Lionsgate // 2004 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // March 25th, 2005
Every nightmare has a beginning.
Writing a prequel to a popular film is all the rage these days. One could spend hours discussing the merits and/or results of such prequels, but the simple conclusion is that most diminish the allure of the original, better films. Dare I mention the ultimate example? Of course, that would be Episodes I and II of the Star Wars sextology. It's so very hard to recapture that elusive element that made the original such a classic and loved piece of work. Look at the size of the canvas the Star Wars films had to work with and see how it crumbled. Now imagine attempting to take a tiny, insignificant film like Cube and churn out a prequel. How many times can you toss random people into this box and hope to come out with a winner?
Hollywood's answer: As many as possible.
The real answer: Once.
But here we are with the third installment in the Cube franchise. Let's just say that while the idea has some modest potential, the film is an utter disaster from start to finish.
A woman awakens inside a room. The room has an old, gritty, industrial feel to it and is a perfect cube, 17' x 17'. On each wall is a door that resembles a submarine hatch. Opening that hatch leads to another, differently lit but identical room. As the woman moves from room to room, she is relieved to discover more people inside this maze. But that relief is brief as they discover some rooms are trapped with vicious devices that will kill the unsuspecting victim.
Outside the cube, in an observation room, are two men, Wynn and Dodd. Their job is to monitor the people inside the cube. Wynn is an extremely bright young man who begins to wonder about the cube and the people within. Dodd doesn't ask any questions and simply follows orders from above. He really hates it when Wynn starts to think. But Wynn can't help himself, and he feels for the people inside the cube, even though they've all consented to be in there. Or have they? Wynn stumbles across the file of the newest addition to the cube, Rains, a beautiful young woman whose consent form is missing. This discovery troubles Wynn greatly, and he eventually leaves the observation room to ask his bosses about the situation. Instead of finding his superiors, though, he finds himself inside the cube.
Being smart and "in the know" about how the cube works, he quickly maps his way through the maze and finds Rains and the few others who are still alive. Wynn hopes to guide them out through an auxiliary exit, but he doesn't realize that his bosses have sent Jax and some lackeys to the observation room to prevent Wynn from escaping. Can Wynn save Rains, or will Jax and Dodd booby-trap every room and make exit impossible?
As so many others did, I really enjoyed Cube. It's a wonderfully elementary idea that worked well when put on screen. Was it the characters? The concept? The math? The traps? All the above? Trying to recapture the cult magic, Ernie Barbarash wrote Cube 2: Hypercube to shake up the concept. He changed far too much, and the film failed miserably, which should have brought the series to its end. But never say die in Hollywood; here's the prequel, Cube Zero, also brought to us by Mr. Barbarash. Hoping that a return to the tenets of the original film would refresh the franchise, Barbarash brought back the math, the clues, and the nasty physical traps. But, this time, he quite unwisely decided to set half the movie outside of the cube. Part of the joy of the first film was that you had no clues as to the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the cube. Barbarash hinted at it in the second movie, and he lays out way too much in this third film. It was much better when we knew nothing. Trying to explain the cube leads to too many complications that cannot be answered. But, ignoring the complications, what Barbarash proposed is really quite silly and makes no sense -- not that the cube makes any sense either.
Let's take a quick rundown of the observation room and Jax and see how they fit into the big picture. The observation room is to be manned by four men; currently, only Wynn and Dodd are present. Even at 50% capacity, they sit around bored to tears with nothing much to do. What would two other guys be doing in there? And the one task that requires two men to complete, the exit procedure, is mind-numbingly stupid and could easily be handled by one man. Beyond that, who are these four guys and what is their purpose? Are they really part of the cube project, or are they cube fodder? Then there's the exceedingly quirky Jax, the man with the limp and the weird eye. Who is he? Where does he fit in the food chain? What is his job? Why does he visit the observation room when Wynn leaves but not when the other two guys left the room? After you watch the men in the observation room, all you know is that some sad people are watching the cube. You're still no closer to knowing anything about the cube, its purpose, or the poor people inside.
