Hey, the twinsie thing worked for Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan, so why not Arnold Schwarzenegger? Read on as Judge Norman Short takes a look at this "ripped from today's headlines" cloning thriller.
Two Arnolds for the price of one.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to bring his name back to the forefront of the action genre since heart surgery a couple years ago. While End of Days failed he has succeeded in The 6th Day, a bit of a thinking man's action thriller. You get everything you've come to expect in an Arnold flick, with great special effects and lots of stunts, but I found the story line a bit more intriguing than most. Though it can rightfully be said that it borrows heavily from Total Recall, I think this film is nearly as good, and the best thing we've seen from Schwarzenegger since True Lies. Columbia has given us an outstanding anamorphic transfer and all you could ask for in the sound department, but for some reason at the last minute got rid of most of the promised extra content on this Region 1 release, though Region 2 still got everything they wanted. Unfortunately there has been no word of a special edition re-release for us, so this is probably all we can expect. The film itself is worth seeing, especially for action fans.
Facts of the Case
In a world of the "near future" (I think a bit farther ahead than they say, especially with the laser guns and all), cloning isn't just in the infant stages anymore. A popular company is "RePet," where you can get your pet cloned and back the same as before, or new and improved, within hours. Using "blanks," or some sort of full-grown embryo, they can imprint it with your pet's DNA and memories and bring him back. Due to ethical concerns, and a tragic failed experiment years before, human cloning is outlawed under the "6th Day Laws." It was on the sixth day God created man, and the name is used for the cloning laws, which would have any human clone destroyed and anyone creating one given a long prison sentence.
None of this matters much to Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger), a charter pilot who has a vague uneasiness about the morality of keeping something alive past its normal time. Less worrisome is Adam's partner Hank (Michael Rapaport, Men of Honor, Small Time Crooks) who not only had his cat cloned, but has a virtual girlfriend who greets him with, "I recorded all your sports programs for you. Shall we watch them, or should I just drop this dress right now?" Adam is put to the test when, on his birthday, their dog Oliver dies, and it seems like getting him cloned is the best thing to do. So Adam trades places with Hank for a charter flying Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn, Bounce, Kiss the Girls), a wealthy industrialist, and looks into RePet. But when he goes home Adam is astounded to see that "he" has already returned home and is inside celebrating. Immediately after seeing his double, two people try to take him away to have him killed, but everybody knows Arnold doesn't die so easily.
Apparently Drucker is secretly cloning humans, using the same technology as RePet, with the help of Dr. Weir (Robert Duvall) who developed the process. Now Adam must try to get to the bottom of the scheme and save his own life in the process. But whose life is he saving? Is he "the" Adam, or the clone? When one has all the memories and is identical in every way to the original, isn't he the same man?
It is these questions, and the way the film tries to deal with them, that make the story rise above the usual shoot 'em up. The ethical questions we try to deal with now are still being asked in this would-be future, especially since human organs are being cloned for transplants legally. The film takes those ethical dilemmas and extrapolates them further than we can even imagine. Robert Duvall's character expresses some of the doubts we share for us.
This film qualifies as true science fiction, not just a futuristic yarn. The science is less than totally credible, but complete within its own mythos. I was perhaps more impressed with the future they had created, with outstanding special effects and settings. Those "whispercraft" (a hybrid plane/helicopter, sort of what the Osprey should be) were convincing enough by themselves to sell the future. There are plenty of other subtle touches that make this a reasonable future, such as auto-driving cars and refrigerators telling you to buy milk.
Arnold Schwarzenegger works best when he can combine the action with an everyman persona, the Terminator series notwithstanding. The scenes of identity ambiguity and as he strives to uncover the plot against him are a cut above some of his other work. Of course, what people really wanted to see was the two Arnolds working together, and this was done seamlessly. I am still amazed at times what computers can do. It wouldn't be an Arnold film without some neat one-liners, and my favorite had to be when he tells some villains "I don't want to expose my daughter to any excessive violence. She gets enough of that from the media." This is so at odds with the films he makes I had to laugh.
