El Cosmico here, with our pal Alexandra DuPont's take on Hollow Man. Enjoy!
ALEXANDRA DuPONT DRILLS INTO 'HOLLOW MAN'
Sexual violence! Puppy murder! Kevin Bacon in the altogether! Now THAT's entertainment!
I recently caught a preview of Paul Verhoven's latest commercial feature, "Hollow Man." Now that I've finally finished wiping off the resulting moral stain with a moist towelette, I think I can write about the experience.
I. THE UPSHOT
"Hollow Man" is quite well-produced (and all the more troubling for it, truth be told -- but I'll get to that in a minute). The Verhoven faithful -- i.e., you zealots who keep insisting that the Archie-Comics-by-way-of-the-Third-Reich "Starship Troopers" was a way-cool satire -- will be happy to read that the movie represents a return to form for the man who directed "RoboCop." "Hollow Man" is slick, succinct and nasty, with a knowing eye for suspense, solid action photography and violence that REALLY looks like it hurts. Effects-wise, it's the invisible-man movie the geeks have always wanted to see: Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), our transparent fellow, interacts to thrilling effect with smoke, water, blood, steam fire -- pretty much every viscous substance but Jell-O pudding and quicksand -- and it all looks smashing.
That said, "Hollow Man" is also deeply dismaying in that it depicts the moral disintegration of Sebastian Caine with an eye for voyeurism and the bluntness of a sledgehammer -- hence the aforementioned moist towelette. Sensitive viewers need to be warned that there's a fairly stunning amount of violence against women in this movie, and it seemed to cause at least one young slip of a girl to flee the theater at my screening. I'm certainly no women's-studies major, nor do I purport to be a "PC thinker" or other form of moral amateur -- I'm just letting you know.
Putting it another way: I was occasionally creeped out and repulsed and mortified and just a tiny bit titillated all at once, which is of course EXACTLY what the Mad Dutchman set out to accomplish. Whether the methods he uses to achieve this unease come at a moral price is up to you.
II. THE STORY
Cocksure scientist Sebastian Caine (K. Bacon, initially laying it on just a little thick) makes himself invisible. He gets very mean-spirited. His fellow scientists -- among them his ex-girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue, laying it on not nearly thick enough) -- try to stop him. Much bloody wrangling ensues. Structurally, we're presented with two films for the price of one:
(a) a sci-fi morality tale, followed by
(b) an "Aliens"-lite thrillah in which a smart, nearly indestructible monster is hunted by a barely-together band of bickering idiots who look for all the world like they're playing the world's most lethal game of Lazer Tag.
While the sci-fi morality tale is far more intriguing, the final act is still structurally more satisfying than "Starship Troopers."'
III. A SAMPLING OF THE ACTS OF VIOLENCE FEATURED IN 'HOLLOW MAN' (with what I suppose are heavy "spoilers")
In my opinion, the below articles of mayhem are not presented in the service of social satire a la "A Clockwork Orange" (which I admire immensely). This is a pulp thriller, folks, and it features the following, and I think you should be told about it in advance, because it may make you reconsider taking a date. I should also note that I am not even remotely arguing for the censorship of these articles of mayhem like that www.capalert.com doofus. You're big enough to draw your own conclusions. Anyway:
(1) A woman is stalked, voyeuristically ogled and attacked in her bedroom. (This, BTW, is the same woman who was the victim of a long-rumored, graphic "invisible rape" scene in a script draft. Any actual rape, if it was in fact shot, has been cut from the film and will no doubt be a hotly debated DVD extra, if it in fact exists. As the scene stands, it's still plenty damned creepy. As I wrote earlier, Verhoven skillfully crafts his suspense in "Hollow Man" -- sort of like Hitchcock, only with boobie shots and Kevin Bacon's nekkid derierre.)
(2) Women are undressed and fondled against their wishes as they sleep. Twice.
(3) A woman is garroted and stuffed in a locker.
(4) A woman is tranquilized, murdered, and then fondled a second time. After she's dead.
(5) Oh, and a puppy is slammed into a wall, meeting a rather moist end in the process. (For some reason, I suspect people are going to get a lot more riled up about this than they will about the preceding four bits of nastiness. Hi.)
IV. WHAT WORKS IN 'HOLLOW MAN'
(1) The invisibility F/X porn. Specularity be damned -- the effects in "Hollow Man" just look like they were painstaking as hell to design and produce, and everybody at the preview screening seemed to adore them. They actually rendered a rather rowdy audience dead-silent. I am also happy to write that effects serve story here, and not vice-versa. I was particularly fond of the moments in which Mssr. Bacon was PARTIALLY invisible, writhing and/or running around like a demented Hogarth anatomy sketch; through the sinew, you could still sort of tell it was Bacon, thanks (I think) to the impressive computer re-creation of his eyeballs.
(2) An extraordinarily tense bit in an elevator shaft. Watch for that shoulder check. OUCH! Few directors shoot their action sequences with the crystal clarity and surgical cruelty of Paul Verhoven, and it makes for a tense final reel.
(3) A rather bawdy joke Sebastian Caine tells about Superman and Wonder Woman.
(4) William Devane, making a lite, hammy meal (much as he did in "Payback") of his tiny role.
(5) The fact that "Hollow Man" gets its technical details out of the way as quickly as possible to focus on the moral disintegration of Bacon's character. The script tosses off the terms "serial-irradiated protein" and "phase-shifting out of quantum sync with the visible universe," then gets right to the characters, thank Heaven. And although I wrote earlier that Bacon lays it on a little thick, I should add that this is only true while he's visible: Later on, when he only has his growly voice to convey emotion, he's quite effective.
V. WHAT DOESN'T WORK IN 'HOLLOW MAN'
(1) I hereby take this opportunity to resurrect my Computer Rendering Arena of Shame Hotsheet (C.R.A.S.H.) -- a listing of the worst depictions of computer usage in film. C.R.A.S.H. nomination No. 1: The supposed, slug-paced UNIX system the young girl is using to re-boot the system in "Jurassic Park." Nomination No. 2: Pretty much anything on a VDT screen in the "Mission: Impossible" movies. Nomination No. 3: The way keyboard typing in "Hollow Man" consistently produces mouse-driven results onscreen. It's a piddling, nit-picky thing, but still: Would Hollywood depict a driver shifting gears by turning the steering wheel?
(2) Elisabeth Shue. Pretty she is, fellows, but she keeps getting cast as a scientist (see: "The Saint"), and those square words just keep refusing to come out of that round little mouth. And when she gets tough and says, "We are gonna TAKE HIM DOWN," I just about projectile-tittered. And by the way: When in the name of Sweet Fancy Moses did these scientists find time to work out and buy fabulous boots? They're just TOO gorgeous!
(3) The aforementioned necrophilic-fondling incident. (It's what drove that young slip of a girl from the theater, BTW.) I personally found Verhoven's graphic presentation of sexual threats and puppy-smashing as pulp entertainment to be a bit much, and I don't think I'll be alone in that sentiment. The Talk Back is here for your comments and enjoyment.
VI. RECOMMENDATION and SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
"Hollow Man" is a machine designed by Paul Verhoven to make the viewer uneasy, and despite the movie's flaws -- occasionally unexceptional characterization, frequently unexceptional dialogue -- Mr. V achieves his goal. I think there will be some debate about his methods.
P.S. On a semi-related note, may I take a moment to recommend David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay on "F/X Porn" and what it means for filmic storytelling? It's mean and funny and sums up James Cameron's oveure rather nicely. Here's the link: