The Birthday Series – Hollow Man (2000)
Some films are just flat out frustrating. There are the types of films that you expect to be bad. For whatever reason, be it the director, actors or simply the genre or subject matter, you know that it’s not going to be a good film. And when it turns out to be so, you shrug and think “I told you so.” These aren’t the frustrating films. The ones that frustrate me are those that have everything going for it, and on paper appear to have all the right boxes ticked. But for any number of reasons they fail to live up to expectations. ‘Hollow Man’ is one of those films.
In an underground laboratory in Washington, a team of scientists led by the egomaniacal Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) are on the verge of discovery. Under funding from the military, they have solved invisibility, but have so far been unable to reverse the process. While chomping on a Twinkie and reorganising some sciencey looking image on his computer, Caine finds the answer. The result is stable, and the test subject, a gorilla named Isabelle, is successfully brought back to visibility. But Caine keeps the information from the military, instead convincing Linda (Elisabeth Shue) and Matt (Josh Brolin) to go to “Phase 3”, with himself as the test subject. Caine is successfully invisibilised, but the procedure to reverse the process fails. He’s stuck as The Invisible Man, and he likes it. When Linda and Matt decide to reveal the truth to the military, Caine decides to stop them by any means necessary.
There was potential here for a brilliant film. It has decent actors, a huge budget, and a brilliant director. But all that is for nought because it’s creatively bankrupt. The first half of the film sets the scene wonderfully. It takes us through the process, we see how everything works, and the results of their project. Half way through I expected the film to expand. Caine was out in the world, causing trouble. I was licking my lips in anticipation of what the film had in store for me. How could they find an invisible man in a city the size of Washington? If you were invisible in Washington, where would you go? What would you do? The options are seemingly limitless. But the film doesn’t expand, it shrinks. Of all the places Caine can go, he heads back down underground, and it turns into just another lazy film about a “supernatural being killing people one by one”. Caine becomes a one-note, boring horror villain, in the tradition of ‘Friday the 13th’, or ‘Halloween’ (although Jason and Michael are much more interesting).
Kevin Bacon is very good as Caine. He’s a self-aggrandising, egomaniac with a god complex, but he’s also a brilliant scientist. His relationship with Linda adds an interesting dynamic, as does Linda’s relationship with Matt. Sebastian and Linda have history, but he was too self-involved. The relationship allows Bacon to give the character a bit of depth, in terms of showing how he can go from a kind of normal person to a psychotic killer. It’s a matter of pride and ego with him when he tries to rekindle the relationship. Despite his cocky demeanour, Bacon brings a sense of mental fragility to Caine, which helps us make sense of the fairly sudden change in his behaviour. The length of time that he is invisible begins have psychological effects, and he starts to crack.
Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin give decent performances, but they fail to make their characters interesting. Both Linda and Matt are fairly bland characters, and neither Shue or Brolin manage to find an angle to bring them to life. The rest of the cast a made up of Kim Dickens, William Devane, Greg Grunberg, Mary Randle and Joey Slotnick, and merely serve as cannon fodder for Caine’s rampage.
Director Paul Verhoeven has made some of the best genre films ever. ‘Robocop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Starship Troopers’ are all brilliant films, and what all three have in common are sharp, witty, intelligent screenplays. That is not the case here. The screenplay, written by Andrew W. Marlow, is a lazy hodgepodge of horror movie clichés. It’s just so boring and unimaginative. If he had spent less time on coming up with different ways to see an invisible man, and more time on creating interesting characters, broadening the scope of the story, and taking it in an interesting direction we might just have been onto something.
The one superb aspect of this film are the special effects. Ten years on from the films release, the computer generated effects remain as astounding and brilliantly effective as they always were. These are some of the best effects I’ve seen in a film, and it seems all the collective creativity has been channelled into this one area. It’s virtually flawless in this regard. The way we can see the warm yellow glow of Caine’s rubber mask through the empty holes of the eyes and mouth, his blood soaked body, and of course the gradual emergence of the bone and tissue when Isabelle becomes visible again. It’s truly sensational work and it’s a shame that they are not in service of a worthy film.
‘Hollow Man’ is one of those all too frequent occurrences in Hollywood. All the pieces are in place, but something is just missing. It’s just surprising that for a film that is directed by such a creative director and features amazingly creative special effects lacks so much creativity in it’s story and characters.
Thanks for ringing in the millennium with me. Hope you didn’t catch that pesky Y2K bug.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!