Cube is a perfect example of the good results of independent filmmaking. In the face of mega-productions with hundreds of effects shots, star-studded casts, and sky-high budgets, Cube shows that science fiction is fundamentally about exploring fascinating ideas and "what if" scenarios; while lavish productions can result in masterpieces, just as often they result in films that become lost in their own dazzle. For Cube, the Canadian filmmakers used seven actors, a set and a half, and a bare handful of well-chosen CGI effects to create an imaginative and memorable film.
In large part, Cube is an examination of human nature: what will happen when a handful of strangers are thrown together in a hostile environment? Will they work together to escape, or will their cooperation break down in the face of stress and growing hostility? In this sense, it's kin to the "disaster movie" genre, but with a science fictional twist that cuts the situation down to its essential elements: people who know nothing whatsoever about each other, and who have no established structures of leadership or cooperation, faced with a threat that's beyond their control. By making the threat so clearly bizarre and manufactured, Cube emphasizes that the danger (whether the characters realize it or not) is not "man versus the elements" but "man versus himself."
At the same time, Cube is a meditation on our place in a technological, bureaucratic society, one that has the power and the will to build the cube, and the coldness necessary to treat people like lab animals. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all? In a way, the reactions of the different characters to their situation reflects the responses we have to everyday concerns of politics, involvement with society, and responsibility. Holloway sees the cube as a product of the "military-industrial complex," and is moved to anger; Quentin rejects the big picture and just wants to "put his head down" and focus on the immediate details; Worth finds refuge in apathy and rejection of hope; Leaven (Nicole de Boer) denies her importance or relevance to the situation, seeing herself as a little person, inexplicably pulled out of her dull life. But those aren't the roles that any of them stick to, as the situation grows more tense. Just as the eventual revelation (if in fact it is true) about the nature of the cube is not what any of them expect, the actions that the different characters eventually take, and the ways they respond to the situation, are not what they would have anticipated. The cube stripped them of everything personal, except their own personalities; as they struggle to escape with their lives, the public facades of their personalities get stripped off as well, often with unexpected results.
This was my second viewing of Cube, and I was pleased to find that it held up quite well to repeat viewing. The 90-minute film is very well paced, with a nice balance of scenes focusing on the characters' interactions and on their attempts to deal with their environment. It's true that the actors' performances are slightly stilted, but this actually fits well with the overall theme of Cube. They start out their experience in the cube as total unknowns to each other, and to us as well. The only things we know about them are what they reveal to each other (which may or may not be true), and as time passes, the stress and horror of the experience work to bring out the strongest elements in their personalities. The question is, when all the pretenses and habits are stripped away, what will be left? Will it be humanity or brutality? It's an interesting question to ponder, especially in the closing scene of the film.
Even though the packaging says that it is Region 3, Cube: SE is actually a region-free NTSC DVD and will play on all DVD players capable of handling the NTSC format. I can personally confirm that this is the case, as I was able to play it on my Region 1 DVD player.
Cube: SE is a two-disc set, packaged in a cardboard fold-out case that fits inside a very stylish cardboard slipcase. There's really no reason for the second disc, other than puffing out the set to make it seem more "special": given that a dual-sided DVD can hold up to 7.95 GB of data, one disc would have been more than enough to hold both Disc 1's 5.4 GB and Disc 2's 1.9 GB of material.
The new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Cube: SE is a huge step up from the non-anamorphic transfer in its earlier release. With a respectable bit rate of around 8 Mb/s, the transfer does a good job of handling both the drab colors of steel and gray clothes with the surrealistically bright reds, greens, and blues of the cube interiors, while also presenting the characters' skin tones in a natural way. The print is clean and crisp, with abundant detail and no noise or grain intruding on the image. Contrast is also handled well, with blacks looking rich and dark but shadowed areas still having a good balance of light and dark.
Viewers have the option of Korean, English, or no subtitles. The default is Korean, but the menus are easy to navigate to change the settings.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does an excellent job of creating an immersive, creepy sound environment. The mechanical rumblings of the cube as well as the other special effect noises are correctly balanced with the dialogue, which is consistently crisp and clear. Here as well as in the video quality, the Cube SE DVD is a step up on the earlier Region 1 release, which had only Dolby 2.0 and lacked the nice surround presence that we get in the 5.1 track.
The first disc has a full audio commentary by director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali, with the balance of the special features on the second disc.
The first special feature is an eleven-minute featurette called "Sequences on Film"; it's a conversation between Natali and the cinematographer, discussing the creation of a specific set of shots for a scene late in the film. Natali is very candid about the changes he made as he went along, and the reasons for them, and it offers an interesting look behind the scenes.
Next is a set of short interviews. Three separate clips of an interview with Natali are included, each discussing a different aspect of the making of the film: the original concept, the mechanical aspects of filming, and his work with the second unit. As with the short featurette, these are very interesting and focused. The final interview is with Nicole de Boer (Leaven), in which she comments on her character and working on the film.
Three deleted scenes are included; these were probably cut early on, as they're fairly rough-looking (but watchable). We also get a set of design sketches and six sets of storyboards that allow viewers to follow the entire progression of the film via storyboard. Lastly, a trailer for the film is also included.
All of the special features have Korean subtitles as the default setting, but they can be turned off.
The earlier Region 1 release of Cube has the same commentary track, deleted scenes, storyboards, art and design material, and trailer; the featurette and interviews appear to be new for the Special Edition, and certainly add value to this release.
Rather bizarrely, my copy also came with a "30th Anniversary Bruce Lee Collection" key chain; I have no idea how this relates to Cube, or whether all copies will come with it.
This independent Canadian production shows yet again that it doesn't take a blockbuster budget to make a film that's worth seeing. Cube is a very entertaining movie, one that uses a science fictional premise to explore interesting questions about human nature and society, while at the same time telling an effective horror/thriller story. This Special Edition release offers significantly better image and sound quality than the current Region 1 release, with an anamorphic transfer and Dolby 5.1 sound, as well as additional special features. Since the SE is actually region-free (not Region 3 as is indicated on the package), this is definitely the version of Cube to get, and well worth upgrading from the earlier release.