“Hollow Man” was actually a pretty big deal for me in the summer of 2000. I had been reading screenplays provided by Drew’s Script-O-Rama and Daily Script, and I chose the easily attainable “Hollow Man” to read on my spring 2000 flight to France. A group of my classmates and I were to be exchange students for a short time: first a stopover in Paris, and then to our host families in Dole. But during the flight, I guess I wanted to scare the living piss out of myself while trapped in a metal tube hurtling across the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. (While two of my friends/classmates went to second base on each other, underneath one of those provided wool blankets, in the row in front of me…but that’s a different story.) That’s right, I thought the script was absolutely terrifying, and even the mere implications of invisible soldiers tearing through foreign countrysides got under my skin. Yes, the film barely makes it out of the underground laboratory where Sebastian, having attained a godlike complex and a massive amount of paranoia, goes into the third act with the goal of murdering all of his cohorts. So the script worked that much for me, getting me to ponder things that don’t even happen in the dang movie.
Finally viewing the movie just under six months later, I found that the film didn’t quite work the way I was expecting. While Verhoeven seemed to actually step back from some of the script’s more vicious imagery — believe me, that’s difficult for him to do, and it’s commendable to a point — the energy from the page had become sluggish on the screen. Maybe it was miscasting. Maybe it was pacing problems. I don’t rightly know. Talk to 17-year-old me, because today, I can only give you the perspective of a 27-year-old. But I still liked it, for better or worse, and was certainly impressed with the visual effects, even though I was let down by my own damned hype.
Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?
It’s worse, but that assessment comes with a major asterisk. From a new perspective, I think to boil it down to an easy statement is that I didn’t realize how sleazy the movie was. Yes, there are implications of the boundaries of science and the drawbacks of godlike powers, but this film spends an inordinate amount of time basically putting the audience in the POV of a rapist. This is fodder for many (and much lower-budgeted) horror thrillers, but rarely are they this cold, this nonchalant and this expensive. I mean, really, why does Sebastian automatically go for the pervy stuff upon becoming invisible? But from a $90+ million Hollywood movie, it opens itself up to further scrutiny, and it makes me wonder about the screenwriters behind the film. (I’m unsure whose original script it was, as story credit is given to both Andrew W. Marlowe [creator of ABC’s “Castle”] and Gary Scott Thompson [“The Fast & The Furious,” “88 Minutes,” NBC’s “Las Vegas” and the ill-fated “Knight Rider” reboot.]) In no way am I saying either of these writers have a rapist’s mind, but I think it would be fascinating to know what led them to certain conclusions about Sebastian as a character. Unlike a horror villain, Sebastian starts off as an okay guy, so we as an audience are put in the awkward position of relating to somebody, and then following him far deeper than logic may dictate.
I also laughed far more at the movie than anticipated.
But here’s the big asterisk. While something I found thrilling when I was 17 has now become worrisome and, in a big way, inappropriate, I must must must give credit to the film for making me feel this way. Why? Because film is supposed to make you feel, goddamn it. The fact that this elicited such a disgusted response from me on a second viewing shows that it was at least interested in provocation, something director Paul Verhoeven has always been good at. (I don’t have to tell you his filmography, do I?) All I honestly ask for from a movie is not to bore me, and this one didn’t even come close to that. It engaged me, it dragged me down into and through the muck, and it left me with something to think about. Summer movies don’t usually do that to me, especially not big-budget sci-fi horror thrillers.
So the movie is more perverse, demented and troubling than I remember, but that’s also its power. I just wish that it didn’t seem to do it so effortlessly.
Now follow me into an especially choppy series of broken thoughts, as I spent the majority of watching this (the seven-minutes-longer director’s cut) with my mouth agape, baffled by its contents and implications.
What’s Better About The Film?
- More than a handful of critics complained about how small the movie’s ambition was, at least story-wise. But I kind of like how it’s basically a haunted house story underground mixed with a super-intense love-triangle romantic drama. And 10 years later, I call that “story intimacy,” even if we’re following somebody nobody would ever want to follow.
- This week in “Oh yeah, you were in this, huh?” goes to Greg Grunberg, he of J.J. Abrams’s best friend fame, as well as a victim of the great fall of NBC’s “Heroes.” Here, he’s one of the grunts at the laboratory (along with other TV veterans Kim Dickens and Joey Slotnick), and he actually seems to be enjoying himself. Unfortunately, we only learn two things about his character, and it’s that he likes flannel and porn. He does get the film’s most surprising death, though.
- Whatever you may say about Kevin Bacon, he does a very commendable job playing Sebastian with just the right amount of sleaze, smirking confidence and insanity. But sometimes he stumbles through bits of the script.Good line reading: “How many times do I have to tell you, Frank? You’re not God. [pause] I am.” [Bacon smirk]Bad line reading: “I thought we were great together.”
