie-making, with carefully modulated scenes and performances that lull you into accepting the incredible story,will find the subject matter intriguing enough to be worth investigating. Just don’t lose yourself in the mystery as Corso does.
THE NINTH GATE (2000). Directed by Roman Polanski. Screenplay by John Brownjohn & Enrique Urbizu and Roman Polanski. Cast: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford, Jack Taylor, Jos Lopez Rodero, James Russo.

Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) – Anime Film Review

This 48-minute Japanese animated film earned accolades back in 2000 for being ground-breaking in its technique – using computer-generated imagery to simulate the look of traditional anime – but once you get past that small achievement, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is mediocre at best – a rather dull piece of work that feels almost exactly like what it is: a showcase for a technical advance, which hopefully will be put to better use later. The CGI renders some impressive visuals, but back story and exposition are virtually non-existent; the whole thing is just a series of bloody set pieces, featuring a mono-expression heroine who walks around looking nothing but sullen at school until she flashes her sword from time to time to kill off some mutant vampires. Basically, it’s a Japanese Buffy, without the humor.
The story, such as it is, has vampire hunter Saya going under cover at a school on an American air force base in Japan during the Vietnam War. The organization for whom she works has determined that a couple of ‘chiroptera’ (despite the film’s title, the dialogue deliberately avoids the word “vampire’) have infiltrated the base, so they set her up in one of those cute naval-looking schoolgirl uniforms and get her enrolled. Thankfully, Saya does not have to endure wearing her silly outfit for long; before she has had much time to investigate, the chiroptera reveal themselves, leading to a bloody fight followed by a pretty nifty chase scene along the airport runway, with a jeep pursuing a flying winged demon as it tries to hitch a ride on a departing plane.
After this memorable set piece, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE simply stops, as if the production ran out of money. A confused school nurse, who witnessed most of the events before Saya’s colleagues cleaned up the bodies, identifies a 19th century photograph of Saya with the word “vampire?” written on it – implying that Saya is the ‘Last Vampire” of the title.
Earlier, the dialogue had referenced Saya as the last remaining “original,” suggesting that the vampires she kills are some kind of a mutant strain (they morph from human form into monsters), but the script cannot be bothered with sorting out the implications. Like a bad TV pilot, BLOOD; THE LAST VAMPIRE simply leaves questions unanswered, presumably to be sorted out at a later date. Since then, there have been a manga sequel and a spin-off television show, which hopefully filled in some of the details that the original couldn’t be bothered to explicate. Most recently, a 2009 live-action film featured a series of flashbacks to explain Saya’s past and set up last-reel confrontation that brought the story to a more clear-cut conclusion.
As the archetypal tough chick who kicks ass, Saya provides a few thrills, but she doesn’t have enough personality to carry the film; the writing it one-dimensional, and the inexpressive animation hardly helps. Despite the mystery about her, she has no mystique. The same could be said of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE as a whole: it’s all flashy surface withnothing of interest underneath.
BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE (2000). Directed by Hirohki Kitakubo. Screenplay, Kenji Kamiyama; writer Katsuya Terada. Voices: Youki Kudoh, Saemi Nakamura, Joe Romersa, Rebecca Fordstadt, tuart Robinson, Akira Koteyama, Tom Fahn. (NOTE: In keeping with the American air base setting, much of the dialogue is in English.)

Unbreakable (2000) – Film Review

This disappointing follow-up to THE SIXTH SENSE reteams star (Bruce Willis) and writer-director (M. Night Shyamalan), but the old magic fails to re-materialize, thanks to overwrought melodrama and contrived plot developments. The premise (of a man who miraculously survives a train wreck that kills everyone else on board) initially seems intriguing, setting up a mystery that the audience is eager to explore; unfortunately, the script begins to fall apart as it reveals the explanation for what is happening. Ultimately turns laughable in its attempt to take a frankly silly comic book premise and treat it with all the seriousitude of an ersatz Greek tragedy. Imagine mixing gummy bears with Terrine de Foie Gras Naturel, and you’ll have some idea of the result.
Unbeknownst to himself, David Dunne (Bruce Willis) appears to be, as the title suggests, “unbreakable.” The audience wants to know why, but the film is slow to answer, because the script has other fish to fry, regarding David’s unhappy home life. Eventually, the domestic drama slows down long enough for Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a dealer in rare comic book art, to suggest that David is the real-life equivalent of a superhero. Elijah suffers weak bones that easily fracture (earning him the nickname “Mr. Glass”), and he believes David may literally be his polar opposite.

