HOLLOW MAN/ HOLLOW MAN II – Blu-ray review

Director Paul Verhoeven somehow gets away with what could be SyFy channel caliber films by making them wildly entertaining romps.  He is able to blend serious, kick ass action with light, wink-wink acting.  The worlds his characters inhabit are steeped in satire and filled with overly violent commercials and corporations. With blockbusters like “RoboCop”, “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” under his belt Verhoeven brings us “Hollow Man”, a modern day take on The Invisible Man.

Kevin Bacon is Dr. Sebastian Caine, a man with an ego and the genius to back it up. He leads his team of scientists Linda (Elisabeth Shue) and Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin) along with several other in a project to successfully create an invisible being.  After succeeding on dogs and apes they decide the serum is ready for humans.  Caine is positive the higher ups will take the project away from him after the news so he decides to inject himself to be the first of his kind.  His ego just couldn’t have it any other way.  Being stuck in this condition until a cure is made his actions become darker and more sinister leading him to create much havoc on the outside world.

Verhoeven knows everyone has at least thought about this power once and he puts you into the point of view multiple times.  It works as double duty as it’s a better option than panning a camera across an empty room.  He is also a master of acknowledging his own cheesiness. His characters are loose and quick to make a joke and live in levity.  There are some nice moments spent on the psychological effect of time spent well invisible and how it affects people’s morals.

Paul’s films benefit from amazing special effects and “Hollow Man” is no different.  In fact they still wow’ed me today as they did back in 2000.  The internal organs showing during the transition to invisible are slightly dated however when the invisible man interacts with real life objects, it’s entirely believable. For example, when they pour the plaster over his face while making his mask, it’s entirely believable.  Another strong moment is when Caine is walking around with a sheet over him and it all looks completely realistic. When the blood is tossed onto his face and body it plays for a very nice effect.  Where the film tends not to succeed is Caine’s accelerated baddiness.  The jump from voyeurism to outright assault is too fast. There is not too much of a passage of time but his psychological deterioration is short. There are generic catalysts that push him over the edge that just seem like movie purposes other than realistic.  His ex that keeps spurning him seems to be the biggest trigger and then his ego fills in the rest.  The other big negative most people point out is that the film turns into a typical slasher pic instead of being something more.  In all honesty I see the invisible man as a perfectly fine monster villain.  The only downside is that ….he’s invisible and you can only do so much with him. On a side note, this would be the last of his American summer blockbuster films. He has since done a couple of impressive Dutch films back in the Netherlands.

Without Verhoeven and having a much smaller budget “Hollow man II” is vastly inferior to the original reflected in its direct to DVD release.  Post prime Christian Slater gets the duties as the imperceptible antagonist Michael Griffin.  This time the invisible man is a rogue army veteran seeking justice against the people who submitted him to secret experiments in hopes to create a new human weapon.  Frank Turner (Peter Facinelli) is a Seattle detective assigned to watch Maggie Dalton, a colleague of a slain doctor that is believed to be in danger.  A chase ensues as Griffin needs to find Maggie in hopes of a cure but his invisibility and anger had driven him hear insane.  There’s not much of an explanation of who the invisible man is right out of the gate.  In fact viewers are left in the dark for a long time before understanding what’s going on.  Where the original had a cause and effect structure, “II” flips it and begins by showing the effect before the cause which should create some mystery but in this case only generates confusion.

As far as the effects go, you’d think that there could be some excitement that after 6 years they could improve upon the already spectacular effects from the original but it doesn’t happen.  The budget pales in comparison to the $95 the original had.  Because of this there is significantly less interaction with real objects here.   They use extreme close-ups to get around utensils floating in mid air being held by the invisible characters.  The finale takes place outside in the rain so you can see the invisible men fighting but it lack the wow factor.  “II” is a fairly watered down R rating.  A couple of emphasized F bombs are strewn about but the violence it much tamer than the first.  The original had ferociousness to it that this one lacks.

Mill Creeks “Hollow Man” sports the a same transfer that was used for the original Sony Blu-ray release.  Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p, this is a nice looking, filmic HD experience.  The inside of the laboratory is slathered in sterile blues and silver.  This is a bright film even though much of it takes place as night.  The makers new this was going to be important to emphasize the effects. It doesn’t look like it was filmed in 2013 but it looks great in HD.  “Hollow Man II” fares better than the original even though it is a much darker film in general. The 1080p image is stretched out to 2.35:1 this time around.  The color palette is no pretty as there is a geneal muddiness to the picture.  Having said that, fine object detail is greater throughout than the original.

Mill Creek presents “Hollow Man” with a DTS-HD Master audio 5.1 track.  Directionaly is used to nice effect.  There’s a nice morning where there’s a fly buzzing around and you can hear it in and out of all five channels perfectly. Inside the laboratory there is some effective directionality between all the animals in cages. Music also uses all five channels to great effect.  LFE kicks in when needed.  “Hollow Man II” utilizes a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track as well. Directionality is not as effectively used as the sound design sounds cheaper due to the budget.  There are some nice thunder effect in the beginning and end of the film. The rain at the ends is the track’s highpoint.  The sound is decent for the most part although sometimes the dialogue was too low coming out of the center channel. In many scenes I had to boost the volume in that particular speaker to hear what the characters were saying.

The extras must be invisible as there are none.

Bottom line:
Verhoeven’s “Hollow Man” was his last American film to date.  It is not terribly memorable aside from the stunning special effects which to this day are still fresh; however, there is still enough too it to make it enjoyable.  “Hollown Man II” is a largely unnecessary sequel that relies more on mood than it does effects.  If you liked the first one at all and were curious about the second one, then both can be had for cheap.