As I'm watching "Hollow Man," about a team of scientists (one, in particular) obsessed with invisibility, I'm wondering how a plot involving scientific investigation deteriorated so quickly into a teen boy fantasy that involves using invisibility to cop peeks and feels. Then I noticed that it was directed by Paul Verhoeven--the man who gave us "Showgirls" and "Basic Instinct," as well as "Robocop" and "Total Recall"--and I thought, that explains it.
Verhoeven hasn't exactly been above exploitation, and this story is unashamedly exploitive. The Dutch director establishes that early, as in the first four minutes we see both mutilation and titillation. The opening scene shows an invisible force squeezing the crap out of a lab rat in a cage and then a bunch of fanged teeth ripping into it, everything turning blood-red. Moments later, we watch "scientist" Kevin Bacon return home to his apartment, where he oogles a woman in an apartment across the street as she starts to strip down, cheering her on as if his seats were on the 50-yard line. Cue the porno music!
Except that things don't REALLY get gratuitously S&M (make that "sex" and "mutilation") until this scientist becomes his own human guinea pig. Then, rather than becoming curious in a scientific way, he uses the opportunity to unbutton the blouse of the sleeping veterinarian on their team and fondle her exposed breast (now, why she showed up at the lab braless is beyond me). Later, he decides to do something about the strip-show-cut-short across from his apartment. But what he does isn't just the teen-boy fantasy of walking, unseen, into a girl's locker room at watching everyone get undressed. He brutally rapes this woman. Some scientist.
Now, I know we're supposed to see that the invisible gorilla they brought back to visibility went through a restless and violent stage while invisible, but the thing was consistently violent. One minute Sebastian Caine is a rational genius, the next minute he's the baddie in a slasher movie.
It's too bad Verhoeven went for easy sensationalism, because there was a way to do this so it built with more of a sense of sad inevitability, the way film adaptations of "The Invisible Man" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" have done.
As it is, this one is pretty simple, with a four-character cast that makes the rest of the actors seem superfluous. The "team" that's hoping to win a Nobel Prize for their work on invisibility consists of Caine, former flame and co-worker Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue), the less-talented Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin) who's also secretly seeing Linda, and Sarah Kennedy (Kim Dickens), a principled veterinarian onboard to make sure that the animals are well cared for. She's the only one with high principles, it turns out, and that only adds to the clichéd feel of the plot.
A walk through the lab indicates that they've half-cracked the challenge of invisibility. Some of the animals are visible, some are not. Then one evening Sebastian phones Linda in the middle of the night to say he's found the key to reversing invisibility, and they try it out on the poor gorilla, who almost dies. Then, in affirmation of their complete lack of scruples, they by-pass approval channels in order to use Sebastian as the human volunteer.
With character development (and logic) wanting, the best parts by far of "Hollow Man" are the special effects. The first extraordinary CGI sequence reminds us of those old plastic Invisible Man models that showed all of the body's systems.
We watch them inject a red serum into the bloodstream of an invisible gorilla and see it define the veins and arteries of the circulatory system. Then, slowly, the neurological system starts to appear, and the digestive system and other organs, with the skeletal system the last of the internal systems to appear and the flesh and fur gradually filling out until we have an awfully real-looking gorilla. Fun stuff! The same holds true with Sebastian's body deconstruction, which is far more interesting than his bare tushie.
Other effects are also pretty neat, including an invisible Sebastian who takes on a momentarily fluid look when he's been doused with water.
If only Verhoeven hadn't gone hokey on us, this could have been a great film.
"Hollow Man" looks wonderful in 1080p Hi-Def. The 1.85:1 picture is stretched to fill out the entire screen of a 16x9 television, and the plasticine clarity, the sharpness of detail really make those special effects look extra special. Black levels are strong, and the color saturation approaches 100 percent in some scenes.
Once again, the PCM English 5.1 uncompressed audio really fills the room with pure sound. An additional option is English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, English SDH, and Korean, but the PCM is the way to go. The bass booms, metal-on-metal elevator screeching sounds as if you're right there in the shaft, and the rear speakers really get a workout.
Though the bonus features feel largely promotional, they're still entertaining. The real promo-teaser is a short (15-20 minute) HBO making-of special, "Anatomy of a Thriller," which gives a brief overview of the production and features the usual mix of clips and talking heads, the latter mostly "interpreting" their characters. In other words, if you've just watched the movie, there's nothing for you here.
Better are 15 behind-the-scene featurettes that mostly zero in on the special effects challenges and the ways in which the production team managed to solve them. These are entertaining AND informative, which is what you hope for in bonus features.
Rounding out the extras is a VFX Picture-in-Picture comparison that allows you to view three scenes in different ways. One feature that was included on the DVD but which turns up missing here is the commentary track. But that's okay by me. The featurettes are the thing to watch here, because the CGI effects are the things to watch in the film--not the acting or the plot.
"Hollow Man" has some of the coolest special effects I've seen. Too bad the film lives up to its name, offering nothing of substance. Watch this one for the effects, and wander into the kitchen to make yourself a snack during the B-slasher movie stuff.