This interesting idea diverts the story in onto a new track: instead of coming to terms with guilt over surviving an accident that killed so many others, David slowly accepts the reality of his own incredible capabilities. Unfortunately, this process occupies most of the remaining screen time. As in he did in SIXTH SENSE, Shyamalan wants to establish the ordinary, everyday reality before pushing the fantasy element into it. It’s a clever gambit, but it works to less effect here. SIXTH SENSE, in spite of its ghost story trappings, touched on emotions and experiences that are closer to our own real lives than anything in UNBREAKABLE. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve lost a loved one or had a sense of something invisible in the dark. UNBREAKABLE simply cannot tap into the same well, no matter how hard it tries. Although there are some entertaining moments, the revelations and melodrama undermining believability instead of enhancing it.
The screenplay struggles to prevent the “superhero” element from completely eclipsing the domestic drama. David apparently resents his wife (Robin Wright Penn) because he gave up a promising football career for her (a physical therapist, she didn’t want to marry a man whose job consisted of inflicting injuries). But David’s revelation about his preternatural abilities leads him to realize he has a different destiny, erasing any regrets.
As sincere as this effort is, it stumbles over the comic book motif, which suggests a level of fantasy that simply does not blend with the other elements. The worst example of this is the incredible scene (which should have ended up on the cutting room floor) when David’s  son (Spencer Treat Clarke) aims a gun at his father over the dinner table and threatens to shoot him to prove that he is in fact invulnerable. Instead of putting viewers on the edge of theirs seats, this scene (filmed in a single take) simply starts them wagging their heads.
The search for meaning is a powerful theme in art and entertainment. UNBREAKABLE strives to embrace this theme, as David searches for an answer to explain his inexplicable survival, an answer that ultimately has ramifications that affect and improve his life. But the quest for meaning can be dangerous. Facts do not always conform to our philosophies, and high-minded ideals can be out of touch with reality. Pure idealism can be the most dangerous thinking, because it seeks to conform the world at large to a conception that may not be possible. It is for this reason that we move on from the fairy tales of our youth (with their clear dichotomy between Good and Evil) and explore other, more complex forms of storytelling as we grow older. For young mind, fairy tales provide a way of understanding the world (as Bruno Bettleheim pointed out in The Uses of Enchantment), and they continue to form a rich soil for interpretation and enjoyment even when you’re older—but you would be ill advised to take them literally.
Shyamalan seems to be setting up a story that will play off this idea. Elijah states that comic books present a cheapened, commercialized version of the heroic myth, suggesting that the film will present a more sophisticated version. Instead, we get the usual comic book clichés, just dressed up in every day clothing, and the result borders on absurdity. When Elijah offers up his endless interpretations of David’s situation, you laugh. You laugh even more when the cornball action is contrived to match Elijah’s theories. Elijah opines that water is the equivalent of kryptonite for David. When David inevitably falls into a pool while fighting a criminal, you would hope that Shyamalan would use the moment to undermine the superhero myth—to show the difference between expectation and reality, to keep the story at a believable level, to remind us that David is, after all, a human being, not an alien from another world. Instead, the scene plays out exactly like the most formulaic comic book movie, complete with a last-minute rescue and a swelling, uplifting surge from the orchestral score to tell us that he may look like a mere man, but he really is a superman.
Comic books are an interesting and entertaining medium, but you would be ill advised to attempt living your life according to them. That’s why it is easy to relate when David initially rejects that idea that he is the real-life embodiment of a comic book superhero. Eventually, the film does undermine Elijah’s assertions, but only with a last-minute twist ending that is dramatically empty and pointless. Yes, Shyamalan finally admits, squeezing your life to fit the pattern of a comic book can have bad effects on the psyche, but the message rings hollow because it is simply presented to us as a bald fact, not as something that emerges dramatically out of David’s story. Consequently, the ending falls flat, provoking groans of disappointment from the audience.
Which is really too bad, because the evidence of enormous talent is so abundantly on display here. Willis and Jackson are great. Technical aspects are excellent. Shyamalan offers up interesting characters and ideas and uses some carefully honed craftsmanship to get them on screen, include long, unbroken takes that let the cast handle the dramatic work, as opposed to flashier camera angles and editing used to convey David’s “superpower.”
Clearly, a lighter – perhaps even tongue-in-cheek – touch would have been more appropriate for such an over-the-top fantasy tale. The serious aspirations simply undercut what could have been an amiable  action-packed fantasy. The result is a frustrating, broken fragment of what could have been.


