Summit Entertainment // 2011 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 18th, 2012
When the lights go out...the terror begins!
When aliens finally do invade our planet, they're going to have to contend with some pretty impressive combatants including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, and...Emile Hirsch? The war begins now as The Darkest Hour makes its way to Blu-ray care of Summit Home Entertainment.
While on a business trip in Moscow, two young American software designers -- Sean (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild, The Girl Next Door) and Ben (Max Minghella, The Social Network) -- find their success short-lived, when a competitor (Joel Kinnaman, Safe House) steals their idea and passes it off as his own to overseas investors. Slightly dejected (seriously, they take this news very well, all things considered), the boys head out into the Russian nightlife and meet two beautiful women -- American Natalie (Olivia Thirlby, No Strings Attached) and Australian Anne (Rachael Taylor, Red Dog).
As the drinks and music get underway, the electricity in the bar shorts out, leaving the partiers to wander outside just in time to see some bright orange lights fall from the sky. Sean and his group quickly realize whatever these balls of light are, they aren't friendly, as a policeman is vaporized in a circle of powdery dust. On the run, our heroes make a valiant attempt to stay alive and get home...before they're turned into human ashtrays!
The thing about The Darkest Hour is it could have been so flippin' cool. Multiple aspects of the production set it apart from other films of the same ilk; interesting aliens, a unique setting (Russia!), and a very bizarre way humans are dying (circles of ash, which is hard to explain unless you see the movie). It has all the trappings of a great movie, yet somehow fails to elicit any true awe or excitement.
So what went wrong? It's hard to pinpoint. Certainly, nobody goes out of their way to make a bad alien invasion movie. I have little doubt the filmmakers and actors pooled their resources to create something special, and the result is hard to hate because it feels like somebody was trying to do something different within the confines of a creaky, clichéd structure (alien invasion movies are a dime a dozen). Sadly, the sum of its parts never add up to a cohesive whole.
The cast The Darkest Hour are given little to do but react to these energy sucking aliens...or should I say green screen special effects. With a wide range of critically acclaimed movies under his belt, Emile Hirsch struggles with a character who spends most of his time hiding, running, and telling other characters to "watch out!" Max Minghella (son of the late director Anthony Minghella, The English Patient) plays the best friend/sidekick role without much effort and to little effect; the screenplay only allowing him a one-dimensional persona. The women have even less to do than the men. Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor (last seen as the world's hottest government worker in Michael Bay's Transformers) are wonderful in their roles, and by wonderful I mean "they look smoking hot as they try to avoid becoming alien fodder."
The screenplay by Jon Spaihts (who penned the upcoming Ridley Scott film Prometheus) lacks focus. Actually, I take that back: the screenplay may have too much focus. The goal of the heroes seems to be to get from point A (the nightclub they were partying at when the invasion started) to point B (home) without any subplots getting in their way. The dialogue is weary (Ben: "We don't know if these aliens can see or hear!" Sean: "We know they can kill!") and the film runs out of steam well before its brief 89-minute run time.
The Darkest Hour's bright spot (pardon the pun) is the visual effects work, which is sufficient and well-rendered. Director Chris Gorak -- whose feature debut Right At Your Door I've not seen -- does a passable job but never shows any distinctive style. Guided by Russian director/producer Timur Bekmambetov (the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), everything in The Darkest Hour feels like it could have and should have been something more.
And so, the bad outweighs the good, but not without a fight. I liked seeing a sci-fi movie set in a location that feels fresh and interesting. For the first half of the film, the alien invaders are cool. Then they begin to loose their luster, as you realize the movie isn't going to do anything more than have them slaughter the human race.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this is a beautiful transfer; the image practically pops off the screen (the bright orange of the aliens is almost three dimensional in its clarity) and the black levels are solidly rendered. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is a rocking mix that's often very aggressive (especially during the last half of the film). Electricity crackles through all of the speakers, while Tyler Bates (Timeline) orchestral score bounces around the screen. Overall, Summit has offered up a top notch video and audio presentation.
In terms of bonus features, this so-called "special edition" includes a short featurette on the special effects ("The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion"), a short film based on the film ("Survivors"), a few brief extended and deleted scenes, and a commentary by director Chris Gorak that offers up tidbits on shooting in Moscow and the genesis of the project.
The Darkest Hour fills the void of a Friday movie night, but leaves little lasting impression. Fans of alien invasion pictures will be disappointed at the lack of scope, but the Blu-ray looks and sounds great, so at least there's some minor compensation.
The Darkest Hour is a very dim bulb.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Extended/Deleted Scenes
* Short Film