Thanks to the continued success of PAUL BLART, MALL COP, neither of the weekend’s genre debuts managed to nab the top slot at the box office this weekend, but one of them managed to land in second.
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS opened in 2,941 North American theatres, earning an estimated $20.83-million – about $1-million beneath BLART. That was considerably below the previous weekend’s debut of MY BLOODY VALENTINE ($24.1-million) and slightly above the $19.8-million earned by THE UNBORN on the weekend before that.
The weekend’s other genre debut fared less well. Opening in 2,656 theatres, INKHEART landed in 7th place with only $7.6-million, perhaps suggesting that costume fantasy films are waning.
As for returning films, MY BLOODY VALENTINE dropped from third to sixth place, earning $10-million during its sophomore session.
And CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON dropped out of the Top Ten, going from #9 to #11, where it earned $6.1-million, raising its five-week total to $111.13-million.
Read the complete Top Ten here.
Patrick Tatopoulos directs Rhona Mitra, Michael Sheen, and Bill Nighy in Screen Gems’s prequel to the UNDERWOLRD films. The story depcts an uprising led by werewolf named Lucian (Sheen) against an aristocratic vampire sect — a revolt that will mark the beginning of a centuries-old war between the two races. Release date: January 23.
Often I decry the lack of exciting DVD releases on particular weeks, but today represents an all-time low: there is literally nothing worth mentioning. Oh sure, there are a handful of obscure DTV titles, but who cares? There are no high-profile theatrical films, no classics or cult movies. Operating on the feast-or-famine principle, next week will be loaded (THE RUINS, a Blu-ray limited edition release of BATMAN BEGINS, plus several deluxe editions of previously available titles), but until July 8 arrives we must content ourselves with contemplating the impending arrival of DOOMSDAY on DVD and Blu-ray disc, an event scheduled for July 29. The discs will include both the theatrical versions and an unrated director’s cut, plus loads of extras.
Check below the fold for the DOOMSDAY bonus features and a list of next week’s home video releases. Continue reading “Laserblast: Waiting for Doomsday”
Ironically, the end of the world as we know it never seems to end; at least on the big screen, the fat lady simply never stops singing. Technically, the latest chorus in this endless string of end-of-the-world arias is not about our planet at large, just a large chunk (i.e., Scotland); nevertheless, DOOMSDAY justifies its title by incorporating motifs from its apocalyptic predecessors. You will find bits and pieces of THE OMEGA MAN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and THE ROAD WARRIOR, among many others. The result feels a bit like a medley of greatest hits performed by a hot, young talent who brings a new vocal inflection to the tired, old standards, revitalizing them for a new generation of listeners. You may not like the new version as much as you loved the originals, but it is fun to hear the various verses and choruses reprised together, creating something simultaneously familiar and new.
The film launches with one of its best sequences, portraying the outbreak of the “Reaper” virus (whose bloody pustules suggest Poe’s “Red Death”), which leads to the quarantining of Scotland behind a massive metal wall. A mass exodus toward the border becomes a violent free-for-all, with trigger happy guards shooting both the infected and the uninfected, turning the formerly orderly march into an uncontrolled riot. However, the sequences works less as a spectacular set-piece than as an introduction to our central character, Eden Sinclair, a young girl who is lifted to safety on the last helicopter out of the hot zone, forced to leave her mother behind.
Twenty-five years later, Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is a major in a special ops team taking out some drug dealers. When the Reaper virus erupts anew, this time in the heart of London, the British government needs a cure. Unbeknown to the public at large, satellite photos have revealed survivors in Scotland, suggesting that there may be a cure. Department of Domestic Security Chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) selects Sinclair to head a mission into the quarantined area to search for Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who was working on the problem when the wall went up.
Searching the doctor’s old facilities, Sinclair’s team runs afoul of a band of cannibals led by Sol (Craig Conway), who hopes to use Sinclair as his key to circumvent the wall. Sinclair and her surviving team members escape and, with the help of Kane’s daughter, find their way to the doctor, who has set himself up as a local king in an old castle, having renounced modern technology in favor of a return to medieval mode of living. Natural selection, rather than medical science, is the reason for their survival…
Although the screenplay has a fairly clear, linear through-line, writer-director Neil Marshall explores other motifs like a jazz musician wandering off on a solo that diverts from the main melody. Besides Sinclair’s quest for a cure, she also has a personal quest to reconnect with the memory of the mother she lost. She has to confront three different factions of survivors, two of which appear to be at war with each other. And back in England, there is a political corruption sub-plot in which the prime minister (Alexander Siddig) yields to the suggestion of advisor Michael Canaris (David O’Hara) that they let the Reaper virus thin out the population before taking advantage of any cure that Sinclair might find.
These elements are meant to add complexity to the main storyline, but they feel more like loose improvisations than like a tightly structured symphony of melodies and counter-melodies. The war between the rival factions is barely glimpsed, let alone resolved. Sol turns out to be Kane’s son, but the film does nothing with the idea (you could drop it without changing the story). Sinclair’s personal quest is pretty much on the back burner until the ending. Her search for Kane suggests Marlow’s trip into the Heart of Darkness, looking for Kurtz, but DOOMSDAY only hints at the potential doppelganger theme: like Martin Sheen’s Colonel Willard in APOCALYPSE NOW, Sinclair even ends up enclosed in a wooden cage while Kane pontificates on his new philosophy; Kane comes across like a surrogate father figure (as he talks about losing a wife and a daughter, you briefly fear that the film is going to make the connection literal), but the dramatic implications drowned out beneath a crescendo of genre-required action scenes.
Marshall has so much fun with these sequences that it is hard not to be swept up into the sheer post-modern joy of seeing him cram in one darn thing after another (a gladiator style duel between our heroine and a hulking killer, a la Snake Plissken’s last-reel battle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, is soon followed by a ROAD WARRIOR-style multi-car chase on the open highway, with hardly a breath wasted on how Sol knew where to intercept Sinclair). Relying on old-fashioned physical stunts, rather than modern computer-generated imagery, Marshall recaptures much of the rhythm and percussive power of the films he is referencing. He also supplies more than enough gore and splatter to appease horror fans who fell in love with his previous efforts, DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT. (Besides decapitation, brains splattered with a shotgun, and a victim cooked alive, there are a couple moments of gratuitous cruelty toward animals that are meant to provide either a sick joke or a satirical statement about the Fascist nature of a government that could cold-heartedly turn its back on its citizens. I’m betting on the former.)
The only real problem with the action scenes – and it is a major one – is that they over-edited, obscuring most of the stunt choreography beneath a glissando of hyper-fast cuts. One could also nitpick about the ease with which Sol’s band of savages overcome the modern tanks that Sinclair’s team drives into the hot zone. (In the reviled tradition of RETURN OF THE JEDI, high-tech armor-plated equipment is vulnerable to bows and arrows.) Marshall makes an effort (including a Trojan horse-type gag to take out one tank), but to be truly convincing, the take-down should have been a little more difficult.
A British beauty playing a lethal warrior, Mitra comes across like this year’s model of Kate Beckinsale in UNDERWORLD, but she does handle the Sinclair role well, even if Marshall’s screenplay does not provide as much depth as his previous efforts. Although their scenes are brief, Hoskins and McDowell manage to register forcefully on screen, justifying their presence as something more than cameo casting. O’Hara is excellent as the power behind the prime minister; his super-stiff body language is enough to tell you he’s a bastard the first time you see him. Conway has a blast as the savage Sol, but Vernon Wells (who set the standard in ROAD WARRIOR) is probably probably in no danger of being eclipsed by this upstart. And Lee-Anne Liebenberg is memorably in a virtually silent role as Viper, Sol’s main squeeze.
DOOMSDAY is a blast from the past, filled with familiar echoes that should please fans. Marshall acknowledges his sources with the use of character names: Carpenter (as in John, director of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK); Chandler (as in Raymond, the hard-boiled mystery novelist with a sentimental streak); Talbot (as in Lawrence, the Wolf-Man in the classic 1941 horror film); and even Viper (a kind of snake, as in Plissken). There is also a fair share of original invention, like a removable mechanical eyeball that Sinclair can use to spy on her targets.
As a step up from Marshall’s smaller-scale horror films, DOOMSDAY makes it only halfway. As an ode to ’80s action and exploitation movies, it delivers the goods far better than both halves of GRINDHOUSE combined (it feels like the real deal, not like some stoners whacked out recollections). Unfortuantely, for the first time the genre requirements seem to outweight the story requirements. Unlike DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT, we do not see a dramatic depiction of a tight-knit group unraveling under pressure; with one or two exceptions, the members of Sinclair’s team serve as disposable bodies, obliterated almost as off-handledly as those red-shirted subordinates on the old STAR TREK. Even if the point is to show how emotionally detached Sinclair is, she should show some concern as the team leader who bears responsibility for the lives of her soldiers.
One would be tempted to conclude that Marshall simply conceived a score that was too big for him to orchestrate and conduct, but the film’s rousing coda overturns these doubts almost entirely. Avoiding the conventional ending, DOOMSDAY riffs on an idea from APOCALYPSE NOW, blatantly and brilliantly setting up a potential sequel. If there have been so many themes that not all of them could be resolved, it is only because we have been watching a dense prelude what what will come next. Far from the frustrating set-ups in many Hollywood films (that simply cheat and leave the audience wanting more), DOOMSDAY takes Sinclair to a point that satisfies the needs of this film but leaves her poised for an encore that could be even bigger and better than the opening number.
DOOMSDAY (2008). Written and directed by Neil Marshall. Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, Alexander Siddig, David O’Hara, Malcolm McDowell.
RELATED INTERVIEW: Writer-Director Neil Marshall
Variety informs us that monster designer Patrick Tatopoulos will be directing UNDERWORLD 3: RISE OF THE LYCANS, a prequel to the two UNDERWORLD films. The screenplay by Danny McBride will fill in details of the back story glimpsed in the previous films, depicting the origins to the feud between vampires and werewolves: a young Lycan leader rouses his wolfen brethren to cast off the shakcles of their undead overlords (sounds a bit Marxist, no?). Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Rhona Mitra will headline the cast.
“For the first time we will experience the ‘Underworld’ universe through the eyes of the Lycans,” [producer Len] Wiseman said. “Patrick has always played such an essential part in helping to create ‘Underworld’ from the start. … So I feel it is both exciting and fitting that (he) now takes the helm.”
The two UNDERWORLD films, which starred Kate Beckinsale, were modest hits, but the prequel story does not leave room for her character (who was unaware of the vampire-werewolf back story in the first UNDERWORLD). Without her presence to draw in the fans, theatrical prospects for the prequel seem diminished.
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.
THE TURNING POINT
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.
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.”)
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR PAUL VERHOEVEN
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.
“No,” 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