Universal // 1999 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 3rd, 2000
Prepare for the End.
After a two-year hiatus from movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back with a big budget blockbuster hyped to the gills. Does it meet the hype? Not quite. But it's still a pretty good romp with great stunts, special effects, and beautiful cinematography, despite some obvious plot holes. Critics often panned this movie because it wasn't a great film. But in my experience I've never come to expect greatness from an Arnold flick; in fact the term "Arnold flick" became a descriptive term all its own. Don't expect more from it and you won't be disappointed, although the story wasn't very plausible. Universal did a fantastic job with this release on DVD; and it's all you could ask for in this type of film. A stunning picture and astounding soundtrack along with a nice collection of extras make this a welcome addition to my collection.
Director Peter Hyams (2010, The Relic) was recommended to Arnold by his friend James Cameron to direct this film, and in many ways I think he did a good job. The photography was very well done; saving camera tricks for the special effects largely. Often he would go from wide-open scenes to closed-in spaces in a cut, which was pretty effective. Unlike many directors, Hyams also shoots his own films, and acted as director of photography for this one as well. Some complain that Hyams' films are too dark (I'm talking about lighting rather than mood here) but I like the way he used light and shadow. Some sets were lit by hundreds of candles alone, creating an eerie effect in keeping with the subject matter.
If you ignored television and trailers last year then you don't know the story. In this film Arnold faces off against his greatest enemy: Satan himself. Unlike his usual macho stereotype Schwarzenegger plays a man more on the edge and down and out. His role of Jericho Cane is one of a man who works for a security company that acts as a sort of Secret Service protection for wealthy businessmen and such. After the death of his wife and daughter some time ago he drinks too much and is nearly suicidal. Not typical for Arnold. But the film itself puts him right back into type; where he shoots a lot of guns and chases down bad guys.
One of the best parts in the film is his sidekick and co-worker played by Kevin Pollack (The Sex Monster, The Don's Analyst, House Arrest) who fulfills the same role that Tom Arnold did in True Lies; namely comic relief, witty lines, and a friend to our hero. I like him in nearly everything he does; and he's one of the great character actors of our time. At any rate, it's when Arnold and Kevin Pollack's company have to chase down a man who tries to murder one of their clients, and discover he is a priest with a decidedly different dwelling, that the stories start to converge. We've already seen that a girl was born some 20 years ago with a mark that shows she will be the woman to bear Satan's child, and bring on the End of Days, right at the turn of the millennium. Satan comes to earth and takes the body of Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata, Enemy of the State, The Man in the Iron Mask), and apparently he's a horny devil (pardon the pun) as he hits on or sleeps with any woman striking his fancy. Apparently none can resist his charms (maybe he can teach me a thing or two) except for the girl he actually needs to sleep with, played by Robin Tunney (Julian Po, The Craft, Niagara, Niagara). She's been under the watchful eye of the Dark Lord's followers since birth, and with the clock counting down to the year 2000, it's time for Satan to take his bride. Unfortunately he has to deal with Arnold first, who repeatedly attempts to kill him with various weaponry. With the ineffectual aid of, and sometimes working against various militant factions of the priesthood they just have to keep the girl from getting laid until after the ball drops in Times Square.
That story sounds pretty hokey, and it is. I'll get into that later. The stunts and special effects are spectacular and certainly the best part of the movie. But the movie looked stunning, with images both stirring and disconcerting amidst lavish sets, and the soundtrack might just usurp anything else in the film. This extremely dynamic soundtrack reaches down and makes all but the best subwoofers cry for mercy. Long rumbles accentuate both explosions and the mood of the film. From the action movie, shoot-and-blow-em-up standpoint, this is one of Arnold's best films. Things move along ever more quickly until you're on a roller coaster ride to the end. Only at the end does the film try to regain real dramatic footing, though amidst more supernatural effects than you can shake an angry Prince of Darkness at.
Universal has again done itself proud with this Collector's Edition DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is fantastic. Blacks are deep, colors are deep and warm, with excellent shading and detail. Shadow detail is terrific, except in scenes meant to be shown in silhouette, where contrast is sharply delineated. What was already a beautifully shot picture is made even more striking by this transfer. No film defects or grain mar what I have to characterize as a reference quality picture.
