I love Satan. There, I said it. Okay, maybe I only meant as a movie character. But really, is he not the ultimate cinematic badass? Nameless and faceless, he can be anyone. Elemental and eternal, you can't maim or kill him. And no matter how bad the movie, his name above the title ensures at least a great opening weekend at the box office. Really, could Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt withstand a film as crappy as 'End of Days,' and still survive with their reputation untarnished?
The plot plays like an unholy cross between 'The Exorcist' and every bad cop movie ever made, only funnier. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as alcoholic ex-detective Jericho Cane (seriously). Now working as a security guard in New York City, he accidentally stumbles upon a new millennium plot by Satan (Gabriel Byrne) to resurrect himself by impregnating an innocent young woman, Christine York (Robin Tunney). Since 'End of Days' is a "millennium movie," i.e., made to exploit all of our then-trendy Y2K fears, of course Ol' Beelzebub can only do the nasty with Christine during the last hour of 1999. (Hope he set his watch to Eastern Standard Time.) Meanwhile, various signs of the apocalypse emerge, such as usual mysterious explosions, a crazed psychotic trying to shoot people, etc., and Jericho discovers that the Catholic Church has long known of the Devil's little 'Da Vinci Code'-like scheme. Can Arnie convince the world of its impending doom, save Christine, untie the bureaucracy of the Church and defeat Satan in a knock-down, kick-ass battle in the middle of Times Square?
If the plot of 'End of Days' sounds ridiculous on paper, it plays even more ludicrous onscreen. Any movie about the Devil can either be totally terrifying ('The Exorcist,' 'The Omen') or totally camp (any of the 'Exorcist' or 'Omen' sequels). Unfortunately, 'End of Days' is largely the latter. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the film goes wrong. Is it the casting of Schwarzenegger, who just never seems believable as an alcoholic ex-cop? Is it Byrne as the Devil, who hams it up like Freddy Krueger but lacks the oily menace to truly make the character terrifying? Is it the over-the-top, CGI-fueled action sequences, which feel more akin to a 'Terminator' or 'Predator' flick than what is essentially a horror film? Or is it an overload of unintentional, laugh-out-loud moments, like the Devil urinating explosive pee, or Schwarzenegger getting the shit beat out of him by an old lady?
In terms of pure entertainment value, 'End of Day's is a perfectly serviceable Hollywood product. Peter ('Star Chamber,' 'Outland,' 'The Relic') Hyams directs with an impersonal efficiency, and the film is indeed slick. It's dark and moody, with the requisite baroque, end-of-the-world score and lots of menacing shots of inanimate objects, which apparently always signals that something terrible is about to happen in movies like this, even though nothing usually does. I also like the fact that the film at least tries to take itself seriously, and never interjects self-referential humor into the proceedings to lighten things up. Alas, we still end up laughing at the film anyway, but at least 'End of Days' tries to take its own hokum seriously. Sadly, though, and as much fun as I had watching 'End of Days,' Satan needs to find himself a better agent.
'End of Days' is a very, very dark film. Director Peter Hyams has long acted as his own director of photography, and he again does double duty here. Suffice to say the guy seems to have an aversion to any scene with even a glimmer of sunlight -- what would normally look like a brightly-lit exterior here seems menacing. Hence this material gives even a high-def format a run for its money. Universal has repackaged the previous 1080p/VC-1 encode found on the HD DVD here, only re-encoded it in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 on a BD-25 single-layer disc (bitrates fluctuate compared to the HD DVD, which was a HD-30 dual-layer disc). The overall presentation retains the same delicate balance, which is to avoid brightening the image too much in the name of improving detail, yet also keep it dark enough that at times it feels like one needs a flashlight just to see anything.
This Blu-ray remains a rather dark and sometimes grainy image. As is common with material shot with high-contrast film stock in low light conditions, there is a thin veil of film grain apparent throughout, though it's not excessive. Black levels are predictably spot-on, and contrast as mentioned is intentionally harsh. Hyams also chose to shoot actors lit only in the mid-tones, so it is often foreground and background objects that appear brightest in a shot -- quite an unusual style. That leaves the transfer looking soft and flat, yet with a sense of depth and dimension, all at the same time. Hardly a look that will win over everyone, but provided you have your monitor calibrated properly and watch the film in appropriate light conditions, you should still be able to detect fine detail even in the darkest scenes.
Otherwise, colors appear a bit too pumped up for my taste. Reds and oranges are especially vivid, to the point where detail and sharpness appear obscured. However, the improved color definition of high-def is immediately apparent when compared to the past DVD release (which was pretty murky) -- it's obvious right from the city skylights in the film's many fly-over establishing shots, which boast incredibly rich, striking hues. I also didn't have issues with compression artifacts, aside from pretty consistent noise -- it permeates most of the film, so those used to uber-pristine high-def transfers may be disappointed.
'End of Days' enjoys a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), versus the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack found on the HD DVD. The DTS-MA is louder right out of the gate, and after level matching, holds consistent with the TrueHD even if I found it a slightly coarser mix in terms of dynamics and overall tonal quality. Both are just as limited by the source material -- 'End of Days' was never the all-engrossing, sonic maelstrom I hoped for on standard DVD, and this DTS-MA mix (as with the TrueHD) doesn't offer that huge of an upgrade.
'End of Days' is a decent mix on its own terms. The action bits certainly pack oomph, with explosions and the supernatural sound effects very prominent. Still, it's disappointing that a horror/action film like this would be so front-heavy in the dialogue and scare scenes. Most of the effects and the score are directed to the fronts, and there is painfully little ambiance in the rears. Where's the moody musical stingers? The eerie atmospheric sound effects, such as wind and rain? The zippy pans between all five channels? It's all largely lacking, which is surprising given the film's budget.
The DTS-MA does feel brighter to me overall, however, with an edginess to the higher end of the frequency spectrum that at first sounds a bit "louder" than the TrueHD, if also less natural. The sense of depth and presence to the mix is comparable. The subwoofer really belts it out with force, in scenes such as the opening rescue, Arnie's subway battle with the Devil, and the climactic duel. Dialogue is balanced fairly well in the mix, if a tad too quiet. I never really had to fidget with my remote's volume control, but I would have preferred a more forceful center channel. There are no other issues with the source, which is as clean and polished as any big-budget Hollywood action movie. 'End of Days' does not sparkle any more in DTS-MA than in TrueHD, but provides a pretty competent soundtrack nonetheless.
Oddly, Universal has not ported over all of the supplements found on the previous HD DVD and standard DVD editions of 'End of Days.' For whatever reason, all of the video-based materials have been dropped. These include a pair of featurettes and a pair of music videos. Granted, this material wasn't terrific, but why Universal hasn't included them on the Blu-ray is a mystery.
'End of Days' doesn't really work as a horror film, or an action film, or even as an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but I still enjoyed it on the level of camp, and it never fails to entertain. This Blu-ray release is curious. The video is on par with the HD DVD, and the DTS-MA track is likewise comparable to the TrueHD. The supplements have suffered in the transition, however, with only a single commentary ported over from previous video releases. If you don't care about extras then this Blu-ray of 'End of Days' is certainly worth picking up, but hopefully Universal will not continue this trend on any of their future Blu-ray ports.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.