Lion's Gate Home Entertainment / 1998 / 94 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: January 11, 1999
The short-lived author Franz Kafka produced some of the most tortured, oppressive, anxiety-laden prose of the twentieth century. Perhaps the best known of his works is The Trial, a novel that describes an innocent man prosecuted and put to death for undisclosed crimes by an inscrutable court of law. If you omit the arrest and trial, place not one but seven bewildered victims in a mysterious complex of thousands of interconnecting, futuristic, potentially lethal cubical chambers, mix in a generous dollop of Twilight Zone and a splash of X-Files, you then have the delicious premise of Cube.
Before the name of the film appears on the screen, we're introduced to the cube from the point of view of one of its confused prisoners, Alderson (Julian Richings). He finds himself in a cubical chamber whose walls are covered with glowing panels that resemble a cross between modern art and a printed circuit board. Each of the chamber's six faces has a door at its geometric center. Each door leads to another chamber, identical with the exception of its color. Some chambers are safe. Some chambers are lethal, containing invisible traps that slice, dice, gas, melt, burn, and impale (to name a few).
A small group of prisoners begins to stumble onto one another and congregates in one of the safe chambers. They seem to have been drawn at random from American society. There's a policeman, Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), a student of mathematics, Leaven (Nicole de Boer), a psychiatrist, Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), an engineer, Worth (David Hewlett), an ex-convict that specializes in brilliant escapes, Rennes (Wayne Robson), and a young autistic man, Kazan (Andrew Miller). They're all dressed in what appear to be prison uniforms, their last names printed on their jackets. There is no food. There is no water. There are no guards. There are only cubes. Fear and confusion prevail. None have any recollection of how they got there. None understand why, for they're innocents.
Quentin, the strongest personality, quickly assumes a leadership role. But Rennes has already discovered the cubes' dangers and has devised a clever means of testing each chamber before entering. He throws his boot into a cube and recovers it by pulling it back with a pair of long shoelaces, strung together, connecting the boot to his hand. If the cube doesn't react, it's safe. He believes he has the skills to escape and warns the others that they had better keep up or risk being left behind. Alas, the sensors are far more complex than Rennes realizes and the boot will prove a false security.
As the desperate band dwindles, paranoia and suspicion peel away the veneer of any remaining civility. Each person reveals more and more of his or her hidden nature. But there is another more significant transition. The nature of the cube - the way it works rather than its purpose - is also slowly revealed. And as that knowledge is exploited, the weak become strong, the useless become valuable, the good become evil, and skills not initially apparent become critical to any possibility of escape. Will the prisoners learn who placed them in the cube? Will they learn why? Will they survive to escape? Will the cube kill them or will they kill each other?
The film was shot in only three weeks, and was made for only a quarter million dollars (it grossed almost twice that in a short two and one-half month theatrical run). Yet, Cube has the distinction of holding the viewer's interest for an hour and a half despite having been filmed on a single set whose interior dimensions measure 14 feet by 14 feet by 14 feet. The screenwriters melded clever touches associated with the number six. Did you notice the protagonists' last names? (Think prisons). And a very complex numbering system, critical to understanding the cubes within a cube, actually works. Interesting layers of complexities. Perhaps that's why Cube won the 1997 Best Canadian First Feature Film Award at the Toronto International Film Festival for co-writer/director Vincenzo Natali. (And yes, Leaven is indeed played by the same Nicole de Boer who portrays Lt. Ezri Dax on Deep Space Nine.) If I had to express any criticism, it would be that the dialog is sometimes a bit forced. Otherwise, highly recommended. Cube has the potential of becoming the next cult film.
Video: How Does The Disc Look?
The DVD is presented in 4:3 letterbox; but, since the film was shot as 1.85:1, the image is acceptable. Although the box claims that the DVD was digitally mastered, the video appears to my eye to be derived from D2 composite videotape. The image has a very slight vertical jitter, only obvious during stationary credits. The color, black level, and noise level are reasonable.
Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?
The audio is Dolby 2.0 surround only. Music and sound effects are not an issue. I didn't notice any surround information. The dialog is always clear, which is fortunate, since all is revealed through character interaction.
There are no other language or subtitle options included.
Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
There are a surprising number of extras on a DVD for such a small independent film. There are three deleted scenes (in very grainy full frame video). There are numerous screens of both production art and storyboards. The film's trailer is included as are three hidden trailers for Slam, The Curve, and Carnival of Souls. These may be accessed by highlighting the Trimark logo on the lower right of the main menu screen. All trailers are full frame. Spanish and French subtitles are available. Unfortunately, the DVD starts with its opening menu rather than the film. Finally, there's an interesting commentary track shared by director/co-writer Vincenzo Natali, co-writer Andre Bijelic, and actor David Hewlett.
DVD-ROM Exclusives: What do you get when you pop the disc in your PC?
No ROM extras have been included.
I'm fascinated by the concept of a film made in such a limited space, and I very much enjoyed the characters' having to work out a mathematical puzzle to escape from a nightmarish prison. This is a fascinating story presented with a decent transfer and soundrack. The supplements are above average, making this one worth a look.