In 2001, Disney launched their line of live-action special edition DVDs, with the UNBREAKABLE Two-Disc Vista Series. This featured an anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 sound, but the bonus features were limited to a handful of items on Disc Two (which probably could have fit on Disc One). There was a “Behind the Scenes” documentary; a “Comic Book and Superheroes” featurette; a multi angle feature for the “Train Station Sequence”; seven deleted scenes; and “Millionaire,” a short amateur movie Shyamalan made as a boy.
The 2008 Blu-ray disc (released on April 1) offers increased video resolution, plus an uncompressed Linear PCM 5.1 soundmix and the old Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix, but not the DTS 5.1 mix. Otherwise, it contains all the familiar DVD bonus features, ported over to the new format, without any additions.
UNBREAKABLE (2000). Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Eamonn Walker.

Hollow Man (2000) – Review & Interview

The Director's Cut DVD contains previously deleted footage of the attack on a helpless female victim played by Rhona Mitra.Sadly, this is one of Paul Verhoeven’s directorial mistakes. It begins with an interesting premise (how does invisibility—and with it, the ability to get away with anything) warp the moral sensibility? Unfortunately, the screenplay confines the action mostly to an isolated research facility and uses the idea only as an excuse for gratuitous special effects and violence. This might have been acceptable (if not admirable) had the director delivered an exciting action movie; unfortunately, HOLLOW MAN falls flat on its blank face. There is lots of stumbling about (and screaming and shouting and bloodletting), but the film never works up a visible head of steam.

Kevin Bacon stars as the titular scientist whose secret government experiments render him invisible. The opening act effectively establishes the arrogance of the character, who also displays a penchant for voyeurism; unfortunately, the character’s moral deterioration (once invisibility allows his latent anti-social tendencies to surface) takes a back seat to the invisibility scenes. The result is an old-fashioned “mad science” story about somebody who comes to a bad end because his experiments went too far.

The actors end up trapped in a hopeless scenario. Bacon does a good job (even limited mostly to his voice), first at establishing the character and then at creating fear, but even so, he can’t keep the character believable while the script is bouncing around from special effect to special effect. Elizabeth Shue and the rest of the cast are Hollywood versions of scientists, young and beautiful, but they try awfully hard before the script finally defeats them. By the end, they’re not better off than the cast of a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, just waiting around to be impaled or bludgeoned in the bloodiest manner that the director can imagine.

