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review added: 11/2/01



Hollow Man
Special Edition - 2000 (2001) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Hollow Man: Special Edition

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B+

Specs and Features

113 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:02, at the start of chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Paul Verhoeven, star Kevin Bacon and writer Andrew W. Marlowe), isolated score with commentary by Jerry Goldsmith, HBO making-of special: Anatomy of a Thriller, 3 deleted scenes with Paul Verhoeven commentary, 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes, picture in picture comparisons of before and after effects shots, weblinks, theatrical trailers, talent files, animated film-themed menus with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Where do you start when reviewing a Paul Verhoeven film? The sex? No, no, no. The violence? Such a tough decision. If you're lucky, the film will concentrate on either the sex (the new camp classic Showgirls) or the violence (Robocop). Large doses of each in the same film can be near-orgasmic, trashy celluloid bliss - case in point, Basic Instinct. His latest, Hollow Man, straddles the border between those two genre extremes and doesn't dally too long in either. The end product, while not nearly as controversial as some of its predecessors, doesn't end up being as exciting either. It's not all bad, but it ain't all good either. In the end, it's just kind of… there.

There is a plot to this movie, but it's basically just a thinly veiled excuse for some neat-o special effects. Scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) spearheads a government funded scientific operation designed to unravel the secrets of invisibility. After halfway successful attempts to make gorillas invisible, Caine talks fellow scientist and ex-girlfriend Linda McKay (Elizabeth Shue) into letting him go under the needle and try it out on himself. The result? After several painful convulsive fits... he's gone! The transformation scenes themselves are absolutely brilliant. These are some of the best looking special effects I've seen in quite awhile. It's amazing to see him disappear and re-materialize organ by organ, vein by vein, one layer at a time. Anyone who thinks Verhoeven is a sexist who must always show female nudity may come to the conclusion that he's an equal opportunity sex-obsessed dirty old man. Want blue screen male frontal nudity? Kevin Bacon's got it. Trust me, you'll grow tired of seeing him in various stages of CGI nudity.

The problem from here on out is that there's nowhere for the movie to go after they successfully manage the process of invisibility. The exciting part is done There's a lame subplot that involves his jealousy over Linda starting a new relationship with caring scientist Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin), but it doesn't fit in the overall scheme of the movie. It's just there to add some heft to a really light story. So, writers Andrew M. Marlowe and Gary Scott Thompson decided that it would be interesting if he got violent and horny when invisible. Is that the best they could do? Come on! He beats up on a few people, kills the people who are in on the government secret, rapes a woman and fondles a breast. Oh... and he kills a dog just to show how mean and nasty he really is. The bottom line is, if you're going to watch it, enjoy the effects. They'll distract you from the story and the long, drawn out ending. Yes, it's another "when is he really going to die?" ending. He's like the Energizer bunny - he keeps going and going and going. But he's not pink and fuzzy. What a drag.

Though you can now find it in the bargain bin at Best Buy, Columbia released Hollow Man as a special edition. Best of all, it looks and sounds great. As is their custom, Columbia released it in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with anamorphic enhancement to give more detail to the picture. This is one of Columbia's finer recent efforts. First off, there is zero edge enhancement or digital artifacting. Black levels and shadow detailing are excellent, and color reproduction is just about perfect. You'll find a great deal of detail here without any bleed to dampen the color mood. Light/dark contrast is also superb. The image looks very much like its theatrical presentation. If I have one complaint, it's the presence of some minor (yet noticeable if you look) grain in some of the effects shots. This is particularly evident in the blue/black/green screen shots of Kevin Bacon when he's sporting the flesh tone mask. Otherwise, this is one fine image.

While it's not going to test the limits of your home audio setup, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is definitely a very appealing mix. More than anything else, it's a showpiece for Jerry Goldsmith's evocative music score. It's very reminiscent of the work he did with Verhoeven on Basic Instinct, and really envelopes the listener in the experience with a good balance of front and rear channel action. The effects track is also quite vibrant, right from the very start. Directional effects in the surrounds are used sparingly but effectively during some of the more action oriented scenes. There are a lot of subtle effects (like water dripping, steam and various animal noises) coming out of the separate channels, as well as a few zingers in the music score. Dialogue is maintained in the center channel and the bass response is heavy but never overpowering.

This isn't a loaded special edition, but it's a satisfying set of extras, wisely focused on the more interesting aspects of the film (i.e. the special effects). You'll find no less than 15 "making-of" featurettes in the Fleshing Out the Hollow Man section. These are all only a few minutes in length, and the majority of them are geared toward the film's visuals. Each details a different part of the effects process, from the various green screen processes, the different ways of creating on-screen invisibility and the convincing underwater sequences. They should answer any of the "how did they do that?" questions you might have about the film's extensive effects. Star Kevin Bacon, director Paul Verhoeven and scriptwriter Andrew W. Marlowe share billing on the audio commentary track. Marlowe has good things to say, but he speaks up only occasionally. Bacon shares quite a bit when he manages to wrestle Verhoeven away from the microphone. Verhoeven is a talkative, boisterous man, and that's obvious throughout the entire track. Verhoeven's chatterbox never seems to need a rest, but your ears sure will after this audio track. The isolated music score and commentary track by perennial Oscar nominee Jerry Goldsmith is a big change from his previous commentaries. He speaks in between the musical segments (in DD 5.1) on his relationship with Verhoeven, his history as a composer and, obviously, on his work in this film. If nothing else, it's a must listen for the music track.

The 15-minute HBO "making-of" special is promotional filler. It was designed to get people in the theatres to recover the large overhead of such an effects-heavy blockbuster film. It's chock full of banter about the originality of the film and babble about working with the director and stars and, of course, the effects. You may just want to skip it. There's nothing in there that you won't find elsewhere on the disc. The deleted scenes are interesting, but don't add anything special to the film. For your viewing pleasure, Columbia has included an extended version of the rape scene. Needless to say, it's really not necessary to see and, for that matter, neither are the other two scenes. They're expository in nature and detract from the real star of the film - the effects. The before and after visual effects comparison shots are somewhat repetitive in nature. You'll see them in various stages of production in the effects vignettes, but here you'll see them, picture in picture, from start to finish to see how the whole process worked. The rest of the disc is standard DVD stuff, talent files, web links and 2 theatrical trailers for Hollow Man as well as 3 other, somehow related films (A Few Good Men, Starship Troopers and Final Fantasy).

In many ways, Hollow Man is a typical Verhoeven film, but it's not as excessive as some of his previous work is. If you're bored by the story (it doesn't have anywhere to go after they complete the invisibility process), the effects trickery should tide you over. The disc isn't a complete winner in the extras department, but you can't argue with the video and audio quality. They're top notch and are what you should expect of a new film. Columbia rarely drops the ball on their DVD releases, and this is definitely one for your collection if you like the film. At the $15 asking price many places are charging, it's a near steal.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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