Plot: What’s it about?
I’m sure I’ve said this in another review, but in case I haven’t I’ll say it here: wouldn’t it be cool if there was an alien movie in which aliens came to Earth and we just kicked their ass! I mean, seriously, why has no one thought of this as a plot for a movie? And if they have, how come I haven’t heard of it? But I suppose it’s cooler to have beings from another planet and incinerate us on contact. Bleh. Well, at any rate it won’t affect the plot of this movie and I find it somewhat ironic that I just did a list of the best “End of the World” films out there. Had I done this list a few weeks later, The Darkest Hour would have surely made the cut. Nevertheless, if you’ve seen movies like this then this one won’t re-invent the wheel. It’s a pretty safe concept, actually: aliens come down to Earth, destroy everything, a scant amount of humans remain and learn how to fight back (read: kill) the enemy. The end.
Every movie needs a plot and for what it’s worth we’ve got two twenty-somethings in Moscow: Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella). Sean and Ben are trying to sell their app to a company but found out that the slimy Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has beat them to the punch. Sensing defeat, they head to a bar to drown their sorrows only to meet two very attractive English-speaking girls (what are the odds?). Just as the party’s getting started, the power goes out, cell phones die and thousands of lighted objects fall from the sky. No big deal, right? These objects start turning people into ash and the quintet (oh, I forgot to mention that Skylar was also at the bar and is now forced to work with his “enemies”) takes refuge in a cellar. After a few days they venture out to see a devastated Moscow and assume that the entire world’s population has been exterminated. Now they’ve got to survive and see if they can figure out how to defeat the alien presence else it’s only a matter of time before their ticket is punched. The question is…how?
Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and watch a movie in which you can tell how it’ll play out from the 10 minute mark. The Darkest Hour is one of those films. But there’s some fun in it and I do think Emile Hirsch is a great actor – why he took this role is beyond me, though. As I’m sure others have noted, this film bore a striking resemblance to another guilty pleasure of mine: Pitch Black. Granted that took place on an alien planet and, well, in the dark, but there were some obvious parallels. We know the jerk will die, we know that at least one of the male leads will make it to the end with at least one of the female leads and we know that no matter what the odds, the supposedly unbeatable alien life form will have some sort of weakness. We know that. Still, it’s a fun way to check your brain at the door for 89 minutes.
Video: How does it look?
I’m continually amazed at how good some films can look. I often channel surf and see some films that are only a decade old and even in “HD” they seem to look aged and dated. This isn’t the case with The Darkest Hour, shot digitally and the 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer impressed the hell out of me. Definition in the background buildings is amazing and the skin and flesh tones seem like you could reach out and touch them. There’s some interesting segments in which the aliens “see” us that’s taken right out of Pitch Black (and before that, Predator). It’s a very interesting visual and one that’s been done before. Black levels are on the mark and as a majority of this film takes place at night, the picture is never compromised. There are a few instances of banding, so that’ll prohibit a perfect score, but it’s the next best thing.
Audio: How does it sound?
The good thing about a science-fiction film is that it will, more likely than not, have a good soundtrack. Thankfully this is the case here and the DTS HD Master Audio mix is one of the most realistic and lifelike I’ve heard in a while. Dialogue is strong and well-balanced, but what really impressed me was the use of the front speakers and their transition to the rears. There’s always a certain ambiance to most of the scenes that really immerse you into the film. Surround effects are used with great effect and LFE get their fair share of screen time as well. While not the perfect mix, it’s very close and a very impressive experience.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While not bursting at the seams with supplemental material, we do get a bevy of extras that’s worth checking out. First up is “Survivors”, an 8 minute short based on the world in the film that’s fairly interesting (some might say better than the film itself). “The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion” is a look at the unique visual effects in the film and how they came to be. There are some deleted and extended scenes and why they weren’t placed in the film is beyond me – at under 90 minutes the film could have stood to be a bit longer. Finally we do have an audio commentary by director Chris Gorak who gives a pretty informative track with tidbits about the shoot, similarities to another “Russian” film and all the trials and tribulations of shooting in Russia. It’s actually a decent track and Gorak is obviously very proud of his work here. The movie is also available in 3D (shocker, right?) though that’s not the version reviewed here.