Box certainly sounded like a good idea at the time . . .
Here is a movie that (a) was directed by a talented and
idiosyncratic newcomer, namely Richard Kelly who made a splash with the
cult Donnie Darko hit; and (b) is based
on a bona fide science fiction story by I Am
Legend scribe Richard Matheson.
Add to this an evocative mid-1970s setting centred on a
real historical event (the Viking probe landing on Mars) along with
literary quotes by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur C. Clarke.
Heck, the movie even has input by long-time Clarke collaborator Gentry
Lee, who actually makes a cameo appearance in the film!
Besides, the film is centred around a crackerjack moral
dilemma: would you accept a million dollars (back in 1976 this was still a
shit load of money!) if you knew taking it will lead to a complete
stranger's death, but with no consequences to your own actions?
This is the moral dilemma facing the thirtysomething
couple played by James Marsden (X-Men) and
Cameron Diaz in The Box.
Audiences weren't however as keen on this particular
moral dilemma as they were on the one in Indecent Proposal back in
1993. (?Would you sleep with Robert Redford for one million dollars??
Heck, back then most women would do it for free! Don't know about nowadays
though . . .)
Audiences stayed away in droves and The Box wound
up being one of last year's biggest financial flops, the sort that
destroys careers, particularly in the case of young director Kelly who
already has an unmitigated disaster (Southland
Tales) on his CV.
The movie's biggest problem is that it takes what is the
neat premise behind a six-page short story and tries to expand upon it to
fill up a 116 minute-long feature film. The Box tries to stretch
out the material by trying to answer the obvious question, "who would go
around spending one million dollars per shot on behaviour psychology
[PLOT SPOILERS!] Well, aliens of course!
All of which makes The Box an extended version of those old
Star Trek episodes in which superior
alien entities try to figure out whether humanity is worth saving or not -
can people be altruistic and self-sacrificing, or are we just a bunch of
jerks who are trying to screw one another over as Ripley maintained in
Aliens? Why bother rigging up elaborate experiments if all you need to
do is check out the daily newspapers to find an answer to that question?
(In that case, the aliens would probably be nuking us from orbit or
whatever in no time then!) [END SPOILERS!]
THE DISC: Now you can experience some of the most
hideous 'Seventies wallpaper known to man in 1080p 16x9 high definition - yay!
Seriously though, The Box's production designers
seem to have OD'ed on James Lileks' coffee table book from hell,
Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s, before
starting work on this film!
The various featurettes are on the short and dry side.
Director Kelly's commentary is however worth sitting through in its
entirety, especially if you didn't follow a word of what was going on in
the movie itself. Kelly explains all. He also explains in detail how he
mixed real-life autobiographical details into the movie (the onscreen
couple are in fact heavily inspired by his own parents).
WORTH IT? Unfortunately director Kelly couldn't
repeat his early Donnie Darko success
with The Box. The film lacks any of the brooding menace and
suspense that made Darko so memorable. Maybe the success lay in Michael
Andrews? haunting score for that movie, who knows?
The Box is too simplistic on
the one hand and too muddled on the other.
Towards the end the various plot strands simply fall
apart and one gets the idea that Kelly is simply trying to be weird for
weirdness' sake. (This is however not the case. On his director's
commentary he lucidly explains the plot logic behind onscreen events. Pity
one needs a voice-over commentary to follow what the heck is going on in
the first place!)