Sony // 2000 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 15th, 2007
"It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore."
Loosely inspired by H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, the ambitious Hollow Man wowed audiences back in 2000 with its cutting-edge special effects and CGI, finally allowing audiences to see in perfect detail what it would be like to see a naked Kevin Bacon slowly vanish. Hollow Man: Director's Cut expands the original with an additional eight minutes of sucky footage.
Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon, in all his Six Degrees of glory) is a brilliant but egotistical quantum physicist and scientist, hard at work with his research team on a top-secret military project buried deep beneath an inconspicuous industrial complex. Their project: to shift living creatures "out of phase" with reality, turning them essentially invisible. The process has been relatively simple, at least, half of it: making dogs, rats, even gorillas invisible is a smooth process, but bringing them back to reality has proven more complex. All the test subjects so far have died, and Caine has been unable to make the process work...until now.
Along with his ex-girlfriend Linda (Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas) and her new boyfriend Matthew (Josh Brolin, Grindhouse), Caine's team successfully bring a gorilla back into the visible spectrum. Now convinced of his own brilliance, he delays reporting his success to the Pentagon in favor of taking the project to Phase 3: human experimentation!
Volunteering himself, Caine successfully turns himself completely invisible. After three days of probing, poking, and testing, the team prepares to bring Caine back to reality -- but the procedure fails horribly. Trapped in his translucent state, the effects of invisibility on his ego-heavy psyche begin to stress him to the breaking point of insanity. While his team wrestles with how to bring their boss back, Caine decides to venture outside into the world, to test out how being invisible feels...
Even for die-hard fans of ultra-violent exploitation director Paul Verhoeven, Hollow Man can hardly be considered his best work. Truthfully, it may be his most mediocre film in two decades. Rarely has a film title been so frighteningly apt. Painfully empty and devoid of substance, Hollow Man is all CGI flash and special effects with little in the way of heart or passion. Despite the eye candy, the film is cold and inexcusably boring, barely elevating beyond the most tepid and mediocre of slasher-film clichés.
Oh, the wasted potential in this film. An invisible man in a thriller is an idea packed to the brim with dramatic potential, so it is no surprise to see it put into motion by a guy like Verhoeven, who likes strong aggressive combinations of sex and violence in his films. Hollow Man has both in spades, but smothers itself out almost immediately upon execution. Having an invisible protagonist sounds good on paper, but because once the man in question does his special effect-laden vanishing act, he is invisible, literally -- as in nothing to see. All the dramatic tension therefore must be generated by a skillfully penned plot, strong acting by the visible cast, and some clever on-screen trickery. The clever trickery Hollow Man has in spaces, but it totally punks out on the previous two requirements.
What little thrills the film manages to conjure up come in the form of weird, voyeuristic little perversions. Now invisible, Sebastian uses his newfound abilities to grope women as they sleep and molest people...very classy. I suppose it does satisfy the Verhoeven-esque auteur criteria of excessive female nudity, though. A good percentage of the eight added minutes in this cut are to this effect, including a protracted sequence involving Sebastian sexually assaulting his neighbor; a scene implied in the first cut, but now given plenty of discomforting attention. Though uncomfortable, all these creepy dramatic moments are ironically far more thrilling than the later sequences, once the film gets into the slashing. For a thriller, Hollow Man is embarrassingly dull. People start getting murdered, systematically, in predictable order, after implausibly separating from the group at large. Ho-hum.
Even with its strong cast of noted actors and actresses, the performers appear apathetic and bored, sleepwalking their way through their performances. Elizabeth Shue, normally an extremely capable actress, has little to do here other than wear tight shirts, have messy hair, and look constantly uncomfortable in the presence of Kevin Bacon (understandable even in the best of circumstances). Josh Brolin takes off his shirt a lot and shows off his six-pack, but contributes little else. Kevin Bacon does a decent job, all things considered. If you suspend disbelief long enough to envision the kind of person who might turn himself invisible and then snap into madness and sexual perversion, Kevin Bacon fits the role a little too well, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time in a green suit and invisible by the camera, so most of his "acting" is nothing more than carefully placed audio cues in empty rooms designed to spook and frighten his wary prey.
