There is more to fear than you can see.
You can't see it, nor can you feel it, for there is no fear to be found in this dreadful sequel to a highly imaginative and fresh film. That underground hit, Cube, teased fans with a simple story of strangers caught in a fantastic puzzle. Hoping to rekindle the magic of the first, Hypercube came forth with a new set of strangers caught in an even more phenomenal puzzle. But the magic isn't rekindled; everything that was so wondrous and tantalizing in the first movie is lost in this tepid follow-up. In trying to make a "bigger and better" film, the writers forgot to include all of the ingredients that helped make Cube the cult hit that it is.
Facts of the Case
You wake up alone, in a room of perfect proportions. No matter which direction you look, everything appears the same. Each wall is a flawless reflection of every other wall, with soft white light emanating and surrounding what appears to be a door in the center. Dazed, confused, and without memory of how you wound up in this sterile environment, you decide to move to another room. The door opens with a simple touch of your hand, and you're dismayed to discover the next room is an exact copy of the one you're currently in. You quickly learn that there are an untold number of rooms, all identical, and all seeming to lead nowhere.
Shortly into your explorations, you find other people lost in the cube. No one knows how they got there, and no one knows how to get out. As your group grows in number, fear and desperation sink in as you cannot find a way out. Then the danger explodes as you discover the cube is filled with traps—not physical traps, but it seems the structure of the cube transcends physics. Beyond reason and belief, this cube is really a hypercube and exists in four dimensions: length, width, depth, and time. As if that isn't hard enough to fathom, the hypercube also seems to be able to contain alternate timelines and parallel existences. So, not only does time not obey prescribed laws, but you also bump into yourself via altered events.
Your companions are all lying, and as the terror rises, people slowly begin to confess that they all have some relation to this fantastical and impossible object. Is there a way out? Why are we in here? What is the function of the hypercube? Who is behind this devious device?
The stories of Cube and Hypercube are exceptionally simple, as most movies are, and it's up to other factors to make them successful movies. In each, you've tossed a group of complete strangers into a puzzle. Each person possesses a small set of skills that is essential if the group is to survive and escape from the traps. Of course, each also knows a bit of the secret of the cube: who built it.
What made the first work so well—the straightforward idea, the traps, the mathematical rules, the acting, and the characters—is decidedly missing in Hypercube. Being a fan of Cube, I'd been eagerly awaiting the release of its sequel: originally destined for theaters but eventually shuffled off to Sci-Fi just a week and a half before its release to DVD. As "everything" from the original is missing from this sequel, it is hugely disappointing. One would have figured, and hoped, that such a simple concept could be easily expanded and improved upon. Obviously, it didn't happen in this attempt.
Right from the start, you can tell this film isn't going to work. After a few minutes, it begins a very fast descent to mediocrity and only levels off slightly towards the end of the film. Fortunately, it doesn't plummet into the abyss of inferiority as you might have expected. Let's look at what doesn't work in this film:
The Characters: In Cube, you had six people with rather thin personalities; however, each character had realistic flaws that were exploited to heighten the tension. In Hypercube, your core group of characters is replete with paper-thin caricatures of tiring and annoying people. It's truly a laughable occasion as each person is introduced: the mean spirited, slightly off-center man; the computer geek; the senile old woman; the saucy siren; the genial, overly-friendly intellect; the tough and even-keeled woman; and the cowering blind girl. With apparently no attempt at developing your characters, you're left with…
Terrible Dialogue: I cringed on numerous occasions. The dialogue is truly lame, corny, or just plain awful—pick your favorite word. Some of the things that were uttered were so unrealistic, so forced, that they completely negated any chance of you buying into this already improbable situation. In tandem with stilted dialogue is usually…
Bad Acting: Perhaps it's not fair to assign blame to the unfortunate lot who signed up for this sequel, but you would hope actors could breathe some life into a dull script. Perhaps the obstacles were too high with the awful lines and the underdeveloped characters that the actors had no hope of surmounting them. Regardless, these mostly unknown actors really come across as actors and not individuals trapped in this impressive rat's maze.
No Traps / No Rules: What really attracted me to the first movie were its ingenious and vicious traps combined with its well-defined rule set. If you didn't figure out red rooms were bad or how prime numbers and Cartesian coordinates mapped out the cube, then you were likely to be gassed or sliced apart by razor-sharp wires. In the hypercube, the rules and traps are all gone. The mathematical underpinnings have been wiped out in favor of a completely impossible dimensional concept. So, instead of being wary of physical traps, you now face temporal and dimensional obstacles that could kill you. It's just not the same, as it's truly too far-fetched to entice you.
The Conspiracy: Briefly alluded to in the first movie is the idea of a vast government conspiracy. During one character's breakdown, she asserts only the government would have the resources and wherewithal to build such a cube. Other characters scoff at her assertions, but they are never disproved, leaving the true history of the cube a mystery. Here we are actually given pieces of information about the vast conspiracy, and we get to meet some of those who are responsible. While the majority of questions go unanswered, those few tidbits just don't work. Trying to explain the cube doesn't work. It works better existing in complete ambiguity.
