Every once in a while, a movie comes along that seems so well suited to its director's sensibilities that it's hard to imagine how it could fail. 'Hollow Man' was one of those movies for me. When I first heard that crazy Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven was essentially remaking the 'The Invisible Man,' only with cutting-edge special effects and heaping helping of sex, gore and violence, I couldn't wait to buy a ticket. It seemed like a no-brainer -- a classic story ripe for a modern update, and one that combined all of the same elements of sci-fi, horror and satire that had made such previous Verhoeven hits as 'RoboCop,' 'Starship Troopers' and 'Total Recall' such fantastic guilty pleasures.
Alas, upon watching the film, my initial enthusiasm quickly waned. 'Hollow Man' is a misfire on nearly every level -- the script is dreadful, the acting unenthusiastic, and never once is the film scary or suspenseful. Worse, surprising for a director's whose past work had always been topical and incendiary, Verhoeven's 'Hollow Man' is shockingly devoid of socio-political subtext or commentary. I don't know if the intense negative reaction that greeted 'Showgirls' simply wore him out, but Verhoeven's 'Hollow Man' is a film as shallow as its title character.
The plot of the film approximates the concept of the original 'Invisible Man,' though it's far from a straight remake. Instead, the story here concerns a brilliant scientist named Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), who has one passion: to uncover the secrets of invisibility. Working with his research team in a top-secret government facility, Caine will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, even if it means making himself the project's first human guinea pig. But Caine and his team soon find out that making someone invisible is the easy part -- it's keeping him sane that's difficult. Soon, Caine is a killer on the loose and his team, led by ex-girlfriend Linda (Elisabeth Shue) and her new beau Matt (Josh Brolin), must destroy him. But how do you stop something -- or someone -- you can't see?
Considering the great source material and the caliber of the talent involved, it's deflating to ultimately see 'Hollow Man' devolve into yet another one of those movies that are all about confining their main characters to some scary old place so that the killer can run around and pick them all off. Once Verhoeven gets the film's piece de resistance out of the way -- the scene where Bacon first turns invisible -- it's as if he no longer cares about the possibilities inherent in the idea. The invisibility ends up being just another version of Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, an uninspired gimmick that simply provides the villain with a disguise so that he can run around and terrorize people.
The film's pastiche of drama, sci-fi and horror also doesn't mesh. It's never quite clear what Verhoeven thought he was making. Is this a morality play about a scientist descending into madness? If so, we never learn enough about Caine to make us empathize with his plight, nor are we made to understand why he is so obsessed with unlocking the secrets of invisibility. Is this a prescient vision of technology run amok? Hardly, as so little attention is paid to the specifics of the invisibility that there's little science to be found in the science fiction. Or is this supposed to be a terrifying journey into the human body in revolt against itself? Dead on arrival here, too, as once Bacon turns invisible, he suddenly seems to enjoy the physical tortures of the transformation.
Even more surprising for Verhoeven flick, the film is largely inept on a technical level. Sure, it looks slick (even if the effects are already a bit dated), but Verhoeven doesn't seem to have any sense of the pacing and structure need to generate suspense. Even the otherwise fine ensemble of actors seem to be left stranded in the mire. Bacon fares the best, but the deterioration of Caine's mental state is so poorly executed that it's impossible for him to create a believable, three-dimensional character. Shue and Brolin, meanwhile, are so shackled by the stupidity of the caricatures they're asked to play that by film's end, they look like nothing more than props left dangling in front of a green screen.
Perhaps if 'Hollow Man' had been truly scary, the lame-brained script and endless parade of cliches might have been more bearable. But because we just don't care about anyone or anything that's happening on screen, it's impossible to be frightened. Instead, 'Hollow Man' is a slog of inevitability, a tedious ticking clock as we wait for each character to die another gruesome death. Adding to the misery, the film is presented here on Blu-ray in its 118-minute Director's Cut form, which adds extra "character development" that only makes it more interminable. Even viewed as just a high-gloss slasher flick, 'Hollow Man' isn't much fun. What makes the film even more sad is that it could have been so much more.
