Saturday 17 December 2016

Alone In The Dark

Given that notorious schlockmeister Uwe Boll recently announced his retirement from filmmaking, now seems an apt time to look back at what may be his most infamous film.

Adapted from a popular computer game series, Alone In The Dark (2005) was – like the rest of his unheralded cinematic canon - released to universal critical derision. Reviewers panned the terrible direction, incomprehensible story, shoddy special effects and awful acting.

Unsurprisingly, the film received a brutal thumping at the box office. And poignantly, the film’s title accurately described the audience experience for those few unhappy souls daft enough to actually traipse to a cinema and sit through this impenetrable merde.

Today, Alone In The Dark languishes in IMDB’s 100 worst movies list and has just a 1 per cent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But does it deserve its reputation as a bona fide stinker?

For reasons solely related to cataloguing an invented micro-genre of film, Exploding Helicopter sought to find out.

The plot

A paranormal investigator, Edward Carnby, hunts down artefacts belonging to a fictional Native American culture called the Abkani.

Carnby believes these objects hold the key to stopping sinister supernatural forces that are threatening the world. Not only that, the ancient artefacts could also unlock the secrets of his own mysterious childhood.

To achieve this goal, the psychic private eye must confront forces from another dimension, a shadowy government agency and most terrifyingly of all (at least in Exploding Helicopter’s experience of dating) his former girlfriend.

The cast

Christian Slater: karaoke Jack Nicholson
Our ghost-hunting hero is played by Eighties teen icon Christian Slater. Once upon a time, Young Cheeky Eyebrows was the mainstream star of cult favourites such as Heathers and True Romance.

However, he always was a one-trick pony, and his cloying karaoke-version-of-Jack-Nicholson routine inevitably started to wear on audiences. His ability to land plum roles also wasn’t helped by a string of drug, alcohol and assault convictions.

Still, one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain, and Junior Jack’s non-ringing phone meant he was available to lend the tarnished lustre of his talent to ‘paying gigs’ like Alone In The Dark. And while this won’t ever rank among the boy’s finest work, his smirking charm and mischievous air do admittedly give the often flaccid proceedings some much needed ‘watchability’.

The same cannot be said for his co-star, LA party girl turned actress, Tara Reid. Having made her name playing vacuous blondes (i.e herself) in teen comedies like American Pie and Van Wilder, the air-headed fembot was perhaps not the obvious casting choice as a brainy archaeological expert.

Those who manage to sit through the movie may not be entirely surprised to hear that young Tara’s turn resulted in a Razzie nomination. Flatly intoning her lines like a first-grader in French class, the Sharknado star proves singularly incapable of reacting to any of the events taking place around her.

Tara Reid trying to read her cue card
Whether she’s confronting life-threatening peril, learning the secrets of an ancient civilisation, or enjoying a bit of ‘how’s your father’ with Christian Slater, the blonde moppet maintains the same blank ‘where’s my cue card?’ expression throughout.

Elsewhere, Stephen Dorff (Blade, Immortals) gives a performance of workman-like competence. You get the sense that, among those used to grander roles, there was an on-set calculation that the sooner everyone did their job, the sooner everyone would be able to go home again and forget they ever appeared in this guff.

How bad is this?

Ah, we must all tread carefully here, friends. In the past, reviewing Uwe Boll’s work has proven to be dangerous business.

A few years ago, angered by so many negative reviews of his films, the prickly German challenged his worst critics to a boxing match, threatening them to either “put-up or shut-up”. (In a telling comment on the strength of their critical feeling, four journalists took up the challenge and fought the cranky kraut in a televised contest).

But even in the face of a pugilistic pummelling, this blog promises never to pull its critical punches. Exploding Helicopter will always give you a straight verdict straight (before quickly hiding behind a big lad and threatening to tell teacher).

Anyway, everything the critics say is true. The story really is a convoluted mess of impenetrable mumbo-jumbo. (Even Dan Brown - the patron saint of highfalutin nonsense – would be rolling his eyes at some of the unlikely japes on display here.)

The ‘special’ effects are anything but, and somehow worse than the graphics from the computer game which inspired the film. Many scenes are directed with staggering ineptitude (one supposed action scene sees Slater and Reid blaze away on machineguns at an enemy you never actually see).

Yet, for all those lamentable failings, Alone In The Dark just isn’t as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Exploding Helicopter has witnessed, and had the misfortune to review, far worse films. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Deadly Prey).

Never shy of self-publicity (self-released videos of the temperamental Teuton slagging off Michael Bay and Eli Roth went viral), Boll is really just a victim of his own inflated public profile. He may be the worst filmmaker you’ve heard of, but he’s not the worst filmmaker.

Hard though it may be to believe, many other film-makers are even worse – they’re just wise enough to stay in the shadows.

Exploding helicopter action

During the film’s climatic battle, Carnby and a team of soldiers have to fight a horde of otherworldly creatures. Luckily, a couple of helicopters are on hand to give aerial support to the embattled troops.

So that’s alright, then. But wait, what’s this? In an all too familiar mistake, the pilot - when will they ever learn? - flies too close to one of the supernatural animals. The beastie leaps into the air and grabs on to the tail of the chopper. The aircraft spins round clipping the second whirlybird, which then falls from the sky and explodes.

The first out-of-control whirlybird continues to spiral dangerously towards the ground. Finally, it crashes into the earth in front of the camera. But just before we get a chance to see a second explosion, the action cuts away.

Artistic merit

In a word, dismal. Boll completes fluffs the staging of this sequence, depriving us of the action we want to see.

In a directorial cheat, the helicopter that explodes drops out of the frame before a mushroom cloud of flame erupts back into shot.

It’s quite cool watching the second helicopter spin to its doom and crash right in front of the camera. It seemed a prime opportunity to deliver a close-up chopper fireball, but the special effects department must have considered if too much work. So in a huge anti-climax the action just cuts away. Outrageous.

Exploding helicopter innovation

That’s a negative.

Interesting fact

In 2015, Boll opened a restaurant in Canada called Bauhaus. The eatery has subsequently been awarded a Michelin star, making it the best reviewed project he’s ever been involved with.

Review by: Jafo

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