Hollow Man

Hollow Man. Columbia Pictures 2000.

Before watching the movie:

I remember this being framed in the commercials like the invisible guy was the villain of a horror story, which I suppose could be from his slide into monstrous behavior without human consequences for his actions. I vaguely remember the movie coming up in an early explanation of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, though that’s probably more because it was recent than because it’s a particularly significant hub in Bacon’s connections with other actors.

I also remember it putting CGI effects that seemed completely novel front and center to do a more visually engaging telling of The Invisible Man than had been seen before. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out not long after, but I don’t think they put as much effort into the Invisible Man effects because he was part of the ensemble, but also it wasn’t as new anymore.

After watching the movie:

Dr. Sebastian Caine, a scientist with a god complex, has been leading a team of researchers for months in his military-sponsored secret lab on a project developing his method to turn technical sounding words like “radiation” and “quantum” into a method for turning humans invisible and bringing them back. After a long period of being able to turn animals invisible but lacking the correct formula to revert them without degrading cellular integrity to the point the test subject explodes, Caine has a breakthrough that successfully brings back one of their gorillas. However, he chooses to hide his success from the oversight committee for fear that they would take human trials away from his group, when he wants to keep the ultimate success for himself. Therefore, he announces to his colleagues that he intends to test the invisibility serum on himself, spend three days logging his experiences while invisible, test the reversion, report their successes, and walk into history. After three days of amusing himself around the lab playing poltergeist pranks on his ex-girlfriend and spying on people in the restroom, the reversion serum fails and he remains invisible. Caine starts to feel just as caged as any other lab specimen, and despite a crude latex mask, feels completely alienated from his old self and appearance, and finding their leader completely out of control, his subordinates Linda and Matt try to report what’s happened to the oversight committee, which Caine cannot allow to happen.

While I’ve not only read Wells’s original The Invisible Man but listened to an audio drama adaptation, I don’t remember it all that clearly, except that I think it’s mostly from the invisible scientist’s perspective, relating his alienation from society and morality to an old friend who is in turn relating it to the reader in a way that now that I think of it, quite a number of early sci-fi stories used. And while going in I was a bit disappointed that the viewpoint appeared to move from the scientist to the people menaced by him as he becomes a monster, I think it’s actually a pretty effective choice to take it away from him, so he can completely lose any pathos.

Caine starts as a somewhat likeable jerk, but he loses his humanity very quickly once he realizes what his new situation can do for him and how easily it can be taken away from him. The movie really turns on a dime from “this jerk is fun to watch” to “this monster is capable of anything”, and it comes down to him realizing that he has true freedom from consequences. Is this what any person would do with invisibility? Maybe. Would they fall so far as fast as Caine does? I think the movie tries to set up that he was always as disconnected from social norms as he could get away with while having to participate in society.

The effects work was essential for this movie and they clearly put a lot of effort into making it as perfect as they could with the technology available to them. For a significant amount of time, the way we’re able to see Caine is through the use of some pink latex they gooped over his head to make it easier to interact with him, and while sometimes he’s wearing sunglasses and no VFX are needed, they actually take every opportunity to show the emptiness behind his eye holes and mouth holes, and I think that’s usually just CGI replacement of the specific areas he’s not supposed to be visible, but that works really, really well. There are some effects where there’s probably nothing physically there and they used a complete CG actor revealed by stuff getting on him that don’t work as well, but are still really effective. What is the most limiting is the skinless effects of transitioning, which feels very dated and looks very much like computer graphics, but how many people have seen the real thing? I certainly haven’t. They did take great pains to replicate Bacon’s face in CG, apparently by scanning his head or full body, and that helps a lot that it always looks like the actor.

I feel like the late 90s/early 00s were a bit heavily focused on making sci-fi into horror, but I think this really did work, even if the finale pushed a little farther than I would’ve liked. It’s very good at being the kind of movie it wants to be, even if that wasn’t entirely my kind of movie.

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