A frightening amount of Hollow Man makes no sense, even beyond the whole "invisible potion" thing. Things explode without provocation, motion detectors are able to somehow detect quantum-shifted people whom light travels through cleanly, astonishing amounts of scientific and medical common sense are hurled out the window, and more important than all other gaping plot holes and conceptual travesties, the protagonist starts killing people...for what reason, again? Sure, Sebastian is an ass even before he was turned invisible, but his descent into horror-film villain happens so rapidly it is difficult to comprehend his motivation. One minute, he is an egotistical genius obsessed with his daring new experiment; the next, he is running around naked, grabbing boobies, raping, and murderizing people. His character development, I suspect, was also turned invisible.
On the plus side, seven years later, Hollow Man still looks dazzling. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time and still hold up to scrutiny today. Say what you want about the quality of the film's other aspects, but from a sheer technical perspective, this is a fascinating and impressive film. Some serious technology and brainpower went into the eye candy and visual trickery in Hollow Man, and it pays off in "popcorn blockbuster" points. The infamous transformation sequence, where Kevin Bacon pulls his vanishing act, is still jaw-dropping in complexity and detail. Blast the film out of your surround sound system, sit back, and let your brain melt away along with Bacon.
Visually, the film appears close to its Superbit cohort in terms of transfer quality, with solid black levels, deep flesh tones, razor-sharp detail, nice balanced colors, and nary a spot to be seen in terms of print defects. Audio comes in the form of a meaty 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, with nice bass response, clear dialogue and aggressive response. The score, a Jerry Goldsmith high-tension affair full of screening string instruments and low-plunking piano keys, fits perfectly to the tension of the film. The track doesn't utilize the rear channels quite as often as it should, but sequences where Sebastien is off running around and tormenting his co-workers negotiates perfectly to all five channels. Subtitles are in English and, for some indiscernible reason, Korean. Go figure.
Now the third time Hollow Man has been released onto DVD (the fourth time if you count Blu-Ray), Hollow Man: Director's Cut is a pretty lousy double-dip in terms of supplementary features. Not only does this DVD not add any more material than was present in the original DVD and Superbit releases, but it actually loses material compared to the previous versions! The Superbit version has an identical offering of special features, but rocked a beefy DTS track not present here and the standard previous release had a whole bunch of material nowhere to be found: audio commentary tracks, isolated scores, etc.
First up in the supplementary department: a fifteen-minute HBO puff piece "Anatomy of a Thriller," mostly full of recycled material. Far more interesting are the fifteen small featurettes, "Fleshing out the Hollow Man," going into laborious behind-the-scenes detail on bringing invisible men to life. Total running time of the fifteen bits adds up to about forty-five minutes, and thankfully, someone remembered a "play all" feature this time (the Superbit had none). Finally, we get three VFX picture-in-picture comparisions, showing the final version of the film alongside dailies to show how much work went into bringing the film to life. The fifteen mini-features are great, if only to showcase the fantastic visual effects (and see Kevin Bacon in a big green sock) but there isn't an ounce of new material here to be found. Boo on that!
A shameful repackaging, Hollow Man: Director's Cut deserves to be invisible. Eight minutes of deleted scenes barely justifies a re-dip, less so when you actually lose special features in the process. Even more negating, the reintegrated footage has minimal impact on the tone of the film. So why bother with the new disc? Good question.
To those who would pick up this DVD on a retail shelf, exclaim, "Ooh! Director's cut of Hollow Man!" and take it to checkout: you may have deeper, darker issues at play that have, until now, gone undiagnosed. Alas, these deeply rooted psychological issues are far outside the scope of what a mere DVD review can address. Seek therapy.
If you are buying Hollow Man for the first time on DVD, this edition serves its purpose. The special effects are no less dazzling seven years after the fact, and the disc gives a solid technical performance. However, this begs the obvious question as to why you are buying Hollow Man on DVD.
Brain dead, insulting to common sense, and conceptually baffling, Hollow Man is a lousy film, but a great example of how cool you can make a lousy film look with a huge budget and lots of computers. Unfortunately, with audiences having had seven years to mull on how crummy Hollow Man was, the mind-bending special effects have a harder time covering things up today.
Bleh. A measly double-dip of a mediocre thriller.
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* HBO Making-of: "Anatomy of a Thriller"
* "Fleshing Out The Hollow Man" 15 Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
* VFX Picture-in-Picture Comparisons