There have been many invisible man movies featuring amazing special effects (including MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, the previous high-water mark for visuals of this kind), but the computer-generated imgery in HOLLOW MAN outdoes them all. Especially impressive is the manner in which the presence of Bacon’s character is always maintained, whether he is visible or not. Bacon was filmed on set with his fellow actors, wearing green make-up and skin-tight costume, which allowed him to be digitally removed in post-production. This creates some genuinely eerie scenes of his invisible form outlined in smoke or silhouetted like an air bubble in a swimming pool, with the actor’s expressions clearly visible.
However, this technical tour-de-force fails to keep the character center stage the way he should be if the film is to work as anything more than a special effects showcase. Instead, the third act degrades into dumb action when the Hollow Man decides to kill his research team to keep his invisibility a secret. The film becomes into a slasher-thriller in a lab facility, while the endangered characters mutate from scientists into moronic victims or tough-talking heroes (“We’re going to put him down,” Elisabeth Shue growls, channeling Nick Nolte and/or Sylvester Stallone). Things turn ridiculous (one victim is casually dismissed with an off-hand “he’s dead” before he’s barely gasped his last breath). Like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Rasputin, the villain gets killed—and killed again—but keeps coming back—because that’s what’s supposed to happen in this kind of movie, and who cares whether it makes any sense?
Paul Verhoeven has made great films like THE FOURTH MAN, ROBOCOP, and STARSHIP TROOPERS; however, even some of his box office successes (TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT) show signs of diminished intelligence, and he is cluelessly completely capable of churning out junk like SHOW GIRLS (apparently without any concept of how ridiculous the film is. His stock in trade seems to be pulverizing visceral impact (dumping a crook in toxic waste, dismembering a starship trooper in the jaws of an alien bug). When working from a solid script, he can create a film with jolts and shocks that have a genuinely disturbing edge; when working from a lame scenario, Verhoeven just plows ahead indifferently, and you’re left with an ugly mess. HOLLOW MAN definitely falls into the later category. That’s too bad, because it should have been so much more.

Rubber latex makes the Hollow Man visible.


The film contains a demarcation point that establishes where the story starts to go downhill (although in retrospect the hints were there all along). After that, there’s nothing to do but sit back and watch the crash-and-burn as the movies degenerates into nonsense that elicits laughter rather than screams.
Midway through the story, the Hollow Man escapes from his lab for a night out. He sees a beautiful woman (Rhona Mitra) undressing in the apartment across from. Whereas his visible self had to wallow in sexual frustration earlier in the film, now that he’s invisible he can act on his urges, sneaking undetected into her room. The scene is Verhoeven at his sleaziest and most effective, provoking a complex series of reactions: you know Bacon’s scientist shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing, but you want him to proceed so you can see what happens; you feel guilty for watching but you don’t want it to stop; you hope for hint of characterization to be bestowed upon the woman—anything that will make her something more than just a sex object—but you know that would take the film into the realm of genuine suspense and ruin the vicarious thrill of the male adolescent fantasy being played out.
The Overlook Film Encyclopedia of Horrorpraises director Mario Bava for turning the masked killer in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE into a “faceless representative of the male spectator as he stalks” and kills a series of helpless women, with “no comforting resistance for projective identification…” Verhoeven takes this approach a quantum leap higher; with his unseen stalker literally invisible, there is no on-screen menace left to see, leaving only viewers in the audience. If the point is to show how nearly irresistible the temptation would be, the scene succeeds—up to the moment when the camera swoops in on the screaming woman.

Rhona Mitra
Rhona Mitra

After that, the film cuts away, and we never find out what happened next. There is a line in which the Hollow Man admits to “scaring” the unfortunate woman, but we have no reason to believe that’s all he did. It’s nice not to have to sit through what the film seemed to be building up to (a brutal sexual assault, maybe even murder), but why waste five minutes on a set-up if you’re not going to deliver the punch line? (At the time of the theatrical release, those involved in making the film insisted that no “invisible rape” scene had been shot; according to the Internet Movie Database, a longer version was tested for audiences, who objected that it showed the Hollow Man turning too evil, too quickly.)
This omission hurts the film because it is the first sign of the Hollow Man emerging madness—his initial step from being an anal retentive control freak to being a monster willing and even eager to throw away not only his career but his previous identity in order to act on his selfish impulses. The audience should know (if not see) how far he goes at this point, because it sets up later events. Hiding the fate of the woman clouds Bacon’s character from us. Having lost track of his descent, we are no longer watching a story about a man slowly losing his soul; we’re simply in for a long, bumpy special effects ride.
(NOTE: This footage is restored in the “Director’s Cut DVD.”)


