Friday, January 28, 2005

REVIEW: Alone in The Dark

Here's the first thing you need to know about this movie: Irregardless of the title, no one in the principal cast is ever once actually alone in the dark. In fact, no one is ever alone period and, if they are, is usually daytime. They ARE in the dark a whole lot in the 3rd act, but in teams numbering anywhere between two and infinity ("infinity" being the precise number of heavily-armed soldiers resembling the good guys from "Aliens" that are dispatched to clean up the big Creepy Crawlies who, amazingly, resemble the bad guys from "Aliens." Hmm...)

The second thing you need to know is that the director is one Uwe Boll (has anyone figured out how that's pronounced yet?) a German-spawned filmmaker who jumped to the top of Film Geekdom's "I-cannot-look-yet-cannot-look-away" list with a single film, last year's "House of The Dead." It managed to earn the impressive title of "worst film ever to be based on a video game," appeared to have been assembled on a dare, and grossed somewhere in the negatives despite a Halloween opening. Given this overwhelming evidence against Mr. Boll, Hollywood did the only logical thing: It immediately signed him to make five more films based on video games.

So, then, Boll is something of a unique specimen, a director who has become more famous for making an awful film than many will ever become for making a good one. Even among film geeks, Boll defies easy categorization: His passion for making action movies out of video games being evenly matched with his apparent lack of talent for doing so.

The good news, I suppose, is he seems to have gotten a little bit better. Emphasis on a little bit.

"Alone..." opens up with a narrated title crawl (let that sink in for a moment) that not only provides backstory complicated enough to make another whole film out of, but actually gives away every major plot point the film has to offer, including the villianous nature of a major figure which in the actual movie seems to have been meant as a surprise! But try not to think about that too hard.

Inhale: Christian Slater is Edward Carnby, paranormal detective and former paranormal government agent. He chases ancient golden artifacts around the world at the behest of an elderly historian and his lab assistant (Tara Reid.) He's also got amnesia about his childhood. "The world" is being invaded by big ugly Gigeresque monsters, somehow related to the golden artifacts, which in turn are related to a long-lost Native American civilization that opened a gateway to "the other side." Stephen Dorf turns up as Carnby's former government boss, who calls out the big guns when the monsters turn up.

Exhale.

The thing about Boll is, he shows here he knows how to do certain things. He knows how to shoot action scenes of guys firing machine guns at CGI monsters. He knows how to shoot a choreographed martial-arts duel. He's got a good eye for gory surgery, and helicopter crashes, and he makes good use of the big, fast-moving, occasionally-invisible monsters. So there are individual beats and scenes here that work. It's the assembly thats a god-awful mess (the plot-spoiling pre-title crawl is there for a reason: the story is incomprehensible without it.) Nothing fits together, the characters are almost nonexistant (despite the recognizable actors,) and it's impossible to care about whats going on from frame to frame.

Only part of the blame for this can really be laid on Boll. He's still nothing resembling a good or even passable filmmaker, but his choice of material isn't exactly doing him any favors. Over the last decade or so, as video games have become more "mainstream," they've also become progressively less original. The outlandishness of the dimension-hopping plumbers in "Super Mario Bros." or the speedy "Sonic the Hedgehog," bred of creative ways around graphical limitations and the natural tendency of geek subcultures toward fantasmagoria in the early days of gaming has given way to a modern age where most of the more popular titles are chiefly trying to be playable knockoffs of existing movie and TV franchises. Films based on recently-popular video games, then, will be copies of copies.

When the "best" your genre has to offer is "Resident Evil," a Romero-zombie knockoff that even other Romero-zombie knockoffs don't want to be associated with, you might want to reconsider your genre from the ground up. Not that anyone is, of course. Up next is a Bond-wannabe based on "Spy-Hunter," and Boll is already hard at work on a Blade-wannabe called "Blood Rayne."

And, meanwhile, somewhere on a shelf, the rights to game properties with some merit, like "Metal Gear Solid" or "The Legend of Zelda," are waiting patiently for someone to grow a clue.

Keep waiting.