Alone in the Dark Review
Words alone cannot describe the experience of abject horror that is watching Dr. Uwe Boll's latest offering to the world of cinematic trash. Alone in the Dark is a shambling wreck of a movie, a chunk of cinema so bad that what is actually wrong with it defies explanation. No single element can be held up as the reason for its monumental failure: the budget is reasonable, a number of the cast members are quite accomplished... even the source material, the 1992 Infogrames computer game, is one of the richest and most sought-after franchises in the world of gaming. And yet, somehow, Alone in the Dark ranks as one of the worst films I have ever had the misfortune of sitting through. It took 13 years for the game to make the transition to the big screen, and if Dr. Boll (who previously helmed the similarly dreadful video game to film adaptation House of the Dead) was the best filmmaker Infogrames could find to helm the project, then I think it's safe to say that they should have waited another 13 years.
The amazing thing about this film is that its sheer awfulness does not sink in immediately. The film is as boring as watching paint dry throughout, yes, but if you want sheer laugh-out-loud unintentionally funny moments, you will have to be patient. The film has plenty of these, no doubt - ranging from the hilarious exposition that various characters spout every time they open their mouths, to the choppily edited action sequences that are genuinely completely incomprehensible, to Tara Reid as an archeological student (for chrissakes!) - but the overwhelming emotion that I felt as I watched this film was one of abject boredom rather than mirth. Boll certainly does a wonderful job of making an awful movie excruciating to watch: unlike what some people have suggested, this is not a case of a film that can be enjoyed for its badness, but rather one that is so bad that you want to blow a hole in your television screen and destroy every existing copy of the DVD.
The film opens with the longest and most mind-numbingly tedious crawl of text ever struck to celluloid. At first, I assumed that this was an attempt to add a Star Wars-esque level of grandeur to what was to follow - but no, Dr. Boll informs us on the audio commentary, this text was inserted because the test audience didn't have a clue as to what the film was supposed to be about. The sad thing is that, even with the exposition front-loaded in text form, we're still none the wiser. Something to do with a container being found under the sea which, when opened, causes certain people around the world to turn into zombies and develop a taste for human blood. That's what it looks like to me, at any rate. There are some strange, alligator-like monsters as well. I think maybe they came out of the box. Into the mix comes Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), a globe-trotting academic (think Indiana Jones stripped of all his coolness) and "paranormal investigator" who grew up in an orphanage, and... well... I'm not really sure, but it seems that the other orphans, now adults, were among the people who turned into zombies. But that doesn't matter, because we've got Carnby on the case! He'll sort things out, with a little help from the brains of the operation, his girlfriend Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid, in a perfect example of this film's "genius" casting), as well as his bitter rival, Commander Burke (Stephen Dorff). Sound like fun? It's not.
Dr. Boll is clearly a fan of The Matrix and its horrible sequels, as evidenced by his penchant for dressing characters in leather trenchcoats, having them spout inane pseudo-psychobabble and getting into all sorts of overly-long and ultimately pointless fights, usually with a hefty dose of Bullet Time and other poor and distracting CGI. These fight scenes, which are so badly choreographed and edited that at times it is virtually impossible to follow what is happening, are actually something of a blessing in disguise because, awful as they are, they are at least more interesting than the rest of the scenes, which are filled with some of the worst dialogue and acting known to man. ("Doctor, I've started decoding the pictograms!" breathes the sublimely dim Tara Reid, while poor old Christian Slater can only look lost and hope that the next action sequence isn't too far off.) This is one movie that certainly cannot be accused of conforming to a generic plot structure, but only because it doesn't actually have a plot or a structure. Things just sort of... happen... and they happen in an infuriatingly slow manner, punctuated occasionally by sudden bursts of gunfire, before the film reaches its baffling conclusion.
Don't laugh, but I think the world needs more filmmakers like Uwe Boll. Not for the quality of the films themselves, as Alone in the Dark is so bad it fails to even classify as being "so bad it's good", but because of his own sense of self-importance and complete inability to see just how truly awful his work is. In a day and age when even the worst Hollywood schlock is competently made, it makes something of a change to see a movie that is completely terrible in all aspects of its production, and it is nice to be reminded that, yes, films this bad do exist. Not that I recommend you inflict this monstrosity on yourself or your loved ones, mind.
Christian Slater wears this bemused
expression throughout most of the film.
In an incredibly cruel twist of fate, Lions Gate have serviced this diabolical film with an exemplary transfer and audio mix. Presenting the film anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (close enough to the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 for it to not be worth splitting hairs about), Alone in the Dark looks sharp and detailed, so you can see each bad CGI monster, clumsy fight scene and badly-framed shot in all its glory. Some slight edge enhancement and a minor amount of artefacting during the darker scenes prevent it from achieving full marks, but overall this is a great transfer.
Audio, too, serves us well, with separate Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1 mixes offered up for our "enjoyment". Both tracks, especially the DTS variant, are extremely loud and have a great deal in the way of split-channel effects and the ridiculous bass levels action movie audiences crave. The dialogue scenes fare very well too, and try as I might, I can't fault the audio in any way.
English and Spanish subtitles are provided for the film, but for none of the extras.
One of the rare times the camera stops moving
for long enough to let us get a decent look at the CGI
alligator demons that show up from time to time.
Lions Gate have served up quite the exotic platter of bonus materials to accompany this sewage. First up, we get to hear Dr. Boll talk about the film and himself in a feature-length Audio Commentary. Any hope that Boll might be self-deprecating or aware of his shortcomings as a filmmaker are rapidly quashed when he announces, within the first few minutes, that the film has "various levels of story" and is inspired by the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair to the good doctor, he keeps talking throughout the whole film and provides information about the genesis of the adaptation and some anecdotes about the production, but when he started talking about how the film was a commentary on man's battle to control nature, I just wanted to switch off. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Boll explains that the reason people reacted so harshly towards the film was because he went with a "more poetic David Lynch ending" rather than what the traditional horror climax the "dumb audience" wanted. Good to know.
Into the Dark is a traditional EPK-style featurette in which various members of the team, including everyone's favourite director with a doctorate in literature, one of the various writers, the producer, and Christian Slater, gush about how wonderful the film is and how rich the source material is. Pass the sick-bowl already.
Shedding a Light, meanwhile, gives us 10 minutes of technical talk, explaining the various special effects techniques used in the film, including CGI, prosthetics and green-screens. A Storyboard to Screen comparison follows, providing examples from two different action sequences, which looked bad enough on paper and are even worse when filmed. A Trivia Track, meanwhile, provides all the information you could ever wish to know about Alone in the Dark, in pop-up form as the film plays. Of course, this means watching the whole thing again, which I really wouldn't advise.
And just in case you doubted Boll's love of The Matrix, a 1:30 Bullet Time Animatic is included, showing the opening fight scene in a rough 3D-rendered form. The expressionless CGI dummies that slide around the screen admittedly give slightly better performances than the actors in the final cut, but even so there isn't that much of interest here.
The original Theatrical Trailer, Music Videos for six songs from the film's soundtrack (including the hilariously awful "Wish I Had An Angel", by Nightwish, which runs over the closing credits - believe me, if you think the song itself is bad, wait till you see the video) and a Trailer Gallery (featuring House of the Dead, Riding the Bullet and The Final Cut) are also included.
Lions Gate sent me Alone in the Dark for free, and even then I felt cheated, so imagine how someone who actually paid for this DVD would feel after having to sit through this hour and a half of bile. In case you haven't worked it out yet, I have a recommendation: avoid. Like the plague.