Memoirs of an Invisible Man [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (13th September 2018).
The Film

Confession time: for years I was completely dismissive of the film I blamed for breaking up director John Carpenter’s perfect run of features from 1976 until 1992 - when “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” was released. I was too young to see it in theaters at the time, and even though I became a Carpenter fan not long after it just always seemed… dumb, I guess. Chevy Chase in a Carpenter movie? It wouldn’t register. Then, when the film was finally released on DVD in 2003 I watched it – and promptly kicked myself in the ass. Despite the popular conception, this is not a bad movie.

What it also isn’t, though, is a “John Carpenter” movie. How could it be? Chase commandeered this vehicle, after having secured the rights to H.F. Saint’s 1987 novel of the same name. Ivan Reitman was going to direct. The project was set up at Warner Brothers. The boys were back at it! Only Chase wanted to segue into more dramatic acting, something that didn’t sit right with Reitman. He left/was fired/who knows. Richard Donner nearly got the gig before someone suggested John Carpenter. “The “Halloween” (1978) guy?” Both he and Chase had a pigeonhole to escape – and unfortunately this film provided no safe passage. As with nearly every picture of his that preceded this one, Carpenter was once again ahead of his time and saddled with critical reviews and tepid box office numbers. No wonder the man comes off as an old grump these days (unless he’s on stage playing music); his work is getting the kind of reception now that it needed upon release. I’d be a little ticked, too.

The film begins in media res as Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase) is being chased by government agents – but he’s invisible and able to avoid their eyes. He breaks into an electronics store, sets up a camcorder, and begins to unspool the events of the past several weeks. Nick was a stock analyst before his incident, living a carefree life devoid of close personal relationships, family, or a strong work ethic. His solitude is reluctantly broken when his friend George (Michael McKean) runs into Nick at a bar and insists he meet Alice (Darryl Hannah), a television producer. The two have an immediate connection, making out like high schoolers and setting a date for the near future. Those plans are scuttled, however, after Nick attends a shareholder’s meeting at Magnascopic Laboratories, where boredom looms so large he decides to sneak downstairs to catch a nap. He asks a scientist for directions to the bathroom, causing the man to inadvertently knock over a cup of coffee onto his work station computer. A catastrophic series of electrical failures causes a mass evacuation of the building… with the exception of Nick, who remains fast asleep in seclusion. An explosion (of sorts) occurs.

When he comes to, Nick learns he has somehow been turned invisible – clothing and all. The building in which he slept looks like it’s been blown apart, but in reality huge chunks of it are just as invisible, too. The government sends in a team to control the situation, led by David Jenkins (Sam Neill), a distrustful operative. After overhearing potential plans the government has for his unique body, Nick escapes and hides out at a private club he frequents. His only hope seems to lie with the doctor in charge of Magnascopic Labs, Dr. Bernard Wachs (Jim Norton), but in order to meet him Nick has to contend with Jenkins and his men on his tail – and even then there’s no guarantee he can ever return to his previous life.

Despite being a studio film – one which went through several stages of development hell to be made – Carpenter delivers on this woeful tale of a man who was already invisible before an accident claims his visual identity. Nick has no ties to anyone or anything, and it’s doubtful a single person outside of his secretary noticed once he effectively disappeared. Chase keeps the humor to a minimum, only allowing slight laughs to creep out when something situational calls for it. Otherwise, he’s a melancholy dude, making the best of a fantastic accident and trying to avoid being turned into a government guinea pig. Chase is actually a good dramatic actor, but some people couldn’t buy him in a serious role no matter how well he did. His work is even more impressive with the knowledge so many of his scenes were shot wearing blue make-up, mouth paint, blue contact lenses, special blue clothing…

…and that’s because all the tech being employed for this film was new. How new? Like, they were figuring the technology out as they were making the movie - that new. Every bit of CGI seen here was cutting edge at the time. This was 1992, a year before “Jurassic Park” (1993), so what audiences saw was highly impressive. Many scenes still hold up by today’s standards, which is a testament to the work of ILM. The scene with make-up being applied to Chase’s face looks authentic and not like some cheap CGI trick, for example.

Hannah makes for a fine love interest, though she doesn’t exactly have a whole lot to do here. Sam Neill is great as the villain, delivering a performance that’s cunning and unsurprisingly ruthless. Stephen Tobolowsky pops up as Neill’s superior. He doesn’t do anything of note; I just love seeing him in movies. McKean is spot-on as Nick’s slightly douche-y buddy. Carpenter didn’t do the music this time around, but composer Shirley Walker delivers a score more in the vein of classic Hollywood, with a soaring main theme and frequent use of strings & horns to sell Nick’s wild adventures and low moments. “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” won’t ever go down as one of Carpenter’s best films, but it is a much better movie than most would be led to believe.

Video

Until now, the film was only available on Blu-ray in Japan and Germany. Scream! Factory debuts it stateside with a 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that is a clear improvement over the old DVD most of us have. Film grain remains heavy, especially during effects-heavy scenes, but fine detail is sharp and lifelike. Black levels are penetrating and dark. Visually, this is an average looking film that, again, doesn’t really feel like classic Carpenter but cinematographer William A. Fraker shot a solid studio picture.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is a straight forward delivery of the film’s theatrical experience. Dialogue is strongly balanced within the mix and never lost or too low. Walker’s score is nuanced and punctual, roaring in lossless for the first time. I don’t think Carpenter’s usual style of scoring would have worked for this picture. John likely agreed, too, which is why the two of them worked together again on “Escape from L.A.” (1996). optional subtitles included in English only.

Extras

“How to Become Invisible: The Dawn of Digital FX” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 4 minutes and 11 seconds. This all-too-brief piece talks about the early days of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and what it took to get this film made.

“Vintage Interviews with Director John Carpenter, Actors Chevy Chase and Darryl Hannah” (SD) featurette runs for 5 minutes and 23 seconds. Again, this is far too short but there is some great insight provided by the three interviewed here. Chase really seems to be taking things seriously.

“Behind-the-Scenes Footage” (SD) featurette runs for 5 minutes and 7 seconds.

Outtakes (SD) runs for 3 minutes and 9 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 1 second.

10 (!) TV spots (1080p) run for 4 minutes and 11 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

Unfairly maligned since its release, “Memoirs” is a well-made studio picture that succeeds because it was in such capable hands. A lesser director, or one predisposed to comedy, could have made this a disaster – easily. Instead, it’s a shockingly sublime film about the unexpected side effects of a much-fantasized wish. Scream! Factory’s Blu-ray delivers on the A/V quality, as well as offering up a small-but-worthy selection of vintage features.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


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