- Even 10 years later, these visual effects are top-fucking-notch. I think every single element holds up perfectly, and there isn’t enough praise to heap upon the SFX artists. Utilizing an array of abilities at their disposal, they brought together remarkable advances in motion control with incredible medical knowledge, kick-booty green/blue/black-screen awesomeness with on-set practical tricks, and the knowledge that it is ALWAYS better to have somebody to act off of. (Say what you want about the power of WETA’s digital imagery, but Gollum works in “LOTR” because Andy Serkis was there with the hobbits, acting his ass off.) The entire team, including Verhoeven, knew exactly what they wanted, and tried everything they had to make that happen. And my god, all the invisibility experiment sequences are awe-inspiring, disgusting and 100% convincing. I mean, the gorilla-becoming-visible sequence is what special effects were made to do, right?(And yes, this includes the 100% unnecessary sequence when invisible Sebastian squishes Kim Dickens’ breast while she’s sleeping, an SFX feat that boggled my sister’s friend’s boyfriend’s mind back in 2000.)
- I love this IMDb message board topic header: “So did he never wear deodorant?”
- This movie seems to be a series of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” moments. I’m mostly okay with that.
- I like the miniature science lesson the movie imparts when Elisabeth Shue has to use her brain to get her and Josh Brolin out of the freezer before they both die.
- Everything about the climactic exploding elevator bit is pitch-perfect. Check out the behind-the-scenes if you ever get a chance. This further illuminates what I mean about how professionally the entire production was handled.
- Now I must go back to the reference I made about something they excised from the script, and that is a sequence in the third act when, during Sebastian’s killing spree, he lets Isabelle the invisible gorilla out of her cage in order to viciously kill the other scientists. Just imagine that, an invisible gorilla wandering around a claustrophobic former bomb shelter just waiting to fuck your shit up. You can’t see it, it can see you, it can tear you apart like THAT, it’s a damned gorilla, and in the next room is crazy Bacon. That’s a freakin’ showstopper. And it’s not in the movie. I doubt they even shot it. For whatever reason, it’s gone, but the setups toward it, in the script, are not. They do such a good job of setting up Isabelle early on, from the time they’ve spent poking her with needles to how temperamental she can get, and firmly establish her as a character. Why in God’s name cut out the subplot’s massive payoff during the third act that was far and away the most thrilling part of the screenplay? (I cannot answer why, in the script, Isabella went back to being invisible. My memory’s not that good, man.)
- The title is a super-wasted literary reference. Why even bother?
- Elisabeth Shue, be an actor and LOOK in the eyes of the invisible gorilla whose internal organs, arteries and capillaries system are slowly becoming visible! In fact, Shue and Brolin don’t really seem up to the challenges this movie provides, and sometimes it seems they’re stifling laughter. Both are solid actors in other works, but not here.
- You have to watch out when you’re going to tell an already known joke in a major Hollywood movie, as they do here with the Superman-Wonder Woman-Invisible Man joke. (It’s also a major fail because then the scene ends and nobody addresses it again.) This is why I hate Quentin Tarantino in “Desperado.”
- Can we put a moratorium on “Don’t you die on me!”? Brolin says it in two different sequences.
- The director’s cut brings back two extra shots of when invisible Sebastian rapes Rhona Mitra, including an aftermath that shows her bruised and crying, having just been horribly violated. And they might be a bit much. The theatrical cut only showed the very beginning of the violation, and that was the right thing to do.
- Wow, even in 2000, in an upgraded Z-movie, from a Dutch director, the black character is the first to die.
Free-Floating Thoughts: (there are many this week, so bear with me.)
- It’s weird how THIS FILM would be the one that killed Verhoeven’s American film career. Or did he just get frustrated with several trips into development hell? His next movie wouldn’t be until 2006, the Dutch-language WWII espionage drama “Black Book,” which ironically might be his least insane film.
- Elisabeth Shue credited first? What the huh?
- Well, that’s one way to establish your tone quickly, by having a mouse viciously bisected by something invisible in the first ten seconds.
- Bacon, Shue and Brolin? Why didn’t they do an entire 80s revival while they were at it?
- I don’t know if I’m silly enough to write a sequence where a man goes up to an invisible dog, scratches it chin, and says “Hey, what’s it like?”
- William Devane had a big August 4, 2000, co-starring in both this and “Space Cowboys.”
- Do you think the Bacon-becoming-invisible sequence, where we see each of his body’s layers disappear, turns Kyra Sedgwick on at all?
- I like to believe that it’s difficult for a movie to shock me, but when we see, through the heat-vision camera, Bacon viciously murder an invisible dog, it kind of ruined my morning.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
Becoming invisible turns you into a rapist, I guess.