Reviews of Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon, were universally damning, but these reviews were written by people over the age of 18 who failed to admit that as far as the film’s core audience goes, it was a great success.
It’s true that Hollow Man was rated as an 18, but nobody is prepared to own up to the fact that kids (boys) under that age are its intended audience.
Nobody over 18 should in fact actually watch Hollow Man at all - they won't get much out of it if they do. If you are over 18 and watch Hollow Man you will sit tutting, and hawing, and accusing it of sexism, and generally bemoaning the state of the arts in the modern world.
Looking at the facts of Hollow Man as an entertainment for 12-16 year old boys, the argument is clear: simple story which doesn’t concern itself with continuity; forty minutes of action and gore as climax; specially placed modicum of nudity (Rhona Mitra in an early career move); no scientific background required or given; and full emphasis on special effects over script, character and credibility.
The most obvious weakness of Hollow Man is therefore its strength. Like any ‘invisibility’ film, it asks what would you do with this newfound power, and the answer here is watch women going to the toilet, rape them, and watch them undressing. This is the answer a 13 year old boy would give. Who but a 13 year old boy would honestly care about watching a woman going to the toilet, invisible or not?
Nobody can deny that the special effects in Hollow Man are great, and that it is also typical of the Verhoeven oeuvre in that it is a nasty film, positing nasty thoughts, and spying at women on the toilet, all in the nature of the Verhouven-ouevre.
These cynical comings and goings are Paul Verhoeven trademarks, though they do seem to be peaking in this movie.
Like Robocop (1987), Basic Instinct (1992) and Black Book (2006), there is something unpleasant at the heart of Hollow Man, a coldness that nothing can shift.
It’s like a kind of nihilism from a mind of nihilism and results in output that good people will not enjoy watching. It’s not entirely wrapped up in the constant molestation of women, but is much deeper. The only time Verhoeven has ever managed to use this to his benefit is in his masterwork, Starship Troopers (1997), where every last one of the humans are happily fascistic, and as generally mindless as their bug opponents. Even Robocop has a darkly satirical and political edge that is missing here, and isn’t made up for in any way.
If you’re over 18 then, you are probably not going to get much out of Hollow Man, unless you were a boy under 18 when you saw it, and are revisiting it for nostalgic reasons. It’s due to this that Hollow Man continues to grow in popularity, as it’s viewed again and again by that slowly aging core. For fans of ‘invisibility’ movies, the transformation scenes are as good as anything that’s ever been done, and the plastic facial wrap and gloves that Kevin Bacon’s character wears are very reminiscent of those made by David Macallum when he was invisible, and working for the mysterious Klae Corporation.
Still, invisibility is a great subject for any SF interested director, so long as the obvious need not be pointed out and the special effects can keep rolling — and for its day, these are excellent CGI works.
How about this though — if a person really was invisible, they would be blind, because the lens of their eye wouldn’t be able to refract light. On top of that, the retina wouldn’t react to photons passing through it, and since no data would be sent to the visual cortex of the brain, an invisible person would experience only perfect darkness. Just the sort of boring comment that no producer wants to hear, but maybe one day somebody will make a film which deals with these issues with a little more gravity, so we can find out more about what it might really be like.
Although not much is made of it, the whole invisibility project in Hollow Man is Pentagon funded which leads me to ask what it would be like if the government really did get hold of invisibility. Of course, a government would be bound to use invisibility for surveillance and ‘crime-fighting’, but that would just be the start of it.
For the teenage boysand their older equivalents watching, the seminal moment and raison d'etre of the whole project is the Rona Mitra shower scene but as a framework for this epic moment, The Hollow Man does very well. Yes, you heard me. This is how to consider this film, as a bolster, or a prop, or an essential item of scaffolding supporting the actual few minutes of interest, the groin-achingly ever present voyeurism that not only debases the art of science and science fiction to express man's quest for knowledge as a stepping stone to the sort of perverted snooping that ends in rape for the character and masturbation for the viewre, culminating in what was doubtless one of the most commonly paused video scenes of its day . . .
Trailer for The Hollow Man (2000)