End of Days

(1999) * 1/2 R
123 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Peter Hyams. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollack, Robin Tunney, CCH Pounder.

/content/films/3198/4.jpgIf you ever wanted to see Arnold Schwarzenegger crucified, End of Days is the movie for you. Four years before he became California's governor, the Austrian Oak tangled with Satan in this horror thriller from Peter Hyams. It's one of a slew of Catholic-exploitation pictures that date back to the '70s heyday of The Exorcist and The Omen: these things tend to be cheap to produce and apparently make back their money. But when Schwarzenegger is involved, "cheap" usually isn't the word. "Ridiculous," yes. "Cheap," no.

Schwarzenegger plays ex-cop Jericho Cane. (Pause to enjoy symbolic, macho-sounding character name. Proceed.) Because he now runs an elite NYC security firm, Cane still has access to plenty of firepower, which he uses when Gabriel Byrne's Satan (credited as "The Man") comes to town to marry and thereby trigger the Apocalypse. A prologue set in 1979 establishes the birth of Satan's intended, watched over by devil's disciples Udo Kier and Miriam Margolyes. Twenty years later, with the world partying like it's 1999 in the last week of the milennium, Satan's ready to seal the deal with hapless damsel-in-distress Christine York (Robin Tunney).

That's about the long and the short of it, with Cane investigating the increasingly strange goings on with compatriot Bobby Chicago (pause to enjoy wise-ass, street-smart character name), played by Kevin Pollak. There's no serious theology here (the closest thing is quoting Baudelaire's line, popularized in the Byrne-Pollak movie The Usual Suspects: "Satan's greatest trick was convincing man he didn't exist"). Instead, Hyams (who does his own cinematography) focuses on making a convincing case that End of Days is an action picture by orchestrating a chase involving dangling Arnie from a helicopter, as well as various shootouts and a sequence in which Satan attacks a speeding subway train. But the plot is such hooey (low point: stage-trained actor Rod Steiger demonstrating that "666" turned over is "999"--1999!) and the plot holes so gaping that End of Days proves more exasperating than enjoyable.

Gabriel Byrne has a devil of a (good) time as a smug, sexy Satan, and Arnie has certainly been worse than he is here. He gets to play a bit more vulnerable than usual: having lost his wife and child, he's suicidal from the get-go, and Satan is a seemingly impossible opponent to vanquish. here, in fact, is the picture's biggest problem. There's no clarity given to what Jericho thinks he can accomplish when he goes after Satan, and no consistency to Satan's appearance in human and supernatural forms: bullets can do no real damage to him (they slow him down a hair). And he's freakin' magical. So there's no reason to believe Cane has any hope of defeating him. And still they face off numerous times before the climactic showdown. Had Hyams earned any points before that finish, it might have worked, but the audience is by then terminally uninvested. When the stakes are the universe, that's a perversely impressive feat of filmmaking.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/26/2008

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Working with a challenging picture, Universal has delivered another fine-looking Blu-Ray in End of Days. The intentionally dark image doesn't send the picture into pixelated paroxysms as is too often the case on DVD. Though the picture gives a somewhat soft impression (with a bit of stray dirt), it did in theatres, too, and the firm results here provide considerably more detail than you'll find on the previous DVD. As for the sound mix, it's a relatively uninvolving one (especially compared to End of Days' release mates U-571 and Miami Vice), but you can be sure of one thing: you'll never hear more in it than you do here in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio.

Since this disc drops the two featurettes and text essay found on previous DVD and HD-DVD issues, the only extra on this Blu-Ray is a Feature Commentary with director Peter Hyams (unless you count bookmarking feature My Scenes as an extra). Hyams takes his time getting rolling on this commentary (he's there...wait for it...), but once he does he offers some interesting tidbits about working with Arnold and influences on the film's style and content. The focus is on the film's technical aspects, with Hyams explaining his cinematographic approach and the use of special effects.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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