The Hidden, and why even dumb pitchers got rools

Friday 12 February 2010

A guest post from the vaults of the Airforce Amazons’ Surveillance Section, where special agent Ray Butler has been watching the tapes.

Recorded in 2006.

You know the feeling. Trudging out of the Multiplex or pulling the tape out of the machine, your brain numb and your heart heavy, and all because you thought something with a 1000ft cybernetic mutant terrorising three major cities at once could not fail. I mean, some nights you don’t want Shakespeare, right? You want spaceships or cops or zombie space cops from the future, and that’s OK. I know some heartless bastards are sitting out there thinking we genre-fans only get what we deserve, but it seems to me that is wasn’t always like this, that the terms ‘sci-fi/action/horror’ and ‘soul-destroying’ didn’t always go together like peas in a pod.

I was thinking about this because I've just seen ‘The Hidden’, a no-nonsense, get-the-job-done cops ’n’ aliens flick from 1987. By the time the opening credits have rolled, we’ve already seen a bank robbery, niftily shot through a security camera, and we’re dumped right into a good old fashioned, eighties car-chase. We’re in L.A., and a plain, ordinary Joe Citizen has suddenly gone batshit, knocking over banks, stealing Ferraris and shooting anyone that tries to stop him. Det. Thomas Beck, (Michael Nouri) a straight-up guy and family man to boot, is not standing for this kind of carry-on on his beat, and the aforementioned car chase ends when the nutjob meets Beck’s roadblock and is very, very hospitalised. Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (the great Kyle MacLachlan) turns up looking for him, only to be told to go home, your guy’s almost a flatline, so much for the cavalry etc. The freakazoid dies, of course, but before he does we see him, and there’s no other way to describe this, puke a giant slug thing into his fellow patient’s mouth. Then off the new guy goes, and the familiar M.O. of savage killer with a taste for fast cars and metal music is detected in several incidents around the city. Now Beck is puzzled, intrigued, the whole thing and so he and Agent Gallagher form a partnership that is, in the finest Hollywood tradition, reluctant.

There you have it. It’s definitely an old formula, a chase movie basically, with a body-hopping space worm to give it a new spin. So why is it different from an ‘Armageddon’ or an ‘Astronaut’s Wife’? Why is not going to give you a headache from not caring? It’s all in the telling; Jack Sholder’s direction keeps the pace up, and by pace, I don’t mean patronising attention grabbing - no, no. There’s none of that rapid cutting, multiple film stock, Olly Stone type bullshit here, just the requisite amount of time for the information in the scene to be imparted, and nothing more. It’s tight to match Jim Kouf’s script (credited here as ‘Bob Hunt’), which is inventive, warm-hearted and even a little satirical at times; there’s nothing flashy or over ambitious, just enough to make you care what happens to these people.

And isn’t that what it’s all about, suspension of disbelief? Sinking into the dream of the film and not waking up ’til the credits roll? This is cinema’s beautiful sleight of hand; you think it’s the exploding Statue of Liberty that delivers the big thrill, but it’s not. Even in a genre picture, if all the various elements required for you to feel peril on the character’s behalf are not properly drawn together, no magic will occur and your brain is just going to hate you for hurting it with this mush. (It’ll punish you later when you ‘accidentally’ spill your pint over a beautiful woman in the pub). I know trash is not a new thing, it just seems that Hollywood has almost perfected its anti-individuality, anti-innovation machine. The process of script doctor to test audience, test audience to script doctor and so on has been refined to a degree where most product is purged of anything that might possibly offend anyone, anywhere in the world. This pleases the market researchers because movies are getting more expensive to make every year (especially when goofballs like James Cameron keep upping the ante), and if you offend a certain demographic, you may lose quite a chunk of change. But this system can only work against the subtler aspects of film-making, (invention is an unknown commodity, therefore invention equals risk) resulting in the soulless, cliched, computer driven behemoths given birth to by the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer or Roland Emmerich, who constantly try to distract you from the gaping hole at the heart of their pictures by making everything faster, Brighter, LOUDER! Hence the headaches.

So the next time you despair for the dying art of the big-budget ‘B’ picture, go bother your local video store for a copy of ‘The Hidden’. It isn’t going to change your life, but you know that. It’s just a genre picture that plays by the rules, but plays with them enough to pull you in, and keep you there ’til the end. It’s a good movie. You can tell by the way it doesn’t hurt your brain.