Hollow Man: Americans Miss The Point Yet Again

A critical analysis by Dean McIntosh

     It is no secret that Paul Verhoeven is my favourite director, and I make no secret of the fact that the only film I have ever been guilty of looking forward to more than Hollow Man was 1999's The Phantom Menace. Hollow Man was released in Australia on August 24 (I caught the first session at my local theatre) to what can be described as lukewarm critical reception, much like most other films Verhoeven has directed. Before the Australian theatrical release, the comments from some American critics could be considered to be downright pathetic, often amounting to little more than "Hollow Man is a crap film because Paul Verhoeven directed Showgirls". Of course, what these critics seem to forget is that the 1995 disaster that purported to be about the dark underbelly of Las Vegas entertainment was more the fault of writer Joe Eszterhas, a fact reflected by Verhoeven's refusal to work with him on another film. This, friends and neighbours, is one critically important point that critics seem all too eager to forget when dissing Hollow Man: Paul Verhoeven works best with a good writer. While Gary Scott Thompson and Andrew W. Marlowe certainly aren't as bad at writing a film as Eszterhas, they are nowhere near as great as Verhoeven's regular collaborator, Edward Neumeier (Robocop, Starship Troopers). However, the worst, and most inept, comment I have read about this film to date was one I found by Tim Pegler on the Village Cinema site: "Ultimately, for all the impressive effects you can't beat a strong story and on this count Hollow Man has an empty ring." Nothing could be further from the truth when you have your eyes and ears open, but I will get to what Hollow Man holds for those who view it this way in a second. Granted, Hollow Man is not without its flaws: the ending is a confused Hollywood-friendly mess, and the film spends too much time focusing on voyeurism instead of the more extravagant, indulgent things one would expect an amoral man to do when invisible. However, the second of these flaws is also partly what elevates this film above the rest of the films that attempt to tell a story about an invisible man: no cheesy comedy, no attempts to be an invisible philosopher, just a sad story about what happens when a man with shaky morals loses the accountability that keeps him in his place, as high and powerful as that place may be to begin with.

    That is exactly what Hollow Man has been turned into by Verhoeven's direction: a dissection of what happens when an amoral society gets hold of a technology that removes such pseudo-moral safeguards as the fear of being seen. To understand what I mean by that, it is necessary to delve into what passes for values and morals in the mind of the average American, so please consider yourself advised if such a topic may offend you. It is no secret that a large section of the American populace believes that the Christian Bible is true, word for word, and considers it a document upon which to base a system of morals. Despite what these people will tell you to the contrary, this results in amorality. After all, how can you have morals when you're basing every moral decision you make upon ravings contained in a book that basically says "do this and don't do that or some angry, scary, omniscient monster will torment you for centuries"? Not that belief in the Bible is required to be without morals, but Hollow Man cleverly sidesteps this issue by presenting an anti-hero with what appears, during the film's opening sequences, to be a minor god complex. Because Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is able to get from A to D without needing to go through the B and C of the equation, he believes that he cannot break the law because he is the law. A similar attitude is not only found in the Bible, but it was also the attitude that caused America's industrial downfall (a favourite subject of Neumeier's, in fact), among many other things. This attitude is compounded when he suddenly finds himself invisible, and begins to explore the things he can do that others cannot because of the mere fact that they will be seen doing it. It is very important to understand that those with stronger morals would not indulge in the activities which Caine seemingly revels in, although the changes in genetic structure necessary to make a human being invisible obviously will take their toll on one's emotional health eventually. The end result is an interesting work of fiction based upon what a man without morals will do when he is given seemingly unlimited power, and what he will do to those who threaten to take it away. This is the point which many critics have missed, American critics in particular because of their inability to cope with such a well-structured critique of the society they live in.

     This brings me to the point I would like to make in addressing Columbia Tristar Home Video about this classic film that I am sure will be vindicated by time, and it is one that could really impress me if it is caught by the distributor. Previous Paul Verhoeven films that have made their way to Region 4 DVD have been given garishly bad treatment, to put it nicely. Starship Troopers is the worst of the lot, with one of the most amusing and informative commentary tracks of all time being omitted, and the film broken in half at what would have to qualify as the worst possible point in the film. The fact that the film is distributed in Australia by Touchstone Pictures is entirely irrelevant because it was made on TriStar Picture's nickel - were this a film I paid for the production of, I would have dumped Touchstone as a distributor and taken my business elsewhere, just as Metro Goldwyn-Mayer have done with Warner Home Video. Robocop, which qualifies as one of the best Christ themes ever committed to film, second only to the likes of Star Wars, is not even available in Region 4 yet, in spite of there being two different versions available in Region 1. Total Recall has fared the best out of Paul Verhoeven's films as far as Region 4 distribution is concerned, being widely available in its original uncut theatrical version. This is faint praise, however, as the DVD version still lacks any good supplements of any kind, especially a commentary track, and it suffers from a disturbing audio glitch during one of its most photogenic moments. This is to say nothing of the fact that, like Robocop, Verhoeven's collaborations with the misogynistic Joe Eszterhas, namely Basic Instinct and Showgirls, are completely unavailable in Australia. In the interests of continually improving their image in my eyes, however, the following is a suggested list of extras for Columbia Tristar Home Video to include on the Region 4 DVD version of Hollow Man:

hollow03.jpg (20157 bytes)    To close my statement, I wish to urge all of the viewers out there to give this great film a chance, and to ignore the comments of inferior critics who wouldn't understand a swipe at the non-existent ethical system of the American people if it blew up in their face. Hollow Man is a film that has it all: great acting (especially from Kevin Bacon), a great story, and some of the most brilliant special effects ever seen on the silver screen. As a matter of fact, most of the special effects you will see in Hollow Man were considered impossible as recently as last year. For me, the film is a winner simply because it utterly trumps the pathetic incarnations of the Invisible Man story that have come out in the past, with not a bandage or string in sight. When this film finishes its theatrical run, I want it to be presented on DVD in such a respectful manner as befits such a prolific and insightful filmmaker as Paul Verhoeven. I want the DVD version of this film to be presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio (1.85:1), with 16x9 Enhancement and the best possible sound format. A DTS soundtrack may be overkill, but a high-bitrate Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack would be very nice. A commentary track featuring director Paul Verhoeven, writer Andrew Marlowe, as well as actors Kevin Bacon, and Elizabeth Shue, would reveal all sorts of insights into the making of the film, and it would be criminal to omit a commentary which features at least three of those four. The complete set of theatrical trailers and television spots would also be a great inclusion, as would a collection of scenes that were deleted from the theatrical cut of the film. In a nutshell, the inclusion of these things on the DVD version of Hollow Man would be enough to make up for the substandard manner in which Verhoeven's work has so far been presented in Region 4.

© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
August 27, 2000.