Quality film news, reviews and features
21st September 2005 12:00:00
Posted by Anthony Nield

Alone in the Dark

DVD Video Review
Boll KG Productions present… Word to strike fear into the hearts of many a film fan for producer Uwe Boll is associated with cinema of the worst kind – and in the case of Alone in the Dark he also serves as director. Indeed, it’s a film which has received an incredible amount of stick since its release, even DVD Times itself having blessed it with a one out of ten rating when its Region 1 incarnation came under scrutiny. As such, when the Region 2 arrived and I was afforded my first opportunity to sample this much derided work, I actually wanted to like it or at least try to be kind towards it; to be honest I felt sorry for it owing to the sheer amount of bile it prompted in people.

Perhaps it’s the fact that Alone in the Dark was “based” on the computer game of the same name that caused the sheer amount of hatred, but either way it doesn’t begin with the most promising of material. The opening pre-amble sets in motion the main plot points – an ancient race; ancient artefacts; a mad scientist; inter-species experimentations; “terrifying creatures that thrive in darkness”; and Bureau 713, the government’s paranormal research agency – all of which means that the stage is set for Christian Slater to do battle with a bunch of CGI monsters. So how best to approach this material? Is there a specific mindset? Perhaps the most suitable option is to come to Alone in the Dark as a low budget genre quickie and have no expectations, in much the same manner as we would a latter day Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme film when they appear on Channel Five, or something from the oeuvres of Albert Pyun or Jim Wynorski. In this respect you might even find a nice thing or two to say. Indeed, Boll proves himself to be a fairly brisk director; after all, the opening text does get the exposition out of the way and allow him to get straight down to business.

Certainly, he’s not an inept director, merely a clumsy one. At the very least he does allow Alone in the Dark the veneer of professionalism and can handle to odd set piece (the thrash metal scored machine gun battle has a certain glorious dumbness about it), but he makes the mistake of taking the material far too seriously. Moreover, his handful of tricks soon proves to be too limited to sustain a whole film, especially when his eagerness to please means that the slow motion, hectic editing, multitude of camera angles and unfeasible martial arts are all inflicted on us within the opening ten minutes.

Of course, the fact that it’s Christian Slater dealing out the ridiculous fight moves only serves to point out just how horribly miscast much of Alone in the Dark is. Yet whilst Slater only looks absurd during these moments, Tara Reid is utterly out of place - and utterly awful – all of the time, though it doesn’t help that we’re supposed to believe that she’s playing an assistant curator. (The handy acting tool to enable her such a feat is, of course, a pair of spectacles.) And yet just as don’t wish to be too harsh on Boll (though this does become much more a task as the film progresses), it would also be unfair to lay the blame solely at the actors’ doors. Indeed, Slater, Reid and all the others – not to mention Boll himself – all have to contend with the screenplay.

At first it appears as though we may be in luck. Slater gets to utter a stupidly gnomic line of dialogue (“Being afraid of the dark is what keeps most of us alive”) before introducing his voice-over with “Maybe you think I’m an asshole…” but then our trio of writers clearly haven’t settled down yet. Rather, from hereon in any kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude is completely abandoned and gives way to a sheer abundance of complete clunkers: “The nightmares. They’ve started again”; “I thought you were dead, you asshole”; and the list goes on and on…

However, the dialogue isn’t their only sore point as the structure itself is similarly lacking. Alone in the Dark would appear to have been made up from only a number of possible scenes – a fight, a chase, the discovery of an artefact, or the deployment of some handy gadget – and the sheer obviousness of these component parts soon becomes grating. Moreover, for all the steals from Jurassic Park, Predator and the Alien franchise, Alone in the Dark more greatly resembles a cheesy miniseries; we of course have the human element who are as despicable as the monsters themselves, thereby allowing the filmmakers to keep the CGI budget down.

And yet it seems doubtful that it would be able to occupy such a duration as it clearly struggles in maintaining interesting over its paltry 90 or so minute running time. Rather than any sense of direction, we simply get more guns and more creatures in the vain hope that this will lead to greater excitement. Sadly, this isn’t the case at all as we are instead heading towards what must be the ultimate anti-climax for any Uwe Boll hater, the kind of vague non-commital ending which makes a perfect setup for a potential sequel.

The Disc

As should be expected from such a new release Alone in the Dark comes to Region 2 DVD in fine form. The extras are near identical to that of the Lion’s Gate Region 1, whilst the presentation is fine. We get the film presented at a ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced and demonstrating the requisite crispness. At times, the image does look a little too dark, with the blacks lacking definition, but otherwise this is an agreeable offering. More impressive are the choice of sound mixes, in this case DD5.1 offering and a DTS mix. Though both make the most of the gunfire, explosions, etc. whilst handling the dialogue scenes with equal capability, it is perhaps the DTS which offers the greater rewards, proving to have just that little bit extra clarity. That said, those unable to view the film in such a manner will no doubt find little to worry about with the 5.1 mix.

With regards to the extras, the main attraction is the audio commentary by Boll himself. Though you may not like the fact, he actually proves himself to be a charming presence. He discusses his film with enthusiasm and keeps talking throughout, which allows him to touch on most aspects of the production (from its conception through to budgetary concerns). The only problem – and this is a major one – is that you continually struggle to agree with his assertions. As Michael Mackenzie pointed out in his Region 1 review, “when he started talking about how the film was a commentary on man's battle to control nature, I just wanted to switch off.

Elsewhere on the disc we find a pair of featurettes which offer the standard EPK nonsense and an in-depth look at the visual effects, respectively. As such the first quickly outstays its welcome (even at only seven minutes), though for those inclined towards such elements, the second does prove rewarding. All of the major players are interviewed and all of the major scenes discussed. Of course, it’s also overly technical for the most part, but then this is perhaps hard to avoid.

The remaining extras are far less essential and amount to a pair of storyboard comparisons, a look at an animatic and a quintet of music videos which vary immensely in terms of quality and execution. Needless to say, these pieces are solely for the fans.

Unlike the main feature, all extras come without optional English subtitles.
Details and Specifications
DVD Video Review

Region: 2

Certificate: 18

Distributor:
Momentum

Running Time:
94 mins approx
Soundtracks:
English DD5.1
English DTS

Subtitles:
English

Director:
Uwe Boll

Main cast:
Christian Slater
Tara Reid
Stephen Dorff
Will Sanderson
Frank C. Turner
Matthew Walker
Françoise Yip
Daniel Cudmore
Mike Dopud
-- more --
Ratings
Film
3
Video
7
Audio
8
Extras
6
3
About Anthony Nield
Anthony hails from Cheltenham and has been writing about film for the best part of a decade. His particular obsessions include British and experimental cinema, non-fiction, and films that have fallen by the wayside. You'll find him reviewing such works in the DVD and Blu-ray sections, plus the occasional feature.