"You'd be amazed what you'll agree to when you're on fire."
Arnold Schwarzenegger versus the Devil! C'mon, you knew it had to happen eventually. The Austrian muscleman had already delivered the beat-down to all manner of terrorists, corrupt world leaders, aliens, and robots from the future. After saving the planet from every other form of unstoppable evil, who was left but Ol' Scratch himself? Timed for release at the apex of pre-Millennial hysteria, End of Days turned out to be one of Arnold's weakest movies, but has its share of guilty pleasure moments if you set your standards for entertainment low enough.
Lest we forget, this is the picture where Arnold actually attempts to act, which in Schwarzeneggerian terms means pretending to be broody and depressed. His character Jericho Cane (seriously, the movie's symbolism is as subtle as a sledgehammer) recently lost his wife and kid to the hands of Very Bad Men, and he blames himself for not being home to protect them. You know he's suicidal because he's got a three-day beard, drinks beer for breakfast, and every once in a while points a gun at his own head to remind you. You know, he's basically Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon but with huge biceps and an impenetrable accent. The point of this, you see, is that our hero has to fight the demons inside himself, which is like totally ironic 'cause he's also got to fight real demons from Hell. It's way deep and stuff like that.
Anyway, if you're looking for plot it goes something like this: It's shortly before the Y2k New Year and Satan has decided to walk the streets of New York looking for a little brunette pixie that prophecy foretells will bear his child and facilitate a new reign of evil on Earth. Bummer. Problem is that he's got to plant his seed before the apple drops in Times Square, which I'm pretty sure is specifically mentioned somewhere in the Bible. For her part, the girl isn't too keen on this idea, especially not after the Vatican sends some holy assassins to take her out before she and the Devil can get it on. Naturally, it's up to our man Arnie to protect her from both the psycho religious types and the Prince of Darkness himself. Obviously, the best way to do this involves guns, grenades, and assorted other things that go boom.
Directed by Peter Hyams, the movie basically sucks, if we're being honest about it. The plot is mish-mash of better horror thrillers (The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist) smashed together with a mediocre Schwarzenegger action movie. It's full of cheap shock stingers (cats jumping out from the dark) and clichéd Catholic symbolism layed on extra thick. The horror parts aren't scary and the action parts aren't anything new or exciting. I can hardly begin to catalog the blatant plot holes and lapses in logic. For example, a major story point hinges on the name of the imperiled virgin being Christine York, which is supposed to be a really easy anagram for "Christ in New York". Ummm, except that it doesn't quite have enough letters. You'd think the screenwriter might notice that.
All of this isn't to say that the picture isn't sometimes entertaining despite itself. Gabriel Byrne seems to be enjoying himself slumming as the King of All Evil, even while delivering a rant against God that I'm pretty sure was lifted verbatim from a similar speech Al Pacino gave in The Devil's Advocate. And as ridiculous as the casting was, Kevin Pollack is great fun as Arnold's smartass sidekick who gets all the film's best lines: "Well, it's official. I'm never sleeping again. Ever." The movie also has plenty of boobs, blood, and shit blowin' up. Some days, that's just the thing to waste a couple hours.
The HD DVD:
End of Days debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The End of Days HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
The first thing to note is that director Peter Hyams works as his own cinematographer, and in all of his movies favors a very dark, grainy, brownish, and drab photographic style. As a result, picture quality throughout the movie is highly variable. Some scenes are very bright and sharp, while most others are soft and murky. Black levels are rich and inky in some places but milky elsewhere. This is all part and parcel of the movie's intended style, for better or worse.
As for transfer-specific flaws, the film elements used are plagued by a disappointing amount of dirt, speckles, and at least one visible reel change mark (please don't call them "cigarette burns" just because you saw Fight Club and believe that's a real industry-used term). Low amplitude edge enhancement ringing is also apparent in a number of scenes. Considering how much of the movie takes place in darkness, shadow detail really ought to be better than it is. On the plus side, although the movie never makes especially stunning High Definition it does have a fair amount of better detail than you'll find in the comparable DVD edition, but even at its best is rarely impressive.
The End of Days HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus or lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 formats. Unfortunately, the disc seems to have authoring problems that result in the picture repeatedly freezing, skipping, and losing audio sync when selecting the TrueHD track. This has been reported by numerous viewers and I can confirm having that experience. The problem may be hardware-related as well, but is definitely triggered by something specific to the disc; I've had no such issues with any of the TrueHD tracks on Warner Bros. HD DVDs. As such, I had to give up trying to watch the movie with TrueHD audio and can really only comment on the quality of the DD+ track.
As you'd expect, this is a very loud and bassy sound mix. The movie is meant to be watched with the volume at truly obnoxious amplitude, and I found that I really had to push it right to my tolerance levels to get much life out of it. At moderate volumes, the action scenes tend to drown in low-end murk, obscuring the dialogue and flattening most sound effects. Quieter scenes have better fidelity, but you don't watch a Schwarzenegger movie for its quiet scenes, do you? With the volume cranked to the point where my walls and windows were shaking, the soundtrack was much more satisfying and enjoyable, except to my wife in the other room who kept begging me to turn it down. The movie has plenty of directional surround activity, shooting, and explosions, but the audio is still unexceptional for a movie of this type.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English captions for the hearing impaired, Spanish, or French.
Alternate language tracks - French DD+ 5.1 or Spanish DD+ 2.0.
The interactive menus are accompanied by annoying beeping sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it). All of the bonus features on this HD DVD title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression.
All of the important supplements from the DVD have carried over.
Missing from the DVD are some additional text production notes, cast & crew bios, and filler DVD-Rom material. None are significant losses.
- Audio Commentary - Peter Hyams delivers a rather dry but otherwise intelligent commentary that focuses heavily on the technical aspects of the production. Your interest in the commentary will be dependent on your interest in the movie, it should go without saying.
- Spotlight on Location (25 min.) – A typical EPK promo piece made up of cast & crew interviews attempting to hype the movie. Gabriel Byrne approaches his character philosophically: "I had always kind of resisted the idea of playing a villain, the stock kind of villain. But if you're going to play a villain you might as well play the king of all villains, which is the Devil, and you might as well do it in a Schwarzenegger picture."
- The Special Effects (39 min.) – The most interesting feature on the disc is this series of nine technical segments exploring the movie's visual effects. Some pretty cool behind-the-scenes footage of the miniature work is found here.
- Soundtrack Presentation (10 min.) – Two supposedly "never before seen" music videos (although both were present on the DVD edition) are offered, one from Everlast and the other from Rob Zombie. Both are the laziest sort of movie tie-in video, consisting largely of clips from the film. The Zombie piece is especially stupid and cheesy, comprised of footage of the singer standing in the middle of a lame laser light show.
- The Book of Revelation - Some text notes about the Biblical references and symbolism used in the movie.
- Theatrical Trailer
Not one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's better movies, End of Days is strictly guilty pleasure material. For that matter, the HD DVD has unremarkable picture and sound. Reserve this one for a rental.
The Terminator (Blu-ray)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Blu-ray)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (HD DVD)
HD Review Index
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player