Well over 60 years ago, H.G. Wells penned the story of a scientist who stumbles across a formula for invisibility, experiments on himself and terrorizes the countryside until he is killed by the police. Since that time, the concept of invisibility has been made into film after film. The two that seem to really standout are Universal's "The Invisible Man" series and the latest incarnation of the film, Columbia Pictures "Hollow Man". On the surface, they appear to be very similar however, the meat of each film, in regards to character design, plot and execution, they are decidedly different films.
James Whale directed Universal's 1933 entry and in my opinion, created a masterpiece. His previous entries into the lexicon of classic terror (Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein) literally defined horror on the big screen. The elements of suspense, comedy, terror and angst were brought to bear in each of these films and never more concisely than in his take on the Invisible Man. Claude Rains in his screen debut took full hold of the reigns and presented a performance that to date has never been equaled. The real demonstration of his skills came in the genius of a presentation in which his face wasn't shown until the very end of the film. Totally believable and enjoyable. The Invisible Man incorporated Special Effects that were cutting edge for the day and complemented Rain's incredible performance.
On the whole, the hour and 11 minutes "The Invisible Man" takes to tell it's story works on every single level. The special effects were integral to the telling of the story but were not the post upon which the story was established. In classic film fashion, the story is the central figure and the effects though entertaining are used sparingly enough to make them believable and enjoyable. Another element crucial to effective storytelling is the selection of a first rate cast. The entire cast of Universal's 1933 film was incredible. They lent the credibility to the storyline that completed the equation. Sadly, that was not the case for Columbia Picture's Hollow Man.
Actually, Hollow Man is aptly titled in that it's a hollow story fleshed out by incredible special effects.
Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a brilliant scientist who has found the key to invisibility. Working on a Governmental research grant he has successfully "phase-shifted" animals from the visible to the invisible and is ready to take his research to the next level. Unwilling to let the Government in on his breakthrough, he lies to his benefactors and proceeds with the next phase of clinical trials, Human experimentation. All goes well and the experiment is a success. However, trouble occurs when his team can't restore Caine to the Visual world. Slowly but surely, his mind is affected and Caine's genius dissolves into insanity with the passing of every day. As his hopes dwindle, Caine finds bizarre enjoyment in doing the unthinkable. From sexual assault, to rape and eventually murder. Dr. Caine's gift has become a curse that will consume all that once remained of the brilliant Dr. Sebastian Caine.
The storyline on it's merits seeks to echo the classic elements of Whale's masterpiece however, that's where the similarity ends. Where Whale employed character development, Verhoeven employs single dimensional characters that are secondary to the film's copious special effects. In simpler language, the special effects of Hollow Man are the actual stars of the film whereas the actors are something akin to window dressing as opposed to the forces used to drive the film. A first rate cast and story are still the best assets to any good movie. Where Verhoeven splurged on Special Effects he missed the boat on a talented actor's pool. Without sounding too harshly, Elizabeth Shue has got to be one of the worst actors on the screen today. Coupled with Josh Brolins' incredible ineptness, and lack of acting savvy, they contributed to the problems this story was doomed with from the beginning. Verhoeven is an action movie Director. From Robocop to Starship Troopers to Hollow Man, his films tend to be high on action and eye candy and low on script strength and plot. I'm not saying this is an awful film at all. It's in fact quite enjoyable but predictable at every turn.
Another issue with the rehashing of a storyline so entrenched in the lexicon of horror/Sci Fi is the inclusion of story elements from just about every Sci/Fi film of the last twenty years. Originality is a very necessary element in conveying a believability factor and this one missed the boat by miles. Unlike Universal's film, you knew what was going to happen before it happened and when it did happen, the event was so over the top it was ridiculous.
The audio presentation for Hollow Man was first rate! The DD 5.1 delivered a performance that really involves the viewer. The surround effects were decently prepared and definitely gave the semblance of movement. The center was perfectly delineated and the audio/dialogue was easily understood at all times. The Bass was rich and perfectly employed.