At least Barbarash did try to ignore the crap he spewed in Cube 2 -- an easy task since this third film takes place before the first. This time we return to a real cube with real traps. The math, the logic, and the possibility of understanding and beating the cube -- everything I missed in the second film -- exist again. I enjoyed the industrial, submarine-feel to the cube, and it's probably the highlight of the film. In fact, the cube is the star, the main attraction to the film. Anything else is superfluous and detracts from why we're tuning in. We don't really care about the flesh inside; we only want to see them lose. And the traps are quite naughty here. In the opening sequence, we get a death scene that is bigger, nastier, and more gruesome than anything else in the series. It actually made me squirm, it's done so well. But not all the traps are executed as flawlessly, and by the time the big, Hurley-like guy explodes from the intense barrage of sound waves, I was laughing at its ridiculousness.
Ridiculous could also be used to describe the acting and the script in Cube Zero. This movie could almost work if it didn't contain so many silly moments swaddled in horrific acting, for, honestly, at the heart of the film is an interesting idea (the cube), but Barbarash is not a man up to the task. Without question, the acting is awful. These actors couldn't emote if you paid them (which, theoretically, someone did). Yet, as easy as it would be to point my finger at the actors and blame the entire travesty on them, it's not all their fault. Is it fair to ask an actor to turn crap into gold? Not even the most talented individuals can do that. (Refer again to Episodes I and II of Star Wars.) The insipid dialogue that Barbarash wrote and the awful situations he contrived are hard to overcome and are the root of the failure of Cube Zero. Really, when's the last time you saw a guy get pissed off and bitch-slap another man? That's the quality you're getting with this one.
If you're intrepid enough to want to see this movie, what's in store for you from the disc? The bright spot is that the transfers are well rendered and you'll be treated to excellent video and audio. For the video, the 1.78:1 anamorphic print is clean and without any errors. From the dark, muted palette of the observation room to the single-colored hues of the cube rooms, you'll feast on it all with accurate color representation, great detail, and nary a speck of grain to distract you. On the audio side, you can choose between a Dolby Digital 5.1 or a 2.0 mix. I chose the former and found it to be an aggressive track with clear dialogue and excellent use of the surrounds and subwoofer. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles.
On the special features front, those who are interested will find a little bit on the disc. The biggie is the audio commentary from the mastermind of the mess, Ernie Barbarash. His commentary is pretty good, and he's earnest and honest about what he's "contributed" to the franchise. What's missing is self-awareness of how he hasn't improved the series since Vincenzo Natali surprised everyone with the original. Next up is "Inside the Box: The Making of Cube Zero" (20 minutes). It's not a bad look at a bad movie, and you'll get a quick overview of how Barbarash created this disaster. Moving on, there's a music video (4 minutes) by some band singing some song that has something to do with the movie. At least I presume it does, since this pseudo-heavy-metal video was filmed inside the cube. Glaringly missing is the band's name, the name of the track, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (a requisite in my book for any music-related feature), and any talent. Rounding out the section is some conceptual art, two storyboard comparisons (for two of the death scenes), and trailers for Saw, Riding the Bullet, The Final Cut, and High Tension. Hmmm, where's the trailer for Cube Zero?
Time to say something nice again about the film...I think I've said everything positive that I can, so I'll repeat myself: The set design of the film is good. Both the observation room and the cube are well crafted. I thought the new design of an older cube was a logical regression, with a more solid, industrial vibe. Oh, and the scene where Wynn picks up the phone and says "hello" is priceless -- hilarious without any intention of being so.
Now it's time to point out completely irrelevant things from the film: What's up with the awful accordion music? Was Weird Al desperate and looking for a gig? And why are there so many Canadians in this film, eh? I haven't heard that many mangled vowels in a long time.
In no way have I accurately conveyed to you how monstrously silly and awful Cube Zero is as a film. At times, it almost works, but then you sit in stunned horror -- but not the kind of horror the movie was after -- at how inane the acting and the script are. Ernie Barbarash means well, but please drag him away from the franchise. He took a great little idea and squashed it into nothing. His attempt to recreate the first film and tie this prequel to it fails across the board -- especially his explanation of Kazan's origin (the autistic man from the first film). My recommendation is to avoid the Barbarash-infected films and stick with the original Cube. It's the only one in the trilogy that works, and it's the only one you need to see. Don't waste your time on a purchase or a rental of this latest installment. Instead, enjoy not knowing where the cube comes from or where it goes.
Cube Zero is hereby found guilty of sucking. It sucks!
Review content copyright © 2005 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Ernie Barbarash
* "Inside the Box": The Making of Cube Zero
* Music Video
* Conceptual Art
* Storyboard Comparisons