Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
US Rating: Rated R for Intense Violence and Gore, A Strong Sex Scene and Language
Film Length: 123 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Disc Type BD-25
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish & French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English SDH, French and Spanish
The Film - out of
The year is 1999 and the new millennium is set to dawn. Prophecy foretells that if the Devil mates with the chosen girl, born years earlier when the stars were in alignment, it will bring about the end of days. Despite legions of followers and an insidious plan in motion since the young girls birth, the end of the world is not assured as Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an ex New York City cop, finds himself in the middle of a fight to save humanity. He must save the girl, Christine York (‘Christ in New York’, subtle right?) from being taken by the Devil or sacrificed by ‘God’s soldiers’ who wish to kill her to save millions.
End of Days isn’t clever or subtle. The film sought to exploit the coming of the new millennium and the ramblings of the fringe few who believed it meant the end of the world. It fancies itself as inspired by the gritty Se7en but Hyam’s lacks adventure in his direction to bring that ode to true fruition. It exists along a straight line, in the shadow of far better films that tread in the murky darkness of religious apocalypse. The Omen, The Seventh Sign and others explored these themes, but didn’t rely upon action and explosions to dramatize their points. They instead played along a tense edge upon which they teased the nerves and cleverly held our attention. It is the heavy handedness and trite script that are most damaging to End of Days; subtle, serious and somber elements that should have anchored the plot and counter-balanced Arnie’s mostly stiff performance are too few to help.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the ex New York City cop with more edge than he typically displays. His character is circling the drain as a ‘for hire’ security agent. He toils with depression, flirting with suicide and angry at God for the fate that befell his murdered wife and daughter. And he handles those moments better than you might expect. His performance during some scenes suffers at the hands of the script, as his dialogue churns slowly in his mouth like clothes in a tumble drier before ploddingly falling out, but the depression exhibited in the opening and his revelation in the final scenes seem to work.
Gabriel Byrne enjoys the role of the Devil incarnate, with a few delicious lines that pour sleekly from his mouth. But in what should have been the films most tantalizing battle of wits, as the Devil tests Jericho’s resolve by tempting him with the return of his wife and child, all we get is a moment that devolves into a scene of domestic disagreement. Some clumsiness in dialogue detracts from the brooding and ominous nature that Byrnes creates, but overall it is an effective dark lord that we see mesmerize and menace on the eve of the year 2000.
Robin Tunney isn’t the strongest actress, but does fine with what is essentially the damsel in distress role of Christine York. Only when she asks for a weapon as she and Jericho escape from the chanting, sacrificial chamber during one of the films action set pieces (in the subway) does the character spark of tenacity or independence. Rounding out the core cast is Kevin Pollack. The wisecracking Bobby Chicago, sidekick to Schwarzenegger’s disconsolate drunk, provides the films only light moments. He does well here; is likeable and draws us in just enough to make the later critical scene with him matter in the way that it was designed to.
Written by Andrew Marlow (Air Force One, Hollow Man) and directed by Peter Hyams, End of Days isn’t what it could be but does seem to stand out among Arnold’s icons latter few movies. At least as far as stretching him and changing up what we might have expected. I remember hearing about the idea for this film as it entered pre-production and I was excited. Think of it, Arnold Schwarzenegger going mano e mano with the Devil himself in New York City, how could that not be great? The idea is action movie gold. But what we got instead was a film uncommitted to action or thriller, winding up as an uncomfortable hybrid of religious apocalyptic thriller and Arnie action vehicle.
Even Hyam’s as the choice for Director seems at odds with the material, or tone. His signature look and feel permeates every frame as he once again serves as both director and cinematographer. And his familiar low-lit ambience and low angle camera slowly training into and out of scenes are consistent throughout. His style is distinct and I am a great fan of it, but in the end it seems unsuited for the grittier material in the script.
Universal Studios bows End of Days on blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Dust, dirt, debris are quickly noticeable and the dark, bleak cinematography on display allows some scene details to be lost in the shadows. Having said that, many scenes, including all the daylight moments are visibly improved over the standard DVD editions, with a sharpness and clarity pleasing for this nine year old film. Film grain is faithfully preserved here so you will not suffer any unnatural waxy smoothness from the image. Occasionally, the light source on screen is too low to make out features but, since Hyams loves the shadows and filling frames with swaths of blacked out space, this appears faithful to the director’s intentions.
A moment or two of softness will be spotted that, coupled with the surprising level of dust and whatnot on the print, takeaway from the overall quality.
Universal Studios continues to treat our ears with great audio tracks on their blu-ray releases. Here we get a solid English DTS-HD master audio 5.1 plus Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks. John Debney’s score, with a haunting boy soprano signifies the opening of the film and, with the signature theme, immediately demonstrate the clean sound this blu-ray offers. I was impressed. The film has a number of explosions, deep rumbling scenes and lots of gunplay that stretch their legs comfortably through the speakers. Bass in the front channels and LFE in the subwoofer are heavy and brooding while dialogue, gunshots and raking fire are heard crisply – a more than satisfying audio track for this dark film.
End of Days find's itself on blu-ray without all the great supplements from the DVD collectors edition, except for the commentary by the director. A shame.
Feature Commentary with Director Peter Hyams - Peter Hyams doesn’t imbue this audio commentary with the most insightful information, and there are times when more could be said about the technical or artistic aspects of the scene, but what we do have here is an interesting example of a director commenting on a film that did not set the box office alight as expected. Some comments appear a little defensive, but Hyams remains complimentary of his cast and crew.
End of Days wasn’t and isn’t a success. An amalgam of thriller and action odds and ends, it pursues neither aggressively enough to make the grade. The promise of the concept remains just that and perhaps at a different time in Arnie’s career, we may have been given just what we expected. The film can be enjoyed for some of what it tries, particularly the more horror laden action, but competing with the action film it needs to be is a thriller that it fails to be. The actors don’t have a smart enough script to make a meal of and even the casting of Rod Steiger as Father Kovak is wasted with perfunctory religious disgorging.
Arnie fans, have your fill. Action fans or smart thriller fans – wait for the remake in about 91 years.