Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alone In The Dark

“Did you have a nightmare? My mommy says that there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark.”

“Your mother’s wrong, kid. Being afraid of the dark is what keeps most of us alive.”

So, maybe you’re thinking I’m an asshole, scaring that kid for no reason. But I’m just trying to protect him. You see, there’s a world around you that you’ve trained yourself not to see. Call it paranormal, supernatural, occult, whatever. But inside all of us is an uncontrollable fear of the dark. Kids are told it’s irrational but it’s not. Fear is what protects you from the things you don’t believe in. I learned the truth a long time ago. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it can’t kill you.

‘Edward Carnby’

I love stuff like that.

I love movies that have a premise that may be very silly but the filmmakers treat the premise very seriously. “Alone in the Dark” has a pretty darn silly premise but everyone making the movie took it pretty darn seriously—even the flubs and weird behind-the-scene bits. More on those later.

Alone in the Dark” is loosely based on a videogame. I’d never played the game—or even heard of it—when I saw the movie so I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in the theater.

Now, this movie often appears on lists of the worst movies ever made. And Wikipedia reports some net review site gives this movie the second worst rating ever. I wouldn’t argue with any of those negative reviews.

But I watch the movie two or three times a year and have fun. I’m not exactly sure why, but today I’m going to take a guess.

I think I enjoy this movie because of what it could have been . . .

Alone in the Dark” starts out as a kind of X-Files type thing. The hero is an agent or ex-agent for some government agency that investigates unusual happenings. Very quickly, however, the movie introduces its own kind of zombies. Then there’s a beautiful, smart woman scientist. Then there are monsters that look like fierce little dinosaurs. Then there’s an evil mad scientist. Then there are high-tech soldiers always rappelling down from helicopters and bursting in through ceilings with their guns blazing . . .

This movie—for a monster movie buff like me—is like one of those boxes of assorted chocolates where you lift the top and see a mixture of every kind of candy you like. This movie has it all.

The trouble, however, is that the movie doesn’t do much with any of what it has!

It’s got the building blocks of a great story, but no great story. And not a lot of great moments, even. There are almost no scenes of the mad scientist confronting people and engaging in monologues about his plan. The hero and the beautiful, smart woman scientist have only one quick love scene and then share almost no quiet moments looking longingly at each other. The monsters almost always appear in quick cuts killing minor characters.

Strangely, almost bizarrely, the movie is full of long, long scenes of guns blazing away with glow-in-the-dark bullets.

The net discussions I’ve seen resolved that the director built the movie around the long, long gunfight scenes because they give the film the ‘look and feel’ of a videogame.

Watching the DVD, I just fast-forward through the gun battles.

So, “Alone in the Dark” has lots of great elements, it has the building blocks of a movie I would love, but there’s no real pay-off. The building blocks are never built into anything.

But I think I enjoy watching the movie, still, because I can imagine cools scenes, I can imagine cool side stories that never appear but could have. The mad scientist scenes. The hero and the beautiful, smart woman scientist scenes. The hero confronting the monsters scenes.


Beyond the actual content of the film—or lack of content, as the case may be—“Alone in the Dark” is famous among monster movie fans for a couple of absurd production details.

The beautiful, smart woman scientist is played by actress Tara Reid. Now, in real life Tara Reid is not famous for being particularly bright or for being a particularly good actress. The production team on “Alone in the Dark” didn’t give Tara much help. For her role as a beautiful, smart scientist they just gave her a white lab coat and a pair of glasses and left her on her own.

Tara Reid goes through the film giving people what appear to be intended as ‘significant’ looks that come off as almost awesomely empty, blank stares. And, very noticeably, she is at one point supposed to say “Newfoundland” and instead of pronouncing it “new'funland” she pronounces it “new found' land.” Even though the director and editor didn’t catch it and re-dub it, Tara Reid gets all the blame.

Perhaps most bizarrely, on the director’s commentary track the director—a German guy named Uwe Boll—spends about five minutes ridiculing Tara Reid for not taking off her bra during the film’s love scene. He calls her an American prude and eventually gets around to saying she is ‘idiotic’ for taking off her clothes in bars but disappointing her fans by keeping on her clothes in the movie. Now, anyone who even glances at the celebrity news shows knows that not long before the movie went into production—if I have my celebrity gossip correct—Tara Reid suffered a horribly botched cosmetic surgery session that disfigured her breasts. So, this director had such poor relations with his cast, he was so disconnected during filming, that he never spoke with his lead actress enough to discover her serious, personal reason for wanting to not get naked on the big screen.


So, that’s my post about “Alone in the Dark.”

I can watch this film again again—regardless of how bad it is—because it has all the elements of a great film. For me it becomes a participatory movie experience—I imagine good scenes, good side stories, good moments . . .

That’s not much. But it’s better than nothing. And it’s better than most of the new films that come out these days!

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