There are precious few moments in life when the hope of stopping a highly advanced and homicidal robot comes down to actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer Gregory Hines. Capitalizing on this rarity is the 1991 action-thriller 'Eve of Destruction,' which takes its rather atypical casting decision and plays it with so much earnestness that the multi-talented performer is seen less as a cheeky bit of casting, and more as a way to break-up the formulaic action-hero archetypes of the time.
Hines stars as the military's top terrorism expert Jim McQuade, who has been tasked with hunting down the aforementioned robot, Eve VIII (Renée Stoudtendijk), after the machine embarks on a cross-country killing spree following an incident in which she was injured while inadvertently foiling a bank robbery. Making things more complex than they first appear is the machine's creator Dr. Eve Simmons (also Renée Stoudtendijk) who, in an effort to make Eve VIII as authentic as possible, infused the machine with more than just her physical likeness – Eve VIII also has Simmons' painful childhood memories, sexual fantasies, and a well-earned distrust of men. And it is here, in the film's attempts to present itself as a feminist take on a popular genre, that 'Eve of Destruction' becomes notable for something other than being a rather listless 'Terminator' clone.
Early on, the film from the late writer-director Duncan Gibbins works from the other side of the male-dominated action scene, by focusing most of its attention on Eve VIII after her violent run-in at the bank disrupts her programming and sends her traipsing through the greater Bay Area, attempting reconcile some of Dr. Simmons' past while also acting out a few of her more explicit fantasies. In one early instance, Eve VIII picks up a redneck in a bar that holds a certain emotional significance in Simmons' past, only to have the would-be sexual encounter turn predictably violent when the man's true intentions (and two friends) are revealed. Although Eve VIII turns the tables on her attackers, maiming one of them in a particularly gruesome but fitting fashion, it becomes clear that the feminist angle is matched by a commentary on masculine paranoia regarding the power that can be derived from femininity.
Once McQuade and Dr. Simmons are hot on the trail of Eve VIII, McQuade learns that his order to kill the robot is derived not from her actions with regard to the men she's been systematically murdering, but because she is powered by a small nuclear device (the biblical implications of which are not hard to imagine), which has malfunctioned as a result of yet another violent encounter with a member of the opposite sex. The closer Eve finds herself to "going nuclear," the more brazen her attacks become, and the more her lack of "inhibitions" – or, rather, her lack of Dr. Simmons' inhibitions – cause the automaton to live out what the doctor would only "think about doing,"which makes it easier for Simmons to anticipate Eve's next move.
However, the more the film plays out, the more it becomes obvious that it views even the low level patriarchal obstacles Eve VIII is trying to overcome as either fundamentally insurmountable, or part of a quest unlikely to be achieved through the actions of a single individual – regardless if that individual happens to be a nuclear powered robot or not. In that sense, 'Eve of Destruction' can be seen as a tragedy from the perspective of Eve VIII and, perhaps, even Dr. Simmons, where a misbegotten creation lives out the fantasies of its socially, sexually, and emotionally repressed creator and, by extension, comes to represent the repression of her gender everywhere in a male dominated world. The film's treatment of this perspective, however, is a little more dubious. The desires and actions of Eve VIII clearly fly in the face of the status quo and are therefore a threat to the establishment, not only from the standpoint of her actions being illegal, but also in the sense that a superior being coming in the form of a woman is seen as a change that society and the various establishments within it are not ready to handle.
Of course, given the antagonistic tone the film takes toward Eve VIII, there's a chance that Gibbins and his co-writer Yale Udoff didn't intend for the story to say something so overt about feminism in the first place. In fact, the writers may have had more of the biblical Eve in mind when they were writing the character; someone seen less as a potential liberator and threat to the status quo, and more as a portent of doom that threatens to bring about a great disastrous change. Whatever sociological aspirations, or lack thereof, are inherent in 'Eve of Destruction,' the movie might now be seen as the logical predecessor to 'Species,' 'Ginger Snaps' and maybe even 'Teeth' – all films revolving around fears of female sexuality and power – and that might give the film something of a newfound life now that it's on Blu-ray.
