And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
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|I dont see all that many
first-release movies, but with the tidal wave of horror and science fiction films heading
my way this summer, I felt it was my professional duty to get off the couch and into the
cinema. Here are a few thoughts on what Ive seen
The Haunting | Deep Blue Sea | The Sixth Sense | Lake Placid | The Blair Witch Project | End of Days | Night of the Demon | Stigmata | Night of the Living Dead | Mission to Mars | Bats
End Of Days: Well, I couldnt put it off forever . Since everything indicated that the films title was about to become literally true, I decided Id better see End Of Days in a hurry. The events of that bleak, rainy Saturday played out in a suitably ominous fashion. First of all I learned that the only place the film was still playing was the Village Cinema City (urgh!). Then, upon arrival at the cinema complex, I discovered that the promotional noticeboard in the lobby, upon which reviews clipped from newspapers are displayed, was bereft of any advertising for the film in question. Then I found that End Of Days was screening in Cinema 6. Thats "Cinema 6", as in the one they have hidden away up six flights of stairs; a daggy little cinema with uncomfortable, low-backed, torn and/or damaged seats, and a general air of shabbiness. The combination of these events with the prior knowledge that I was about to watch the product of a collaboration between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Hyams induced a distinct feeling of apprehension. Then the credits revealed that the director had again done his own cinematography, and my heart plummeted. The opening scenes were enough to confirm my very worst fears: that during the two years that passed between The Relic and End Of Days, no-one had managed to convince Hyams to turn the f**king lights on!! Here, as previously, the viewer is forced to peer through the endless murkiness - a patently artificial attempt to create atmosphere - at things that, by all rules of reality and/or common-sense, should be bathed in light (like the huge, expensive New York apartment that houses the films tormented heroine). Hell, even the external daytime scenes are dark! That said, overall there is more light in End Of Days than in The Relic. Why? Because End Of Days has explosions lots and lots of great big colourful explosions! Recalling all the pre-release hype, with its promises of a "different" kind of Schwarzenegger movie, you really have to laugh. All this film is, is the same old stuff tarted up with religious trappings. Its full of chase sequences, shoot-outs and stunts that require more suspension of disbelief than the details of the main storyline. The only thing "different" about it is its wrongheaded decision to give Ah-nuld the chance to display his, er, "dramatic range". Now, Im quite prepared to concede that Arnie has a certain talent for comedy particularly, most appealingly, for self-parody. However, serious drama is all too obviously beyond him. End Of Days gives us a tragic Arnold, a suicidal alcoholic after losing his wife and daughter (gee, thats original!). In this guise, he gets to emote his way through a series of scenes that become increasingly embarrassing and difficult to watch. The only other thing thats "different" is that this sensitive, New-Age Arnie spends a great deal of his screentime getting the living crap beaten out of him once, most amusingly, by Miriam Margolyes (!!). Tragic Arnold has lost his faith, you see, so he no longer fights with the strength of ten because his heart is pure. But, as so often happens in Da Movies, destiny steps in to give Arnold another chance not just to assuage his guilt over his familys fate, but to save the entire world! Thats right, folks, its Arnie Vs Satan in the bout of the millennium! As ultimate battles go, this one is somewhat less convincing than that fought out by Jesus and Satan in South Park although you could argue that here, as there, Satan throws the fight. This is one of those irritating films where, if the Chief Bad Guy just stopped threatening and taunting and gloating, and bloody well got on with it, then Evil would win in a canter. Instead, time and again, with every advantage on his side, Satan fails to deliver the knock-out punch. At one point, he wanders through a church, casually slaughtering priests right and left; but when he has the chance to kill Arnie immediately afterwards, he merely crucifies him, leaving him to be rescued and return to the fight. At the films (heh, heh) climax, instead of just doing what he came to do and impregnating the unfortunate heroine, he first holds up the deed for the length of a satanic ritual (giving Arnie time to interrupt), then later--- Well, that would be telling. Suffice it to say that End Of Days finishes with a string of scenes so groan-worthy its hard to believe the film-makers actually intended them to be taken seriously. But one of the main problems here is that no-one connected with the movie seems to have realised how ridiculous it is with one exception. Gabriel Byrne alone was clearly aware that he was in the middle of an immensely silly story, and his performance contains an element of burlesque that the film simply cannot support. Byrnes Satan is one suave dude, never breaking from his slow, sexy stride even when setting off explosions with every bat of his seductive eyelids. As youd expect, he gets most of the films best lines. He also gets an absolutely jaw-dropping moment when we discover that Satans bodily functions dont just serve the usual purpose. As the third point of the triangle, Robin Tunney doesnt get much to do beyond being chased, captured, threatened and rescued, but I was pleased to see that when her character was cornered by a bunch of homicidal priests (dont ask), she didnt just wait to be saved, but fought back good and hard on her own behalf. Kevin Pollak has some nice moments as Arnies partner, but you just know that something unpleasants going to happen to him (see also "bodily functions"). As the priest who knows whats going on, Rod Steiger gives a surprisingly restrained performance (surprising for those of us with his antics in The Amityville Horror burned into our memories, anyway). I really cant find much to say in praise of End Of Days. The production design (when you can see it) is attractive, there are a couple of gross-out scenes I wont forget in a hurry, and when Satan finally manifests himself (courtesy of Stan Winston), hes pretty cool. On the other hand, there were plenty of things about the film I enjoyed for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the single most absurd moment is when Arnie barges into Rod Steigers church and announces, "I want to talk to you about Thomas Aquinas!" There is also the suggestion that the entire NYPD is into devil-worship; a clear demonstration of the difficulties involved in being simultaneously a priest and a hit man ("Kill her!" "I cant, I havent finished giving her the last rites!"); and a display of remarkable sang-froid from Arnies boss who, watching him arm himself with enough firepower to re-fight the Gulf War, remarks dispassionately, "You know the police are after you?" But the bad stuff easily outweighs the good even the unintentional good. Along with the eye-strain-inducing cinematography, Arnies performance and the contrivances of the plot, we have a bunch of characters weighed down by symbolic names (Robin Tunney plays "Christine", while Arnies character is get this! "Jericho Cane" [whoa, heavy and just check out those initials!]) and a depiction of the Catholic church that frankly seems to me rather more disrespectful than the one in Dogma. But worse than all of this, at least as far as Im concerned, is that Mr Hyams yet again sees fit to inflict upon his audience a Spring-Loaded Cat© (and no, having one of your characters remark, "I knew that was going to happen!" doesnt make it any better!). The screenplay also contains my personal nomination for The Single Stupidest Line Of The Millennium, when a radio announcer says, "Its the 31st December, 1999 the final day of 2000 years!" This film was clearly intended as Arnies Big Comeback, but Im very much afraid that it will prove to have the opposite outcome. End Of Days, indeed .