One thing you would never call Paul Verhoeven as a director is “subtle.” Even his early European films like THE FOURTH MAN contained their share of graphic imagery gouged eyeballs, to site one example) meant to shock you out of the complacency often produced by high-tone art house offerings. After moving to American, he made numerous films loaded with violence (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, STARSHIP TROOPERS), sex (SHOWGIRLS), or both (BASIC INSTINCT). Consequently, he has had his share of run-ins with the MPAA (except for SHOWGIRLS, which went out with an NC-17, all his English language films have been recut to get an R-rating), and he is no stranger to controversy.
His 2000 film, HOLLOW MAN, takes the traditional invisible man concept and gives it a modern interpretation, emphasizing the potential for voyeurism and sexual stalking. In it, Kevin Bacon plays a scientist who manages to render himself invisible. Isolated from his colleagues by his condition, he soon finds himself unable to resist the temptations it provides. Advance word from people who read early drafts of the script, coupled with comments from Bacon himself (who calls his character, half jokingly, “Horny Man”) led some to wonder whether the film would be an over-the-top exercise in misogyny, yet the film sailed through the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board with R. Although we now know that the Rhona Mitra scene was trimmed, at the time of the film’s release, Verhoeven claimed there had been no recutting in order to appease the ratings board.
Director Paul Verhoeven on the set of HOLLOW MANNo,” he said. “I got a straight R. I gave the movie to the MPAA and got an R. It’s the first time in my life. All my movies have been called X or NC-17. It was X when I started here: FLESH AND BLOOD, ROBOCOP, and TOTAL RECALL all got an X. Then BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS, and STARSHIP TROOPERS got NC-17. It’s still an R; it’s not a PG-13, and I couldn’t make it a PG-13. The muscular body, and the way he is sometimes expressed in certain forms, is too scary for a PG-13. He is sometimes seen in layered form, and certainly during the transformation he is mostly of course layered, in between. Later, he is seen in layered forms or muscular form. So it’s disturbing.
Verhoeven explained the “casting” of composer Jerry Goldsmith (instead of usual musical collaborator Basil Pouledouris):
“First of all, I think he’s great. Somehow I felt it was a bit more…there’s a lot of this sliding scale things where the atmosphere is slowly changing. I felt it’s what Jerry can do in the most beautiful way because he can nuance the orchestra so that little instrumentations give just a touch of change. Basil, I feel, is much more for broad brushstrokes, like when he writes for ROBOCOP or STARSHIP TROOPERS. Broad strokes, a bit orchestra, a lot of horns and trumpets and all that stuff. I think his best scores, which he did for CONAN and ROBOCOP, have that kind of visceral quality. I felt that this was more BASIC INSTINCT-oriented, because it’s a really slow buildup, from scientific work that has a fantasy quality to it, to more and more fear that it might be evil and then knowledge that it is going to be evil. So it felt that way.
“In fact, I have always been working with two d.p.’s. Joss Vacano and Jan DeBont. Jan DeBont is not available anymore, unfortunately, because I have a feeling I can express myself much better to the left than to the right, because Jan would be better at one way of shooting and Joss would be the other way of shooting, so I was able to use Jan for one kind of movie and Joss for another kind of movie. I’m really looking for another d.p, next to Joss, that can do the other kind of thing, someone that is more Jan-oriented. Jan is more to the red, and Josh is more to the blue. Josh is much colder; Jan is much warmer. That works for certain movies in a good way and sometimes in a bad way; then you want to change.With Jerry, it’s the same way. Jerry would be perfect for this, and Basil would be perfect for that.”
HOLLOW MAN (August 4, 2000). Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Andrew W. Marlowe, story by Marlowe and Gary Scott Thompson. Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Joey Slotnick, Mary Randle, William Devane, Rhona Mitra.
Original Copyright 2001 by Steve Biodrowski; revised in 2007