Have you ever seen an Uwe Boll movie? The passionate director has garnered a lot of criticism over the last few years for his occasional tributes to videogaming, but until a few days ago when ITV4 was brave enough to show his 2005 adaptation of Alone in the Dark, I hadn't actually witnessed a lick of his work with my own eyes. My knowledge of this notorious man's works had up to then extended as far as: one; he likes to punch-out journalists, and two; his films are particularly bad. So curious, as I'd expect most to be as they enter into a Boll flick, I stayed up two hours past my bedtime in order to find out what all this time he has been all about. Carry on for my completely honest, completely unbiased, and slightly dirty first experience.
Alone in the Dark is a movie, with a lot of things that movies have in them. It runs for about ninety minutes, is shot using movie cameras, and stars people who may have at some point been in other movies. The game and film's hero, Edward Carnaby, is portrayed here by unwitting actor Christian Slater, and Tara Reid from Josie and the Pussycats and that episode of Scrubs is also in it. So far, so good, and I was shocked to find that my approval of this film didn't end there.
The film opens with something that I don't know because I was watching Peep Show on the other channel, but the first bit I do remember was a brilliantly executed fight scene in which Christian Slater engages in a battle of anti-gravity kung-fu with a tall, bearded man. This was very entertaining, and I could tell that Boll had put a lot of thought into crafting a hero the audience could believe in. Caranby's Jesus-like ability to push off flat from the ground with zero momentum, and then bicycle kick his antagonist in the face was rather impressive: we can tell that this is a man whose hands the world will be safe in. His subsequent power to land two direct gunshots to the bearded man's heart, firing through a block of fucking ice, and then have the man get up without so much as a struggle, was equally as impressive. Watching this piece of cinema unfold in front of my eyes was a very fun experience.
This first fight is also a stage for Boll to show off his tricksy use of slow motion. It appears that a rule was set at the beginning of shooting this scene, that if the slightest hint of damage was caused during a frame, it would be then slowed down in editing. Case in point: every damn thing goes slow at some point. If Slater gets chucked through a window, its getting slowed down. Thrown through a door? Hit the slow button, but just for a second or so. Brush up the side of an archway while walking through? You'd better believe that this bit is getting slowed right to hell. You can see where this is going.
But its okay, right, because slow motion is always a good, clever technique?
Christian Slater: rarely seen without that long brown coat. Even in the middle of summer! I guess if he took it off his self-esteem couldn't take it.
There is also a plot that comes in at some points. A scene near the beginning which takes place on a ship, shows an old man with a coffin made of gold, accompanied by a group of youngish, more muscular men. An interesting twist then occurs, in which the coffin is stolen by the young men who appeared friendly before. However, as an audience we are tipped off by this betrayal prior to its happening, due to the young persons large muscles and sunglasses of the central one: a smart move by the director. The old man then gets locked in a cabin and begs for the young men not to open the golden coffin, because he is wise, and that's what all old men are in half thought-out film plots, but the young men open it anyway, because that is what villains do in half thought-out film plots. Thus an unspeakable evil is released onto the world, and it is up to the gravity defying hero of the tale to save it.
If you find you are too stupid to keep up with this story, there are also narrations given by Christian Slater every so often in order to keep you up to speed. These usually amount to subtle references to his character in the video game of the same name, just in case you had forgotten that this was supposed to be based off a game in the first place.
Up to this point, Tara Reid has been in the film, playing a character whose name I don't know and can't even remember being mentioned at all in the script. To be brutally honest, I can only recall her having any spoken dialogue about three times during the entire run (and even the last of that is a little sketchy), the first of which being a phone conversation in which she is supposed to sound intelligent. Unfortunately, we already know that she is Tara Reid, so even if her character was delivered with more energy than the effortless reading-lines-off-the-smudge-on-the-back-of-her-hand guff that is presented here, we would still hark back to that girl we saw in American Pie and various pornographic sources. Giving Reid this limp, lifeless husk to go with was the first criticism I found in film, and in the next scene while she stared at Christian Slater's bare, man-like chest as he slept, I wondered if Boll would make an attempt to inject some life into her character before it ended.
Tara Reid has less dialogue than Bakura! He is clearly very happy about this.
On the note of Tara's failed character came an ad break, which I found rather refreshing as it allowed me to play Picopict (Pictobits in the USA) on my DSi; something I had been longing to do since around fifteen minutes into watching the main feature. My experience with this was quite good, it is definitely one of the better “Art Style” series titles, and I would definitely recommend you download it. Various sized coloured blocks fall down the screen, and the aim of the game is to match the colours into groups of four or more smaller shapes, which wipes them away to form a classic NES sprite on the top screen. You move blocks around using the stylus, either by storing them for later use, or releasing them onto empty spaces for blocks to fall on to, hopefully linking them together and causing them to disappear. The real skill however comes from chaining your blocks for massive combos, which requires much precision stylus work and a lot of quick thinking. Clearing most of a massive block off the screen and knowing that it was your own work is an immensely satisfying thrill; better though is the games soundtrack, which is made up of remixes from old 8-bit Nintendo games. When I got to the final stage of this package I was amazed at how much content I had already gone through for a 500 point game (and at how much more there was to unlock!). There's no place better to spend half of the 1000 points you get free with the system, but even without that, you could do a lot worse for your three gold coins and one oddly shaped silver coin. Or five bucks.
