Judge Ian Visser is often found alone in the dark, but only because his wife makes him sleep on the couch.
…and Judge Visser falls asleep.
Facts of the Case
10,000 years ago a long-lost Native American civilization known as the Abkani opened a gate between our world and another, more evil one. The Abkani then vanished from the Earth, leaving only a few artifacts of their civilization hidden in the world's most remote places. These artifacts speak of terrifying creatures that thrive in the darkness, waiting for the day when the gate can be opened again.
Bureau 713, the government's paranormal research agency began collecting these Abkani artifacts. When the government shut down Bureau 713's controversial research, the group's lead scientist began conducting savage experiments on orphaned children in an attempt to merge man with the other-worldly creatures. Now, this ancient evil has been unleashed on the world anew, and it must be stopped at all costs.
And by "this evil," I mean "this movie."
The reviews for Alone in the Dark (Unrated Director's Cut) were very, very bad upon the film's theatrical release, and it quickly vanished from cineplexes across the country. Critics savaged director Uwe Boll for his work, especially as a follow-up to the equally disdained House of the Dead. Boll asserts his films make money and are very popular outside of North America, but his later works in the Blood Rayne franchise have only drawn further scorn. Boll has gone on to mount a vigorous defense of his work, including challenging critics to a boxing match (how that improves his films I'm not sure) and blogging incessantly on his website.
Yes, Alone in the Dark is as bad as they say. A jumbled mix of styles and plots snagged from better movies, it is rife with cheesy dialogue, bad acting, and ridiculous situations. Plenty of times I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at what characters were doing and saying, and wondering how anyone could watch this and consider it a quality product. The film can't seem to decide what it wants to be, so it ends up a hash of too many styles. Noir elements, Lovecraftian horror, Indiana Jones-style relic hunting, and Starship Troopers-type action are all jumbled together in a big batch of ugly.
Every movie cliché you can think of is included in Alone in the Dark, from the tough-talking army type to the hero who can do back-flips while kicking bad dudes through plate-glass windows (hey, there's another cliché!) There's a plot, somehow involving lost artifacts, evil scientists, zombie orphans, and glow-in-the-dark bullets. Ugly demons from another world go haywire, the government sends in combat units, and everyone must figure out what is happening and why. God knows I couldn't. Written by three different people, there isn't a single coherent idea or thought in this film, and even after watching the special features and listening to Boll's commentary I still can't figure out what was going on.
Christian Slater (Pump Up The Volume), Tara Reid (American Pie), and Stephen Dorff (Blade) are all on-hand for acting duties, but the dialogue is so badly written that even Laurence Olivier would choke on these lines. There's nothing close to character development, unless you consider Slater's muscle shirts, Reid's glasses, or Dorff's facial scruff to be revealing of their inner thoughts and motivations. The monsters are badly-constructed CGI, ripping off the work of the Alien franchise with only a fraction of the quality (the remaining special effects land somewhere between "cheap" and "friggin' ugly"). Worst of all, there is almost no gore or bloodletting to be found, aside from a couple of exploding squibs and one head-cleaving.
I don't know how or why Alone in the Dark managed to get not one, but two DVD releases, but it happened. On the plus side, the DVD is loaded with additional content, and boasts a new "director's cut" version of the film. Boll mentions in his commentary that several minutes of action have been added in, while other "boring" events (his words) have been removed from this new version. Bonus features include:
Raging Boll: The Stuff of Legends—a chronicling of Boll's career and the challenges he faces from critics and fan-boys. Various writers and producers explain Boll and his work, and the feature highlights the now-infamous boxing match Boll fought against some of his critics.
Into The Dark—a typical on-set "rah-rah" piece featuring Boll, actors, writers, and producers all championing the film and each other.
Storyboard to Scene Comparisons—three scenes shown in conjunction with their original storyboards to show their development from design to final cut.
Commentary—Boll is joined by a producer and effects supervisor for this group commentary. This is a surprisingly honest effort, as Boll is willing to admit what did and didn't work, although there is still plenty of "this is a great shot" kind of talk. There is very little dead air, and the trio manages to fill the time with lots of insights and trivia. Boll has lots of complaints about the film industry in general, and manages to point out several factors that limit directors from creating the kind of films they may want to make.
And finally, a theatrical trailer for the film.
On the technical side, Alone in the Dark boasts an excellent transfer with good color balance and almost no artifacting or defects. Much of the film takes place in the dark, and the black levels are deep and solid. The 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track is very aggressive, but pales next to a screamingly loud 6.1 DTS ES track that booms through the speakers like a freight train. In some ways this is almost too much audio for this kind of offering, but if you like it loud you'll be pleased.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's really nothing wrong with making crap, and it's certainly not unusual for young directors to start out making low-quality movies before moving on to greener pastures. Jonathan Demme's first movie was Caged Heat, after all, and James Cameron cut his teeth on Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. The problem arises when one is unwilling to acknowledge that such efforts are crap. Boll's constant defense of his work, whether in his commentaries or interviews, is what I think rubs people the wrong way. If the man would simply shrug, admit he isn't a great director, and move on, I think it would be easy to forgive the guy and even enjoy his films as a schlocky kind of entertainment.
But Boll's insistence that he is a good director, and that his films are top quality, rankles so heavily that you just want to punch the guy. People can tolerate someone who makes mistakes and admits it, but anyone who refuses to cop to the truth and accept reality is not going to be respected or admired. Sooner of later Boll is going to have to wake up and smell the roses, which may be pleasing to him but smell like dog crap to the rest of us.
I have a decent tolerance for "bad movies," but Alone in the Dark (Unrated Director's Cut) isn't bad enough or good enough to satisfy any movie-goer. Boll isn't the worst director in the world (not by half), but without better scripts and more attention to detail his work isn't likely to improve anytime soon.
This film is ordered imprisoned for the next 10,000 years to protect all of humanity.
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Scales of Justice
• Raging Boll: The Stuff of Legends feature
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