While there is so much working against this sequel, it does have a few things it can brag about that keep it from being a complete disaster. This time, it all looks better. With the mild success of the first, the creative team was given a little more money to lend Hypercube a bit more polish. While the first cube had an industrial, gritty feel, the hypercube is slick, glossy, and clean. Each does work in its own way, and the clean look of the set also extends to the transfers. Hypercube has a very nice anamorphic transfer. Aside from one early shot that exhibited some grain—which, if you listen to the commentary, you learn that the shot was zoomed in 200%, hence the grain—this transfer is rock solid. Colors, what few there are, are rich and accurate, the blacks are deep and saturated, there is no noise or bleed from the large amount of white, and there are no transfer errors. It's a huge improvement over the original and quite impressive for a direct-to-DVD release. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio transfer is equally impressive with excellent use of all channels: clean dialogue from the center, some spatial definition from the front left and right, nice kick from the subwoofer, and excellent use of the rear surrounds. The music and sound effects are intelligently used to give one a true sense of being in a confined cube.
I'd like to make note of the direction by Andrezj Sekula. As he has a solid background as a cinematographer, Sekula was able to maximize the limited space of the cube and still make the film interesting to watch. He uses a wide variety of camera angles and moves so you aren't bored by the fact that nearly every scene is taking place in this bland, white room. Aside from one scene where he literally spins the camera around the actors for what feels like five minutes, Sekula gets a huge commendation for his excellent style in this film.
Much to my surprise, this disc contains a lot more bonus material than I would have expected from this little film. I presume they had bigger plans for the film than to show up on Sci-Fi a week before coming out on disc. For your viewing pleasure, the bonus materials include:
Scene Specific Audio Production Commentary with Producer/Co-Writer Ernie Barbarash and Editor Mark Sanders: I was direly afraid that this would be a very bad commentary, for I had thought director Andrezj Sekula might be a participant and have a thick accent like some other directors—Jan de Bont and Paul Verhoeven, for example. As he isn't there, the two men do make this an informative conversation about the various production aspects of the film. While they helped explain some of the film's weaknesses, they failed to realize many of the problems I noted above.
Making of Cube 2: Hypercube (35 minutes): A mildly informative and in-depth look at how a few "key scenes" were put together for the movie. Oddly, everyone seems absolutely enamored with their opening title sequence, and far too much time is spent on it. Aside from that, this is a good featurette.
Director's Perspective (6 minutes): This is a rather dull featurette where Sekula simply regurgitates the basic plot of the film. Once or twice you get some directorial insights, but this is pretty fluffy stuff.
Deleted Scenes (15 minutes): There are seven deleted/extended scenes for you to watch, without additional commentary or a "play all" button. Most of these scenes were already addressed in the "making of" feature so there is little more to learn, except for the alternate ending, which answers a few questions but raises many more.
Storyboards (3 minutes): You have the option of watching one set of storyboards with or without the accompanying scene from the film playing along side.
Slide Show (3 minutes): A quick, automated presentation of pictures from the film.
Trailers: Cube 2, Cube 2 International Version, Cube, and 15- and 30-second international clips.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The two Cube films prove that there are still fresh and innovative ideas left in Hollywood. Not every film needs to star some $20 million actor and have tons of special effects. A nice, tight plot with solid acting and direction is still enough to make a film successful. Though not as impressive as its predecessor, Hypercube maintains the drama and suspense of the first with innovative and surprising new logic twists. It's still captivating to watch people struggle to overcome unknown and unforeseeable odds in their plight to survive. It's not always brawn that saves the day; it's nice to see some filmmakers remember that intellect is important too.
I had high hopes for Hypercube, yet I found them mostly dashed after viewing this film. So much of the original charm is missing, making this film a true dud. In trying not to copy everything, the filmmakers forgot to bring anything except the basic concept along. They forgot to create interesting characters and cool new traps, but instead focused on this fantastic new "dimension in fear." In making the fourth dimension the main hazard of the film, the trip through the cube is too easy. The mathematical rules of the first were so wildly complex and intimidating that they make the fourth dimension look like Sunday school. Here, our group mostly wanders freely from room to room with nary an ounce of fear. It's merely being trapped in the cube that draws out their human weaknesses. Without the rules and the traps, there is little motivation for these people to work together and learn what secrets they hold in relation to the cube.
Thus, with sadness I have to state that this disc is not worthy of a purchase. If you're a fan of the first, then you might be interested in giving it a rental. For anyone who may be intrigued by the concept, a solid recommendation for the original Cube goes your way. It isn't as polished as its sequel, but it's the better movie.
As there is still a great idea at the heart of the film, the filmmakers are hereby sentenced to the fourth dimension where they will watch the original film 26 by 26 by 26 times. With the unlimited resources of this alternate dimension, the filmmakers will have ample opportunity to rectify the weaknesses in Hypercube's story, plot, and characters.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Producer/Co-Writer Ernie Barbarash and Editor Mark Sanders
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