The video presentation of The 6th Day is without flaw. It has a depth and transparency that impressed me at first glance, and never gave me reason to reject that great first impression. Even small details are sharp, colors are accurate, and black levels deep. A first rate anamorphic transfer, as you would expect from Columbia on a brand new film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was also terrific, with a very active mix, directional panning used to great effect, and a wide and deep soundfield. As in most Arnold films, plenty of things go boom, and your subwoofer will be given a workout.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is ironic that the film be about cloning, since it inevitably seems a clone of Total Recall, where a futuristic everyman suddenly finds out things aren't what they seem and the ambiguity of his identity is a major plot point. While the futuristic world in The 6th Day is inevitably more realistic and believable than the 1990 film thanks to the technology, there is another area in which it doesn't hold up so well. In what I believe must have been a sop to the MPAA to get the PG-13 rating, everyone is using laser pistols instead of firearms in this "near future." Frankly I found it easier to believe in the cloning than those pistols. Total Recall was gratuitously violent, but at least the violence was realistic.
That said, it's still amazing that the film got the PG-13. Dismembered body parts play a major part in the plot, and are used more than once. You see people with holes through them after being shot. I'm still in a state of disbelief at how our films and ratings have come along through the years. If one woman shows a nipple in the movie, suddenly you are supposed to be 17 to see it. But you can kill lots and lots of people, and so long as the violence doesn't cross some nebulous line, it's just good family fun for the 13-year-olds. Since it seems few filmmakers are willing to make anything that excludes any viewer whatsoever, now we've seen films that try to stretch the envelope of the ratings system to make the same R-rated fare and still get a PG-13. Instead of women taking their clothes off, we just make their shirts see-thru. Instead of blowing someone apart with bullets, here we just burn off their limbs with a clean laser blast. Frankly, it is just cheating. If you want to make a film for young people to see, then don't make it the exact same picture you would make if it were rated R. And if anyone from the MPAA is listening, you can't just count nipples and discount violence when you're making your ratings. Look at the whole film, and see if it is something good for kids to see, or not. Then make a rating. Or admit defeat and just let the kiddies see everything.
Sorry for the digression; I've got quite a rant building on that last topic, and it isn't over, but I'll stop during this review. The next gripe I've got with the film skirts the same issue, but I have a different problem here. For the film The 6th Day is trying to be, it isn't violent enough. Director Roger Spottiswoode may have the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies under his belt, but this lacked the polish and intensity that I've come to expect in Arnold films during the gunfights. Whether that was intentional as he tried for a "thinking man's thriller" or not, those scenes are a bit workmanlike but less impressive. It didn't help that the story was able to spin out villains again and again since they only get cloned each time Arnold manages to kill them. "In my day the dead stayed dead" Arnold quips as he finished off a guy for the second time, and I felt the same way. The henchmen played by Michael Rooker and Sarah Wynter were interesting, but I got tired of seeing them die and come back. Perhaps they came back one too many times, since my last complaint about the film is that it ran just a bit too long. If Arnold didn't have to kill the same people so often they could have kept it under two hours.
When The 6th Day was announced on DVD, there was a plethora of extra content that was supposed to be included. A making-of featurette, 10 additional making-of segments on the special effects, two animatics, three storyboard-to-screen comparisons, an isolated score in 5.1, a bonus "RePet" commercial, trailers, TV spots and talent files were announced. Well, at the last minute, gone were the featurettes, special effects segments, animatics, and storyboard to screen features. Gone are the TV spots as well. This would be egregious enough, but then we find that Region 2 still got all the extra features on their version. I suppose somebody is getting a laugh out of us in the USA getting the short end of the stick for once, but it's maddening to have features that we know can fit on the disc cut out. What is left is fine; the isolated musical score has commentary from composer Trevor Rabin, and he explains quite well the influences and reasons for the music, and how his job meshed with the overall effort. The RePet commercial has both a TV spot and a 5 minute infomercial for this fictitious company, and seemed like a product that would be popular if it really existed. Talent Files and four trailers, including Final Fantasy, Hollow Man, Gattaca and of course The 6th Day complete the extra features. Gattaca was especially apropos.
From what I've been made to understand, there isn't a special edition for Region 1 in the works, so this is what we get. If you can play Region 2 discs you might want to take a look into it. Still, the movie is fun, with plenty of action, and plenty of Arnold. I thought it well worth seeing, and better than anything he's done in the last several years. Give it a buy or a rental.
Columbia is fined for forgetting us Region 1 folks and only giving Region 2 the extras they promised, but otherwise is acquitted for the film and DVD. The 6th Day may be guilty of pandering for ratings but I still have to release it to the public. It has too many things going for it otherwise.
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• Isolated Musical Score
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