As I alluded to above, the DD 5.1 soundtrack matched the excellence of the video. This movie had long, sustained rumbles down into the lowest audible octave and even lower, creating a wall shaking, seat vibrating sound that makes you think you're at one of those "Sensurround" films from the '70s. You too will feel the earth move when it does in the film (often) if you have the subwoofer to provide it. The gunshots, wrecks, explosions, and other effects have plenty of punch too. Channel separation, frequency response, clarity were all excellent, with plenty of panning sounds front to rear and right to left, or both. Surrounds and front speakers are integrated into one big immersive circle of sound; aggressive but not gratuitous. Again, reference quality.
The extras are top-notch as well. Perhaps the best was the featured "Spotlight on Location" found on Universal discs. This 25-minute featurette with cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes shots was among the better I've seen, without much of the marketing fluff you too often find in these. There is also a commentary track by director Peter Hyams that is very informative, though perhaps a little dry. It's not bad at all though, and there are only a few brief pauses in the comments. Next up is a pretty comprehensive series of looks at the special effects. This section, called "The Devil's Playground" looks in depth at how many of the effects were done, and was very interesting and informative; showing the great care and time taken to get things just right. An ad for the soundtrack CD is accompanied by music videos for Everlast's "So Long" (which gives way too much of the movie away, unlike the trailer) and Rob Zombie's "Superbeast." A text section giving an overview of the story of Revelation from the Bible, production notes, pretty thorough cast and crew info, the theatrical trailer, a trailer for U-571, and DVD-ROM content complete the large package of extras.
Just as the Terminator pair of movies were action movies with a basis in science fiction, End of Days is an action movie with horror film elements. Perhaps the worst flaw of the movie is that it tries to be very serious and scary; a drama and horror movie with action elements. Released to theaters in November of '99 it played up on the whole millennium craze about the end of the world; but in the year 2000 with that supposedly fateful date behind us it loses a lot of its scare. Everyone knows the real millennium doesn't change until 2001 anyway, so we can expect more of this next Christmas. At any rate, it tries to be bigger than the film ultimately is, and therefore can't live up to its hype. On the other hand, action pictures by Arnold and lesser-knowns such as Steven Seagal are a genre unto their own and don't have to be great literary pieces to work. That the story has some very real lapses doesn't count as much if you don't build your expectations from the hype.
Did I mention lapses in the story? They are legion, just as the Devil once called himself in the Bible. While I found the performance of Gabriel Byrne often believable as Satan his powers were such as to preclude any sense that Arnold could beat him. That Arnold wasn't killed quickly and nastily at several places in the film was hard to swallow. The scenes where Arnold was facing off against mere human followers were far more convincing. The whole premise that Satan comes back to impregnate this particular girl and has to do it within the hour before midnight on New Years Eve (Eastern Time, apparently) or he loses was pretty sad and never gave us much reason to believe in it. Lastly, Rod Steiger (The Hurricane, Modern Vampyres, Mars Attacks!) is a great actor, who I thought made an incredible Benito Mussolini, but is far less convincing in his role as a militant priest. Either he or the script didn't give him the depth I expect from one of his performances.
Did I say the words "depth I expect"? This is an Arnold flick! Forget the hype, don't count on it being a deep dramatic horror film or being scared out of your wits, and just take another roller coaster ride with popcorn in hand. On that level the movie is very good and better than most. Try to think of it as a movie about the battle of Armageddon and the "end of days" and you'll likely be disappointed. So choose which way you want to perceive the film, and base your purchasing decision on that. In either case, the movie and the disc is stunning, and you can feel happy to show off your home theater with it.
I'm very pleased with this Collector's Edition disc from Universal, and they get my just congratulations. Arnold was pretty good and Kevin Pollack was even better so they get my commendation too. The rest of the cast are released and bade to go back to work, though none are being accused of true malfeasance.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Behind the Scenes Feature
* Special Effects Featurettes
* Music Videos
* Book of Revelation
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Info
* DVD-ROM content