The most intriguing thing I salvaged from this time though, was when my concentration was drawn to the sound of Donnie Darko 2 which I had no idea even existed. The original is one of my favourite movies of all time, and the idea of a sequel - past the prior thoughts of how they could fit Jake Gyllenhall back into it – was quite nice. I mean there's no way they could ruin something as great as Donnie Darko. After having his vision interpreted to cinema with acclaim and a degree of perfection in the first one, Richard Kelley would never allow that to happen. This was definitely something which demanded further research.
It's easy. Touch the blocks to store them, then release them when necessary! Simple! Yet it gets fiendishly tricky later on.
After about seven minutes into one of the difficult remixes of Picopict I realized that before I turned it on I was supposed to be watching a film or something. There had been no audio prompts for me to believe that there was anything but adverts on the TV, so I was very surprised when I turned my head up to find a sex scene, at what I fully expected by soundtrack alone to be one of those British sofa advertisements. It quickly became clear that one thing Boll cannot do for the life of him is appropriate music; when its possible to mistake the power and emphasis of a couple making love for a DFS advert, you must be getting something wrong. However, I have to hand it to him for this bit of audio trickery, because people watching his film on a station with breaks in between can enjoy playing their handheld console for a little bit longer and not have to be cued into watching these two planks of wood rubbing up against each other. With that, he's also just helped me come up with the perfect analogy for the film so far, so I must thank him again for inspirations sake.
The plot continues with Carnaby being given special bullets that can kill the evil creatures, and a special flash light whose illumination is tailored to keep them at a distance. Now, at this point I thought Boll had dropped the ball yet again. Its not as if the scientists creating this special light or special bullets had anything to test them on? They haven't exactly captured a demon to wave it around on and say, “here, this works.” No, all they can do is hope that what they've made is effective, and send Carnaby in there while they book their vacation for the next ten years! Am I really supposed to suspend my disbelief that far!
Then I had a thought. Well, how do scientists ever accurately predict how many billions of light years away a star is, or global warming, or how some of the planets are made entirely of gas? If they've never been there or seen it first hand, how can they possibly know? On that contemplation, I just sat back, realized I don't have the first clue when it comes to maths, equations and all that stuff, and just assumed that the scientists making these magic weapons had spend the better part of their lives studying demonology and had managed to devise an equation on the matter that just worked. I guess Boll won that round. He is deep in thought on these matters after all.
That placticine monster is really in for a killing now.
Sadly, not all of Boll's movie could be as engaging as it has been up to now, and when the director exemplified his lack of skill with audio as a group of military men enter the demon compound to the sound of heavy metal and gunfire, I turned my attention back to the DS and used its browser to look up Donnie Darko 2. I was in disbelief as I discovered it had been heard of since May last year, and was already available on DVD in the States! How knowledge of the film managed to evade me for this long was annoying, but a nice surprise at the same time. Not a nice surprise on the other hand, was the negative reception to its release. Its a shame it sucks, but I'll watch it nevertheless. How could they possibly make a decent follow-up to Donnie Darko anyway? On a side note, it appeared that the American title, S. Darko, won't be re-used over here, instead going with the shadier, more sequel-like Donnie Darko 2. I expect many people to feel disappointed after it is released in cinemas soon.
When I got back to the film everyone was trapped underground in some kind of cave. Tara Reid spoke the second piece of dialogue that I remember here, which is as she is translating some ancient squiggles on a rock, which directly say, and I quote, “Once you make it alive down here, you're already dead.” I thought this was a rather skilled way of showing why Reid's character is so hollow, as we now know that she must have lived her whole life as a shut-in working on somehow translating these old pictures into English words, that it sucked her dry of any personality she may have ever had. Next there's a bit where Carnaby is struggling to shoot a demon worm thing which I found hard to believe since he shot a guy with accuracy two times through a block of ice at the beginning, someone with their head split open which raised a chuckle, an old man I'm not sure if I've seen before goes nuts, and a follow through to one of the most hopeless endings that I've ever seen. Hopeless in the respect that its both quite a bad note to climax on, and that presumably the aliens/demons won and in that last shot where the camera zooms right into their faces, ripped them to pieces and ate their flesh. It would certainly make sense, since I can think of no other reason as to why Slater and Reid won't be associating themselves with the 2009 sequel, and instead have Carnaby and whatever-her-name-was be played by other actors. After they were feasted upon, some other people must have been born with their same names or something, and now they have to save the day. Or something.
I don't think either of them were entirely sure why they were there.
It sucks, and I cannot believe it. The thought that a sub-par Donnie Darko sequel exists in this world just hurts my heart. I just hope that the rumoured second sequel, with Richard Kelly's involvement, will receive better support than this one has. Yes, I will go and see it as soon as I can, and I really hope that I'll enjoy it. Its just sad to know that whatever shows itself to me on that cinema screen, has little to no chance of surpassing what is one of my most loved films, like I hoped a sequel would.
And buy Picopict. Its awesome.
There's a Nightwish song if you manage it to the credits. I guess his musical taste isn't completely hopeless after all.