Through it all, however, Gibbins manages to maintain the illusion that it's all a sci-fi action-thriller, giving his film a rather swift pace, by putting McQuade and Simmons in a deadly game of cat and mouse with an unstoppable killing machine. It also doesn't hurt that McQuade takes on a certain likeability that's augmented by Hines' subdued, nonchalant performance depicting a guy who goes from teaching an anti-terrorist training class to trying to shoot a lady robot in the eye, like it's the kind of thing that happens almost every day. And while he's ostensibly tasked with making sure The Man remains a man, it's hard to dislike a guy who can respond to questions of his value with a quip about his specialty being a "a spinach lasagna in a light tomato and basil sauce."
Ultimately, 'Eve of Destruction' breaks down into a cheesy action-thriller with a penchant for opening doors into places it's not terribly interested in exploring or is equipped to, for that matter. Had it dared venture deeper into the conversation it brought up, we might be talking about a movie remembered more for its narrative's larger, more meaningful implications, and less for having a guy normally seen in tap shoes chase around a robot in a red leather jacket.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Eve of Destruction' comes as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There are no previews ahead of the film and the only special feature is the theatrical trailer. The insert to the case is reversible, so you can choose from two different looks when you proudly display this movie on your Blu-ray shelf.
'Eve of Destruction' isn't that a film, so for those who remember seeing it when it was originally released, or shortly thereafter, the Blu-ray version will likely be very impressive. The film has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer to a high definition image that looks as though it has undergone significant remastering.
The image is very bright, clear and surprisingly full of detail from start to finish. There are a few instances of soft focus and some artifacts floating around the screen, but for the most part, the image looks terrific. Surprisingly, there is very little grain noticeable anywhere and there is little evidence of overzealous digital tampering either. The image is simply very clear and precise, with a great deal of contrast, depth and surprisingly vibrant colors. Most of this is played up with Eve VIII, who naturally has a penchant for wearing red and/or being seen in red cars or red rooms. The image does a great job of playing this effect up without over saturating things or making the red look garish and out of place.
Fine detail is also present in nearly every scene and although the detail tends to fade a little in wider shots, it is abundant in close-ups. Background detail is also plentiful here, as the locations play a big part in the narrative and the change from San Francisco to New York also means that the picture captures a great deal of those cities.
Overall, this is a great looking image that succeeds in enhancing the look of a film that probably hasn't crossed the minds of too many people in the last twenty years or so.
The film has been given a very nice, but standard sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The mix is competent at mixing the various bits of dialogue with sound effects and score, without the sense that something is being lost in the shuffle. Naturally, the mix focuses primarily on the actors that the dialogue, presenting everyone in a clear and distinct manner that’s easy to understand and maintains a constant level without getting too pitchy, or with any undue noise or hissing. Sound effects are a mixed bag of occasionally robust noises like gunshots and bodies being flung far across the room, or through a cheap hotel door, while other times, it comes across as a little anemic sounding. It's not necessarily bad; it's just that given the strength of other sound effects, the weaker ones tend to stand out.
For the most part, this is a nice sounding disc that manages to get across all the information it needs to in the best possible way. There's really nothing wrong with the sound on 'Eve of Destruction'; ultimately it's a fine mix that just could have been stronger in some areas.
'Eve of Destruction' is an easily forgotten little sci-fi film, but it's one that when looked at more closely, can develop some interesting themes and notions about matters that go far deeper than a guy with a gun chasing an out of control robot. Essentially, that's what sci-fi is intended to do, and while the film suffers from being a tad cheesy in some of its delivery, it could still be worth a watch for newcomers, or even worthy of a second viewing from those who likely haven't thought of it in years. Sadly, there are no special features to discuss, but the image is terrific and the sound is good enough to make this one worth a look.