by Nick Orsini
Flash back to: Super Bowl Sunday. 1PM. I am not buying chips or dip for the party I'm hosting in just a few hours. I am not ordering pizzas, picking up cases of Keystone Light, or grabbing some bags of plastic silverware. I am at Shotsie's Tattoo in North Jersey letting a grizzly man draw a permanent image on my body. The image? You've seen it before. It's the patch on the jackets of all the main characters in John Carpenter's The Thing. The mark of everyone working at Outpost 31. Science fiction saved my life. My parents gave me VHS copies of Star Wars when I still had a peach-fuzz poopy mustache. I made my final college thesis presentation on Blade Runner and birth of the sci-fi-as-western genre. I am probably not the final authority on sci-fi. These days, with the internet opening the window and allowing the nerd breeze to blow back the curtains of all that is justifiable and cool, nothing is sacred. Someone will be more nerdy than me. This isn't me trying to stack my lightsaber wood up against the blogosphere so we can have a nerd pissing contest. This is an article about the twenty-eight minutes and fifty-five seconds I can never get back.
Science fiction has hit an absolute and dismal low. I'm talking about The Darkest Hour. Released on Christmas Day, 2011, the film is currently wearing it's 11% on Rotten Tomatoes like bruises after a beating. Back in December, I went back and forth with my roommate about seeing the film in theaters. It was only playing in 3D, which meant that a ticket and snacks would cost about $30. I watched the trailer like a jackass. There was Emile Hirsch, awesome in Into the Wild. There was Max Minghella, who held his own in Art School Confidential. There was Olivia Thirlby, a sex kitten in The Wackness. I was sold. Then I saw the run time. The film stands under 90 minutes. Take into account opening and end credits, maybe you'd get 75 minutes of actual story. I was on the fence. A cool concept (electric aliens invading and highjacking Moscow) mixed with a decent cast, in the end, couldn't overcome the almighty dollar (and the abysmal reviews that started pouring in). I spent that $30 on some used t-shirts and a trip to the Chinese buffet.
Months later, film resource JoBlo.com told me that The Darkest Hour was hitting DVD. My Netflix queue was updated and, about two days ago, the film arrived in my mail slot. A used t-shirt will never make you feel helpless or worthless. A trip to the Chinese buffet won't make you feel like you wasted a gigantic portion of your day, week, month, or year. Funny... The Darkest Hour was so offensively bad that not only did I feel worthless and defeated; I also found myself wondering what types of things I could fit into those 30 minutes I wasted on the movie. 30 minutes? The film is 89 minutes long...but I never made it that far.
I won't go in-depth about what's wrong with The Darkest Hour. I won't tell you how the acting is so stilted, it feels like you're watching an exercise in the rebirth of vaudeville. I won't talk about the script, which features such lines as, "No human society ever went without booze or religion, which is why I drink religiously." I won't even talk about the special effects because, well, I turned the movie off after 28:55 (the time stamp is on my DVD player as we speak). I didn't even want to process the film because I didn't care enough. I am not an authority to review this film because, after this article, I will do my best to never think of TDH again.
When you watch a film, specifically a sci-fi film about aliens, there are certain things you care about. You care about what happens to the main character(s). You care about what happens to the film's setting. Does the city get destroyed? Can earth survive? You care about what the aliens look like. You wait patiently to see the big reveal. You get bits and pieces ...an alien mouth here, a claw there ...but to see all the pieces put together ...that's worth waiting for. I turned The Darkest Hour off early because not only did I care so little about everything a film is supposed to make you care about ...but because I had utterly lost faith, for a moment, in the entire sci-fi genre. I had to stop the hemorrhaging before it was too late.
I wear my Thing tattoo with pride because I know, for every Darkest Hour and Skyline there will be a District 9 or Children of Men. I know what came before ...when Ripley opened the airlock. When "It's a shame she won't live, but then again who does?" was yelled through the rain. When we were told that no, in fact, those aren't the droids we're looking for. You know what? Screw it ...watch The Darkest Hour for yourself. You have to see the worst to appreciate the best. I couldn't make it past the first half-hour, but maybe you can. Maybe the promise of the "big reveal" is enough ...or maybe you can just Google search "darkest hour alien".
Nick Orsini is a writer and bearded New Jersey guy. His work can be found here.