The Director's Commentary track is provided by Paul Verhoeven, Kevin Bacon and Screenwriter, Andrew Marlow . All the assertions regarding the whys and how's of making this film where included and nicely presented. What I found extremely interesting was the length to which Verhoeven went to try to create a "classic thriller". Caine's apartment evidently is the exact distance from a neighboring building such as that in Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window". His attempts to recreate the aura of Rear Window however were dead before they began. Of most import throughout the commentary is the amount of CGI employed, when and where. The CGI is incredible and tremendously visually stunning and Verhoeven, & Bacon identify the lengths gone to create the images onscreen. Good commentary with a lot of information. Additionally, there is an isolated musical score with Composer, Jerry Goldsmith's commentary. Not too interesting or engaging, Goldsmith explains, the moods needed to create the film's aural textures and what Verhoeven wanted coupled with what he produced.
The film's video imagery is as stunning as it's audio presentation. The disc boasts a beautiful artifact free widescreen transfer that is simply beautiful to look at. All of the imagery is well defined and incredibly clean. There were no transfer errors that I could detect. In all, easily a reference quality image.
Columbia did an incredible job in preparing this disc. Incorporated in the extras are:
HBO Making Of: Anatomy of a Thriller Roughly a 20 minute segment on the making of the film. Primarily interviews with the cast and crew, it delves (not very deeply) into the efforts used to create the visual effects that are at the heart of this film.
Deleted Scenes There are three deleted scenes that also bear Verhoeven's commentary. Among them is the "rape" scene which is really an extended version of what's already in the film. Each of the scenes could have actually stayed in the film and were cut for both time concerns and the manipulation of the viewer's feelings toward Bacon's character.
Fleshing Out The Hollow Man: 15 Behind-the- Scenes featurettes These are really great segments only, they are entirely too short in their presentations. The longest segment may have lasted 2 minutes. On the average, they are anywhere from 50 seconds to a minute and a half. They provide decent viewing of the subject matter but could have been a bit more generous in their descriptions and time spent identifying all of the elements that went to making the visual stylings of The Hollow Man.
VFX Picture in Picture comparisons Pretty self-explanatory, it shows both the rough and finished images in varying states of action.
Theatrical Trailers Several trailers are presented including, A Few Good Men, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man and a serious treat for CGI fans. All of the trailers with the exception of Hollow Man and The Treat are presented in full frame and 2-channel stereo. Hollow Man and Final Fantasy (the Treat!) are presented in widescreen and in full DD 5.1!
Talent Files, DVD-ROM materials and production notes round out the extras package.
Overall: The difference between a classic and an action flick masquerading as a classic
I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Hollow Man. But, I took it for what it was not anything more. Truthfully, you cannot compare the Special Effects driven/laden Hollow Man with the drama and intensity of James Whale's Invisible Man. The only similarity between the two films is that there's an invisible man in both movies. Verhoeven is an action man. And he employs directorial tactics that hit you like a ton of bricks as opposed to using more subtle elements. Whale was a perfectionist intent on making high drama out of the ordinary and he succeeded with flying colors. In looking at the works of Verhoeven and Whale, they are consummately different directors in absolutely everything. That having been said, your appreciation of these films will probably be determined by two things. Which one you see first and when you were born. Given the drive to make motion pictures' central characteristics CGI as opposed to things like Plot, development and storyline, we are in store for more of the same empty fare.
Hollow Man is an exciting film but it can't hold a candle to it's 70 year old predecessor. That having been said, given the quality and quality of the film's supplements, it's delivery both audio and video, I have no problem identifying it as a collector's series for the fan of the film.
If I could suggest to the viewer, before you see Hollow Man, check out The Invisible Man, 1933 Universal Studios Directed by James Whale. The acting and storyline are just as effective today as they were 70 years ago. I own both films but I have to say that while the eye candy of Hollow Man is stunning and definitely fun to look at, it's missing the substance of good story telling and acting that's present in The Invisible Man.