THE HOLLOW MAN
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Shue,
Josh Brolin, & William Devane
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 114 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Executive Producer: Marion Rosenberg
Producer: Douglas Wick & Alan Marshall
Writer: Andrew W. Marlowe
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John Calley, CEO
Sony Pictures Entertainment
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The same is the case with Verhoeven’s newest movie, THE HOLLOW MAN, a tale about an invisibility experiment gone wrong. The movie, in fact, opens with an invisible gorilla biting a live rat in half, with much splattering of bright red blood. In the rest of the story, Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Caine, the gonzo leader of a group of young scientists given loads of money from the federal government to make a human being invisible and bring him back.
Of course, as it often is with invisible man stories, it’s easy to make someone invisible, but hard to bring them back. Sebastian, however, thinks he’s finally found the answer. Indeed, his team succeeds in making the aforementioned gorilla visible again, although the poor animal goes through incredibly intense pain when it happens. The special effects here are also intense, with first the veins, arteries and blood appearing, followed slowly by the rest of the body.
Reporting the next day to the secret government oversight committee, Sebastian decides not to tell the committee about the breakthrough, much to the chagrin of his cohorts, Linda (Elizabeth Shue) and Matt (Josh Brolin). Linda, who used to be Sebastian’s lover but now is secretly Matt’s, suspects that Sebastian wants to try the special invisibility serums on himself. Apparently, human experimentation is Phase III of the program, but the committee is supposed to first approve it. Sebastian, however, has always wanted to try the experiment on himself, to know what it really feels like to be invisible. Linda, Matt and Sebastian know that the committee would never approve this, but they go ahead with their plans to experiment on Sebastian.
Needless to say, perhaps, their plan goes awry. For some reason, the second serum fails to bring back Sebastian, who starts taking on the kind of violent traits that the gorilla was experiencing the longer it remained invisible. Sebastian, who jokes about being God earlier in the movie, enjoys the power he now has. “It is amazing what you can do,” he says at one point, “when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror anymore.” Eventually, mayhem and murder break loose, in typical Verhoeven style.
In addition to its extreme blood, gore and violence (see the accompanying content section), THE HOLLOW MAN includes lots of strong foul language. Also, while he’s invisible, Sebastian enjoys playing with the breast of the female veterinarian on his team when she’s asleep. Eventually, the movie implies that Sebastian rapes another semi-nude woman on whom he’s been spying from his apartment window. Thankfully, the movie cuts away just when the woman realizes there’s an invisible man touching her aggressively.
Other than its objectionable content, THE HOLLOW MAN is directed fairly well, with fantastic special effects and reasonably good performances, especially by Bacon, who truly relishes his role in the first part of the movie. An invisible man story with plenty of action is a great idea at this moment in history because there simply hasn’t been one in a long time. Regrettably, however, THE HOLLOW MAN starts losing its appeal when it descends into a formulaic monster movie, where the monster keeps coming back, even when you think you’ve destroyed the thing. The dialogue at this point also becomes too trite, diminishing both Bacon’s performance and that of Elizabeth Shue, who plays Linda. In fact, when he’s invisible, Sebastian’s character becomes less interesting, a problem which many, if not most, invisible man movies have.
It is interesting, though, that, despite the moral problems HOLLOW MAN has, its message remains the classic one of earlier science fiction movies, “Don’t play God.” HOLLOW MAN also warns about the evil consequences of having too much power. These messages would seem to contradict Verhoeven’s connection with the Jesus Seminar. They lend the movie a mild moral worldview, but this worldview is undercut by some of the remaining pagan attitudes of the other characters. It is also undercut by a pagan subtext in the movie. This subtext contends, like the pagan Greek philosopher Plato, that there is no universal moral code inside human beings that leads them to be good and just. Thus, according to screenwriter Andrew Marlowe, Sebastian is “a charismatic leader held in check by society’s rules. With no cliches, we see what transpires as these rules are slowly removed, just as the layers of his body disappear.”
St. Paul, of course, doesn’t quite agree with this pagan view of morality. Although he acknowledges (in Romans 13:1-7) that the rules of society can hold human immorality in check, he says (in Romans 2:14, 15) that everyone can have God’s law “written on their hearts.” In Romans, therefore, the Apostle Paul reveals the true nature of human morality and sinfulness as God sees it. THE HOLLOW MAN only hints at this truth.
In addition to lots of strong foul language, THE HOLLOW MAN includes extreme blood, gore and violence. In fact, the movie opens with an invisible gorilla graphically biting a live rat in half. Also, there is some female nudity when the scientist decides to carry out his sexual fantasies while he is invisible. Accompanying this excessive content, however, is a mild moral worldview warning about the dangers of playing God and having too much power. Fairly well directed by a member (believe it or not) of the infamous, heretical Jesus Seminar, THE HOLLOW MAN nevertheless succumbs, in its action-packed finale, to trite dialogue and typical monster movie formula