Sadly in Hollywood, when you end up making one of the "worst movies ever" according to some viewers, your reputation is forever soiled. For director Joel Schumacher, people always remember him as the man who ruined Batman by making Batman & Robin (1997). Yes, undoubtedly it was a poor film but Schumacher's career cannot be represented entirely by that project alone. Before and after this particular golden royal blunder of his, Schumacher had been and continued to make a number of attention grabbing movies. Critics enjoyed Tigerland (2000) and Phone Booth (2002), which came after and also The Lost Boys (1987), which came before. However, it seems as if there are some other products that don't receive as much credit. This is one of them. One particular thing that Schumacher loved to use in his films were controversial topics. Of his movies, one of his touchier topics was that of 8MM (1999), and it’s not a large group of people that are comfortable with it. This plot here isn't as taboo but it still raises a lot of curiosity.
|"Stay with me now...."|
The story revolves around a group of graduate students who end up taking a huge gamble with their lives. That gamble is scientifically stopping their heart, experiencing death and then defibrillating themselves back to life. The idea is to experience death and to determine whether there is something beyond death. As they "play" around, they soon discover that this kind of scientific practice may not be in their best interest. This is a sadistic mentality; who thinks that's even a remotely good idea? Credit is due though because there isn't much of any other way to experience it unless you die. The screenplay was penned by Peter Filardi, a writer who would only write a little more and then fade out by the mid-2000s. The idea itself though is unique; very few scientific films bother with contemplation of life after death. Especially with death, the action is taken for granted more times than not and no viewer or screenwriter probably every bothered to consider it.
Filardi's script isn't perfect unfortunately, but then again, not many are. What Filardi forgets to work out are some subplot elements. Each graduate character has their own particular issues and over time they have to confront it. That is except for one character that confronts it but is never directly stated whether it was fixed, it just disappears. The only problem with the writing is that after the midway point, the genre to this movie jumps from the sci-fi thriller, to the fantasy horror genre. It's not that this change is abrupt or drastically different but some viewers may expect to see a certain kind of consistency through and through. This isn't something to truly get frustrated over though because who's to say what would really happen if one were to experience death like they did. The dialog itself isn't anything that sounds extraordinarily special but the actors are what keeps the story interesting.
The cast of actors who play these graduate students are Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland), Rachel (Julia Roberts), David (Kevin Bacon), Joe (William Baldwin) and Randy (Oliver Platt). Together, this small cast can play off each other nicely. Sutherland plays his role more chaotic than the rest and rightfully so since he's the one coming up with the idea of testing temporary suicide. Bacon as David is the skeptic, the one who will not believe what happens unless he knows himself and is the grounder to anyone who needs the help. Joe is the playboy (how appropriate for a Baldwin), who enjoys videotaping his late night escapades. Platt as Randy is the sensible one, the guy who knows the level of danger they enter but is smart enough when not to follow. Lastly Julia Roberts is decent too with a fascination with the idea of death. The thriller and horror elements are effective most of the time. The horror components aren't so much gore but more on a psychological level. This although not graphic, can be scary.
|That set design though|
Behind the camera for this project was Jan de Bont. Yeah, we all know he's not the greatest in his directing skills with Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) and The Haunting (1999), but he has been the cinematographer for movies like Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990). Here, de Bont's work is nice and fluid. There is no shaky camerawork and the lighting helps highlight what de Bont wants to get across for each scene. Especially for the near-death experiences, the visions somewhat resemble that of the ending to Disney's The Black Hole (1979). Finally, the musical score was composed by James Newton Howard. Up to this point in his career, Howard was only known for a part of one popular movie and that was Major League (1989). This is really Howard's big screen entrance and it’s gloriously beautiful. Howard creates such an odd yet effective religious horror score hybrid that is hard not to admire. The horror cues are noteworthy as well as the wonderful church like themes.
The script does have some genre changes at the midway point and not every subplot is concluded the way it should be. However, the main cast is likable, the plot itself is originally different and the musical score is harmoniously compatible with the playout of the story.
Points Earned --> 7:10