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There are some movies which you hear are so bad that you simply cannot imagine there could be anything redeeming about them. Critics, reviewers and the general public all seem to agree that Alone in the Dark is one of them. Starring Christian Slater, who has had sporadic appearances in mildly entertaining guff from John Woo's Broken Arrow to the Tarantino-penned True Romance, and directed by Uwe Boll, who gave us the admittedly terrible House of the Dead, I had little hope of arguing against the criticism even before I watched the movie. But is Alone in the Dark really that bad?

Alone in the Dark
Film
Edward Carnaby lives in a world of good and evil, light and darkness. Orphaned at a young age, he was victim to the experiments of a mad scientist who wanted to merge man and demon, but managed to escape the worst of the treatment. In his later life he joined an Agency for Investigating the Paranormal, but found his progress stunted by bureau politics and so became a lone investigator, with an ongoing quest to find out the truth behind his tortured childhood. Now a dark treasure has been opened, unlocking the demons within all of the children in the orphanage, who are all grown up. It is down to Carnaby to use both his detective and fighting skills to find the truth behind it all. Along the way we get to meet his girlfriend, Elaine, who serendipitously works in the very archaeology unit that unlocks the aforementioned demons, and the people he used to work with—the mysterious bureau 713, headed up by the gung-ho Burke. Between them they have to overcome their differences and team up to stop the world from being taken over by demons.

Christian Slater is on pretty cool form in the lead as Carnaby, showing off his newly learnt Karate skills (amidst some mild wire-work) and his newly toned physique to try and prove that even if his acting career is not doing so well, his action career is far from dead. He may never have reached the standard of 'the next Jack Nicholson' that was landed upon his head over a decade ago, but it is still nicer to see him in something like this than utterly wasted in gimmicky thrillers like Mindhunters. Tara Reid, on the other hand, is just plain terrible. Limited in acting range to taking off and putting on her glasses and respectively letting down or tying back her hair (in a desperate bid to make that Clark Kent transition from romantic lead to studios archaeologist) she is truly miscast and shows no future in the action heroine or intellectual department. On the strength of this performance, she should limit herself to comedies and horrors. The other reasonably well-known face is Stephen Dorff, of Blade fame, who now seems to be typecast as the po-faced, determined leader of some elite group, who spends the entire time frowning and shouting. I do not really mind since he suits the role perfectly well, but I think that he can probably do better.

Alone in the Dark
After watching the movie there is very little I can say to praise it. Showcasing a striking similarity to the Resident Evil films (although, to be fair the game did predate the Resident Evil games) it offers little new to either horror or video game genres, borrowing excessively from everything from Alien to Species, utilising gimmicks like bullet-time, wire-fu and slow-mo, and all to poor effect. The chases have been done harder and faster before, the fights sharper and better choreographed in other movies and the effects far surpassed by now so you cannot hope to glean anything new by watching this inferior addition to an ever-expanding computer game tie-in genre. That said, it is actually a remarkably fun movie if you just avoid taking it seriously. As with turkeys like Showgirls, the joy comes from actually laughing at the silliness of the story, script, acting and set-pieces rather than taking them at face value. I understand that some viewers may not see the inherent value in a production like this—so bad that it is good—but those who do take it all with a tablespoonful of salt will find themselves on a remarkably enjoyable little adventure ride full of hilariously wooden acting, stupendously huge plot holes, overwhelmingly clichéd lines and laughable special effects.

Video
Alone in the Dark is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks only marginally above average. I think that the biggest problems relate more to the budget and style of direction than to the transfer itself, but overall it is nothing so bad as to make the film unwatchable. The detail is largely good, but edge enhancement creeps into many of the shots. There is some softness but little noticeable grain, despite the contrast issues—which basically leave the movie looking extremely dark. As I've said, this is probably partly intentional (to set the mood) and partly budgetary (to make it harder to spot the bad effects) but it has the annoying side-effect of making much of the action difficult to see. Still, the colour scheme is quite well represented, erring on the darker shades but perfectly reasonable in its presentation of the skin tones and overall it is an acceptable presentation for this particular movie.

