Pretend you're a molecular biologist working in quantum theory and you've just formulated what may be the single most important scientific wonder in the history of the world--the miracle of invisibility. What would you do with it? Well, if you're Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), the brilliant head of a Pentagon-funded research team that has just devised such a thing, you do what any serious, self-respecting male scientist would do--you go off scaring little kids and looking for naked women.
That's about the extent of this would-be thriller's credibility; it's dumb from the outset and gets dumber as it goes along. Not even veteran action-movie director Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct," "Total Recall," "Starship Troopers") and a slew of spectacular visual effects can save "Hollow Man" from the silliness of its hackneyed script.
The fact that invisibility makes his experimental animals highly aggressive and maybe a little crazy doesn't seem to bother Caine a bit when he decides to take his experiments to their next level--human invisibility. But, then, nothing in this film makes much logical sense. Like the old sci-fi films of the fifties, you're just supposed to accept and go along with it, no matter how absurd. Dr. Caine is the boss of a group of seven scientists working on the invisibility study. Interestingly, of the seven, all of them are in their twenties and thirties and three of them are beautiful young women. You can see what audience this film is intended for. Anyway, their fearless leader, Caine, is a wild and crazy guy who hot-rods around town in a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet and finds joy in using a tranquilizer gun to chase down invisible gorillas. Maybe all of this is supposed to foreshadow his later transformation into a madman, but it appeared to me he was mad to begin with.
Other important members of the team include Elizabeth Shue as Linda, his ex-girlfriend, and Josh Brolin as Matthew, Linda's new boyfriend. Already you can see trouble brewing, especially when it's made clear early on that the lustful Sebastian still has the hots for Linda. Moving on: When the project is a success with apes and it comes time to turn their findings over to the Pentagon, Caine balks. Instead, he decides to keep the success a secret for a while and then does what every scientist in every B-grade horror flick is required to do--he tries the serum on himself! This is when he starts rampaging after girls. First, he asks Linda, "Hey, you want to know what it's like to make love to an invisible man?" and she replies, "Just like old times...You were never there." Spurned by his old flame, he decides to pay an invisible visit to the girl he's been peeping in on in the apartment across the way, and things get out of hand.
Then, matters heat up even further when Caine can't return to normal, and the rest of the team want to report the situation to the Pentagon. No, says Caine, and the longer he stays invisible the more he continues to go off the deep end, before long committing to a murderous rampage to protect his secret. I mean, Bacon is always a little creepy in his films, even when he's not on invisibility drugs, but the serum pushes him way over the edge. The last half hour is standard slasher-movie fare. It even ends in the time-honored "you-can't-keep-a-good-monster-down" tradition (and this isn't even a good monster), with Caine getting blow torched, clubbed with a crowbar, electrocuted, and thrown down an elevator shaft before his final demise. As I said, pretty silly stuff.
But as lame as the plot is, the computer-generated graphics and visual effects are hard to complain about. I don't think the disc is worth its asking price for the two transformation scenes alone, but you might consider renting it and fast forwarding to these segments. Initially, an invisible gorilla is brought back to normal, and when it is, its whole body starts to reappear blood vein by blood vein and organ by organ. It's amazing to watch, like one of those clear-plastic models of the human body you used to play with as a kid, only much more detailed and realistic. Conversely, when Sebastian goes invisible we see his body disappear layer by layer, the skin first, then the internal parts, the arteries, and the skeleton. These transformations last only a few minutes, but you'll remember them for a long time afterward. So, the film's not a total waste.
Columbia TriStar's picture quality needs to be pretty good in order to do justice to the visual effects, and, indeed, it comes off well. The widescreen ratio is an unspectacular 1.74:1, but the anamorphic image is unusually clean, smooth, and sharply defined. It's rich in golden-browns and revealing in dark shadows. There are a few instances of grain, as in the opening shot, and a few unstable, wavering lines, but these conditions are minor.
Audio is offered via Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo, the DD 5.1 providing some good surround effects. The sound of the lab's kennel, with its various caged animals, is especially enveloping, displaying realistic ambient noises and the natural reverberations of a large room. Although the sound is never particularly deep or dynamic (and there are no helicopters flying overhead), it is quite lifelike and lends the only note of believability there is to an otherwise harebrained movie.
Special bonus items may not be not as plentiful as on many other special-edition discs, but the ones included with "Hollow Man" are quite worthwhile. To start off, there is an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven, star Kevin Bacon, and screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe. Then, there's an isolated musical score, with commentary by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Next, there's a fifteen-minute HBO documentary called "Anatomy of a Thriller" that includes interviews with the stars. After that, there are three deleted scenes, each of them fairly long, with commentary by the director. Most important of all, there are fifteen, little, behind-the-scenes featurettes, each lasting from two to six minutes, that take the viewer into the moviemaking and special-effects processes. Finally, there are VFX picture-in-picture comparisons, talent files, DVD-ROM Web links, an informative booklet insert, twenty-eight animated scene selections, and two widescreen theatrical trailers for this film and three more for other Columbia releases. English and French are the spoken language and subtitle options.
At its core "Hollow Man" is a hollow movie. The characters are shallow, the action is clichéd, and the ending is predictable. Its gratuitous sex, gratuitous nudity, and gratuitous dirty jokes don't make it any better, either; they just give it an R rating. It's one of the few DVDs in my experience that is more entertaining for its bonus items than for its main feature, and that's not saying much.