At least 'Hollow Man' looks good. In fact, as presented by Sony in this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video at the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this Blu-ray edition of 'Hollow Man' features an absolutely flawless transfer, one that truly ranks in the top tier of high-def presentations I've seen.
'Hollow Man' may be about seven years old now, but it could just as well be seven minutes. The source is pristine, with nary a speck, blemish or defect to be found. Black levels, contrast and sharpness are pitch perfect. Color saturation is exactly how I like it -- vibrant, robust and clean, but not over-tweaked or unnatural. Fleshtones are accurate, too. And the sense of depth and dimensionality is quite exquisite -- this is the kind of picture-window presentation that you want to just reach out and touch. Sony has also delivered another rock-solid encode, with no compression artifacts, macroblocking or edge enhancement. I don't often give out five-star video ratings (especially on catalog titles), but 'Hollow Man' earns it through and through.
The uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is excellent, too. Typical of a Verhoeven flick, 'Hollow Man' is sonically over-the-top, with great sound design that's highly aggressive.
Whatever you may think of the film itself, 'Hollow Man' is the kind of genre horror-thriller that really lends itself to aural gimmicks. As such, the surrounds are almost always active, with prominent discrete effects that are directed with pinpoint precision. There is a palpable sense of heft to the rear soundstage, and even minor ambiance is sustained and consistent. This is also a super-slick recording, with powerful low bass (especially during the film's final, action-oriented 30 minutes) and great clarity to the higher range, too. Also impressive is Jerry Goldsmith's score -- it really swells and swirls, and has a richness that's very pleasing. My only complaint is that the climax is so darn loud that sometimes dialogue gets drowned out (of course, most of what the characters say is incredibly stupid anyway, so I suppose it isn't much of a loss). But nevermind that -- overall, 'Hollow Man' sounds pretty darn terrific.
Although Sony's original DVD release of 'Hollow Man' came out way back in 2001, the studio just doesn't seem to want fans to let go of it -- some very significant extras from that version (an audio commentary and isolated music score) failed to make the cut here, likely due to the fact that this disc includes the Director's Cut (and not the theatrical version from that earlier release).
What we do get are all the video-based features (presented here in 480i/MPEG-2 video only). First up is the HBO First Look Special, "Hollow Man: Anatomy of a Thriller." Running 15 minutes, this one's just another one of those annoying extended commercials that's overloaded with film clips, plot recap, and cast & crew interviews with everyone telling us how great the movie is going to be. If we've already seen the movie, why would we need to see this?
Much better is "Fleshing Out the 'Hollow Man,'" a collection of 15 behind-the-scenes effects vignettes. Each only runs a couple of minutes or so, but combined they exceed a half-hour and feel much more substantial. Each clip covers a different effect or sequence ("The Gorilla Suit," "The Invisibility Formula," etc.) and it's all pretty neat stuff. Granted, some of these techniques are now quite dated, but the compact presentation keeps the pace from lagging.
Finally, we have a trio of VFX Picture In Picture Comparisons, each for a different scene from the flick. The original sequence, sans effects and with only production sound, is shown full-screen, while the final finished version is show in a picture-in-picture box. Nifty.
Wrapping things up are three trailers for the Sony Blu-ray titles 'I Know Who Killed Me,' 'Hostel Part II' and 'The Company.' Sadly, there is no trailer for 'Hollow Man' included. (Note that these trailers are the only extras on the disc presented in 1080p/MPEG-2 video).
Although 'Hollow Man' would seem to be tailor-made for the visceral, over-the-top sensibilities of its director, unfortunately any interesting ideas are quickly jettisoned to make way for another routine slasher flick. This Blu-ray is fantastic, however, with stunning video and audio. The somewhat slim supplements package drags down the overall score a bit, but make no mistake -- you're not likely to find a better-looking next-gen catalog title.