Alone in the Dark
Audio
The main track is a throbbing DTS track that would be the selling point for the DVD if it were not for the fact that the score is largely inappropriate for the scenes. We drift from quiet and reflective to kick-ass rock during the fight sequences in a way that mirrors the style adopted in Resident Evil, but without the 'talent' of Marilyn Manson controlling the proceedings. This means that the score tends to be more intrusive than enriching. The best and most effective surround use comes in the form of the many gunfight sequences—with bullets flying all over the place—but the score does pervade all of the speakers, whether or not you want it to. With mostly clear dialogue from the frontal array—only occasionally obscured by the prevailing score—this track winds up being fairly boisterous but badly designed. It is mirrored somewhat in the Dolby Digital 5.1 effort, which is negligibly weaker and less potent but mostly indistinguishable.

Extras
First up we get an audio commentary by the director of this affair, Uwe Boll. Immediately he notes the ludicrous length of the opening coda, giving you the sense that he is perfectly aware and sometimes even willing to admit the mistakes that were made in the production. He talks about how the venture came about, his involvement in video games and his vision of this movie but soon begins to get a bit out of hand with respect to his version of reality, comparing this movie not only to Alien but also—somewhat preposterously—to Michael Cimino's underrated Mickey Rourke thriller Year of the Dragon. He talks about the CGI (which took over a year to complete) being 'good' when in reality it was generally pretty poor and praises Christian Slater's lead portrayal, talking about how he was first choice for the role (I'm not really sure whether that is a compliment). He even has the gall to say 'Tara Reid looks really intelligent with glasses', tactfully adding 'I hope' to a sentence that—somewhere deep inside—he knows is not true. I was hoping for a more frank commentary from the director, especially since, as already stated, he starts off seeming quite open to admit his mistakes. Unfortunately the commentary is entertaining for a wholly different reason—Uwe Boll seems completely out of touch with reality and his view of this particular enterprise is so rose-tinted and skewed that you cannot help but laugh at all of the things that he is proud of which most audiences find ridiculous.

‘Into the Dark’ is an eight minute behind the scenes promo packed with interview soundbites from most of the cast and crew about how great the movie is and their part in the production, behind the scenes clips and even a brief glimpse of Uwe Boll's other computer game movie, the horrible House of the Dead. There are stills, concept drawings and discussions on the characters and stunts, with some nice contributions from Slater but there is still far too much footage from main movie for a featurette this short.

Alone in the Dark
‘Shedding the Light’ is a nine-minute visual effects featurette that looks at the different effects necessary for various scenes within the movie—from the stunts to the bit shootout sequences. They break down the green-screen shots—offering interesting comparisons before and after the effects—and they dissect the strange shootout towards the end of the movie, praising their own purportedly magnificent work. The featurette is quite informative, particularly in its comparison shots, and they pack a great deal into such a short time, but they are still talking about an aspect of the film which is not really that big a plus point.

We get storyboard-to-screen comparisons for two short scenes, part of the Pinkerton Chase at the beginning and the sand worms sequence towards the end. Both are shown in split-screen fashion and the similarities for all of the main concepts are all highly apparent. These are interesting additions in terms of extras and are well worth your time if you want to see how they originally envisioned this production.

The ‘Bullet Time Animatic’ is a very basic, blocky computer generated version of the opening chase sequence that has a cheap bullet time shot in it. The animatics are quite similar to the final version, although there are some interesting different concepts that they did not use (including a better gun and a better bullet-time shot actually) and some funny moments (inherent with Animatics), like the fact that when the animated characters run their legs don't move.

Finally we get music videos for too many of the inappropriately chosen tracks from the movie, including Hypocrisy's Erased, Dimmu Borgir's Vredesbyrd, In Flames' The Quiet Place, Kataklysm's As I Slither and Mnemic's Deathbox. None of them are particularly interesting either visually or aurally (despite the fact that many had a Rammstein vibe to them) and there is no reason to have so many of them here.

Alone in the Dark
Overall
Alone in the Dark is a movie that you will not enjoy if you take it seriously. It cannot help but disappoint on all levels of good filmmaking, in any genre that it purports to add to. But if watched on an intoxicated night in with a bunch of mates and a pizza, I would be surprised if you did not find it more entertaining than many, much cleverer movies. This is pure silliness, in every aspect of the production, allowing for pretty much constant hilarity whilst pointing out all of the stupidity on screen. Given an average transfer and a couple of solid audio tracks, along with a solid set of extras (that probably all also must be taken with a pinch of salt), this release is unintentionally fun enough to warrant a rental but only worth a purchase if you then find you really like it.


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