Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Columbia Pictures, 2000
VHS $110.57, DVD $24.95
While no one who knows me would mistake me for a dyed-in-the-wool Verhoeven fan, I have to admit even I was expecting something more than the hollow treatment given this classic tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, the scientist behind the militarys secret research on invisiblity. Although a brilliant molecular scientist, Caine is a first-rate jackass who fancies himself not only as being at the top of his field, as a ladies man and rock star, but also keen on thinking of himself as God. Elisabeth Shue is Linda McKay, Caines colleague and ex-girlfriend, and Josh Brolin is Matthew Kensington, Lindas beleaguered boyfriend and a thorn in Caines side.
Admittedly, Hollow Man features some first rate special effects, with dazzling forays into invisibility and reversing the state of invisibility. These top-of-the-line special effects, however, are brought down by a shallow story line that reverts to alpha-male posturing and images of sexual assault to make what few points the filmmakers have to make.
Verhoeven and Marlowe would have been well-served to have dipped into The Invisible Man (1933) and The Invisible Man Returns (1940), the films upon which Hollow Man is based, however loathe they are to admit it. The directors commentary on the DVD makes it clear that Verhoeven and Marlowe consider these two films to be camp at best, remarking on the gratuitous comedy a cigarette floating in the air, or clothes without a head, would lend to their own work. Yet the images they use, no matter how state of the art, are integral elements of the John May classic, complete with invisibility “reversion” and smoke blown and water being splashed into the face to make the invisibile man visible.
Camp or no camp, it is the essential humanity of first Griffin (Claude Rains) and then Radcliffe (Vincent Price) corrupted by the invisibility serum that makes their transformation so tragic. They are good men with good hearts. Griffin loses everything to the madness brought on by the serum, while Radcliffe only just escapes with his lifeand his humanityintact. Kevin Bacons Caine, however, lost his humanity long before we ever see him onscreen. Despite the fact that Verhoeven and Marlowe set out to make a “morality tale,” all they manage to prove is if you make a jerk invisible, youve managed to create an invisible jerk.
Despite the potential this film had going into productiona classic tale with strong film antecedents and a bold moral foundationall Verhoeven and Marlowe have managed to do is convince me that if these two men were invisible, theyd be jerks, too.