BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Darkest Hour
A lackluster, apocalyptic, effects-laden sci-fi film hits home video...
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Every year there are sci-fi and fantasy movies which hit theaters and arrive direct to video that focus more on cool special effects than a solid plot and quality acting. While I'm a fan of any and all sci-fi and fantasy and I will watch any and all sci-fi and fantasy at least once, I'm much more likely to enjoy a movie (and watch it multiple times!) if the plot is well-written and the actors believable and engaging. Gorgeous special effect do not an enjoyable movie make...though they certainly don't hurt either. Thus enters the American-born, Moscow-set The Darkest Hour, which recently hit home video.
While The Darkest Hour isn't the worst of the recent crop of sci-fi films to hit home video, it's certainly no where near the top. The story - which follows a couple of young American techies-turned-businessmen in Moscow pitching their software ideas to a Russian conglomerate - lacks any sort of subtlety or fineness and boldly and without regard, rushes headlong into the film's somewhat erratic premise: the alien apocalypse.
So what would you do were you an American stuck overseas when aliens decide to invade the Earth and reap it of all its natural resources? If you're anything like The Darkest Hour five protagonists, you run, you hide, you discover other survivors and relate your confusing and underwhelming stories, you run and hide some more, and then you use a Hodge-podge of household appliances and electronics to do what brilliant scientists and well-armed militaries from all over the world couldn't do: fight the invisible, energy-based aliens which kill humans on contact.
Of course, I'm being a bit overly-simplistic in my description of the plot, but The Darkest Hour - with its beautiful, inventive, and impressive special effects - features a lackluster story and a few plot devices which may leave some sci-fi fans gagging. I had high hopes for this inventive idea as I'm always excited to see another alien invasion movie; especially if one of my favorite filmmaker's - Timur Bekmambetov - is producing.
The Darkest Hour does have a few moments to shine. The cast - which includes Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, and Rachael Taylor as Americans Sean, Ben, Natalie, and Anne as well as the always impressive Joel Kinnaman as the foreign businessman Skyler - do a decent job of staying relateable and likeable considering the script is, at times, dry as dust. I often found myself wondering "Why are you doing that?" and, of course this being sci-fi, anything can happen, but there are just some things that are completely unforgivable and too cliche, even in a modern day sci-fi movie.
The one thing I was impressed with was writer Jon Spaihts' ability to kill off main characters. Just when you started to actually like someone, the dreaded aliens would show up and disintegrate them. Most sci-fi films are predictable when it comes to who's going to live and die, but The Darkest Hour spares no one. It doesn't matter how well armed, knowledgeable, or even likeable you are; the aliens could - and probably will - get you. Your favorite character could be the next one evaporated by an energy alien, and that's sometimes the only reason to keep watching.
While the film remains open for a sequel (which I hope never gets made), it's cool to see the good guys on the ropes. I personally enjoy a bit of realism in my sci-fi and, with movies like Battle: LA ending with the good guys pulling off a dramatic win at the buzzer, it's hard for me to understand how a far superior alien race could ever be defeated by a bunch of bullet-throwing skin bags. Good on us for trying, but aliens aren't going to come thousands of light years just to get killed...unless there those aliens from War of the Worlds.
Thankfully, the video and audio are brilliant and beautiful. The 1080p video is clear, crisp, and clean with bright colors showcasing the gorgeous effects. The invisible aliens with their electric trails and tails make for a menacing foe that'll have the darkened landscape alight and frightening to watch. Likewise, the film's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack really hits home and delivers an inviting sound stage with plenty of dynamics that'll have movie lovers appreciating every speaker. Everything from the crashing and breaking of the environment and the report of automatic gunfire to the dissolving and evaporating of frantic humans comes through with crystal-clear precision. While the film may not be that impressive, the video and audio do their darnedest to make up for it.
As for special features, The Darkest Hours includes a few which cater to those who enjoy the movie. A short 8-minute "Survivors" expands on the story told in the feature film while a longer, 12-minute "The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion" reveals the process of creating the visual effects. There are nearly 5-minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes with or without director commentary as well as a feature length audio commentary with director Chris Gorak. Gorak discusses everything from the film's production, cast, and shooting location (Moscow) to working in 3D (yes, there is a 3D version available), the film's plot, special effects, and more. Personally, I found much of the film more entertaining watching it with the commentary as I at least learned a little about how the film was made and why certain things were done.
The Darkest Hour is far from good sci-fi. In fact, it's mediocre at best and - at worst - it's the reason why the average moviegoer is apprehensive to pay for sci-fi at the box office. All too often, sci-fi is billed as gorgeous to watch and little else. Lacking in any real story or emotional resolution, too many sci-fi movies leave viewers unsatisfied and thus turn off these moviegoers from the sci-fi that doesn't suck. There's plenty of well-told, dynamic, and entertaining sci-fi out there, including 1997's Event Horizon, 2007's Sunshine, 2009's Moon, and 2009's Pandorum to name a few. Unfortunately, many audiences overlooked these diamonds in the rough because they're jaded by films like The Darkest Hour.
If you're a fan of sci-fi, alien invasions, the alien apocalypse, or a fan of watching Moscow get destroyed (yup, all you holdover Cold War freaks are gonna love this!), then The Darkest Hour may be what you're looking for. If not, my suggestion is rent one of the previously mentioned "diamonds in the rough" and watch some underrated sci-fi that's well acted, well written, and features solid storytelling.
The Darkest Hour is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language and is available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley
Re: BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Darkest Hour
Good review. Saw this over the weekend. I thought it was - as you point out - very inventive and it did a good job at the beginning keeping you enthralled with it's "rules of engagement". The ending, however, felt to me poorly edited and rushed (the chick being in the water one second... way up onshore the next... WTH?!) and while their homemade weapon was a cool idea, got stale due to the overused "it's jammed" ploy (not to mention, where'd they get that 2nd one at the end?)
Worth a watch, though. You can do much worse.