Classic horror movie remake's 4K disc features a transparent plot
By Jim Bray
Universal Studios' latest attempt to bring new life to its catalogue of classic horror movies is an interesting take on an old story and how to make it new again. Oh, it's not nearly as good as some of the movies it remakes, but it's probably worth a look if you're into the genre.
It's the Invisible Man, a title/franchise that can be traced right back to the original golden age of Hollywood horror, an era that brought us Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and, of course the great Claude Rains as the Invisible Man.
There've been invisible man movies since then, of course, including such films as John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man. Neither was as good as the James Whale original, but both were decent trips through the home theatre.
The leads of both the original version and Hollow Man were both driven scientists whose discovery led to all heck being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. They had discovered the secret to invisibility, but it ended up wreaking havoc on them as well as those around them.
Not here. In this Invisible Man, we barely see the scientist (okay, the pun is intended) whose creation proves so problematic – and instead the focus is on our distaff lead, Elisabeth Moss, who isn't invisible but who is stalked by her former main squeeze, who she thinks is invisible.
Moss plays Cecilia Kass, who at film's opening is sneaking out of her and her man's (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) bedroom. She's making herself scarce from what we're told (and which becomes quite obvious later) is an abusive relationship. So, yeah, it's yet another girl power movie from Hollowwood, and who could have forecast that?
It isn't quite as simple as this just being yet another tiresome "men bad" flick, though, which is nice, but in many ways it isn't really like an invisible man movie at all, other than the fact that there's an invisible man in it (which I suppose does make quite a difference!). In fact, it's more like a conventional slasher movie, except that instead of the bad guy being a scary, shadowy figure with a big knife, we have an invisible figure with a big knife.
No invisibility potion to cause the incredible vanishing act, either. Instead, Adrian Griffin's (Jackson-Cohen) invisibility comes from a nifty, high tech suit that makes him "virtually" disappear in a manner reminiscent of how they "disappeared" James Bond's Aston Martin in Die Another Day. Interesting, yes, cool, yes, but innovative – well, Bond did it back in the Brosnan days…
Anyway, the movie is basically a stalker/slasher film in which the only one who knows the truth – that see-through Adrian is making her life a frightening Hell – is Cecilia, and of course no one else will believe her. That does change later, as the victims start to pile up and people can "see" clearly that there's some weird, transparent stuff going down, but for the first part of the movie she's basically written off as a whacko, thanks to her outrageous story of an invisible man stalking her when everyone else thinks the guy killed himself a couple of minutes into the story and therefore can't be stalking anyone.
It's a better story than I had expected, though it's hardly revolutionary, but there are plenty of plot holes that are big enough to drive an invisible semi-trailer through. And who the heck is the couple whose house she stays in? I never learned the relationship between them – or if I did, I missed it looking for the invisible man.
This movie could have been used for some "beat 'em over the head" social commentary ("#metoo", anyone?) and that's really what I expected going in, but I was surprised pleasantly to find that it isn't really like that. Oh, sure, that's the basic focus, and the fact that no one believes Cecilia adds some fodder to that potential focus (just ask Joe Biden's accusers!), but the movie really does go beyond that.
The problem is that it doesn't really go anywhere else – it's just a slasher movie where the hero is an invisible jerk instead of a big, visible looney. So, there's not really much about invisibility, science, etc. – the stuff I suspect that many folks who'd seek out invisible man movies really want to see.
Still, it's interesting enough to be worth a look – but be warned that the violence is more graphic than need be in places.
The 4K disc treatment is as mildly disappointing as the story. It isn't so much that the 4K picture isn't up to snuff, it is. But, as with some other 4K discs I've reviewed, so much of the movie is very dark – night shots, interiors that are lit dimly, etc., that it doesn't lend itself to popping off the home theatre screen and sitting right on your lap like some of the best 4K discs do.
The film itself has a great look – and I really liked some of cinematographer Stefan Duscio's shots – and to be fair, when you can actually make out the 4K picture it does look very good. Detail is delightful and the stuff you expect from a 4K HDR disc – colour depth, black levels, etc. – are very good. It's just that it's all so dark that I had to turn up my TV's settings just so I could see the darker scenes.
The audio is terrific, though, and makes good use of all the surround channels. It's presented in Dolby Atmos – and even "dumbed down" to Dolby Digital 5.1 it's dynamic and crisp and clean – and all around you. My only issue with the sound is that the musical score sounds at times as if it's been ripped off from Vangelis' score for Blade Runner. Can't blame the technology for that, though.
There are a few extras and, unlike most 4K discs I've reviewed, they're all available both on the 4K and the conventional, 1080p Blu-ray that's in the package (there's a digital download code in the box, too). They're not particularly substantial supplements, but they're worth a boo – or a listen, in the case of the writer/director's commentary you can access. There are also some deleted scenes.
I went back and re-watched the James Whale/Claude Rains version after finishing with this latest attempt and I still like it a lot more. Claude Rains is great as the Disappearing Dude, and it's cool to see "old Rose" from Titanic – Gloria Stuart – back in the day, though I liked her better in Cameron's film.
So, while this new Disappearing Dude is deserving of at least one viewing, I'm not sure it'll be remembered nearly a century from now.
Time, of course, will tell.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray