3.18.2009

Cube (1997): Math is Frustrating…and so is this movie!



Worthy of the hype? No, but it's good.

Note: Spoilers throughout; I’m assuming you’ve seen it.

I have somehow managed not to see Cube until now. For whatever reason, certainly not for lack of interest, Vincenzo Natali’s film has eluded me all these years. Garnering a remarkable amount of respect and attention from a variety of audiences, I was excited to finally see the movie that everyone was talking about…even if they were talking about it ten years ago.

Cube is a contradiction of a film. It’s original, yet predictable. It’s stunning, yet unattractive. It’s dramatic, yet laughable. It’s methodical, yet inconsistent. Cube is also a challenging film to make and its problems become all the more apparent because of this.

The concept is brilliant. A group of people wake up, with no memory of how they got there and seemingly no connection between them, inside an incredibly complex cubic structure that is rigged with vicious booby traps throughout. Hmm…kinda’ sounds like another film we know…I think it’s called Saw. Regardless, this setup gives us a diverse collection of characters that are forced to work together, utilizing their different skills to escape the common enemy. Did I just sound like a college admissions counselor? The mystery behind the origin of the cube makes it all the more interesting; is it a government experiment or a madman’s sick game? Later attempts to explain this mystery only leave the audience unfulfilled and destroy the horror behind such ambiguity. With a film like this, it’s best to either go all one way or the other: explain it or don’t. Going in between just leads to strange, rambling dialogue that makes your eyebrows arch.

"I don't like the red room!"

The subtitle of this post states that Cube is frustrating. Here is why: 1) the tone 2) the futility 3) erratic characterization. The onerous tone of the film works well. Seeing the same sets over and over again, the methodical number crunching, the mind-straining puzzles, the nauseating wide angles, and the annoying score all titillate towards insanity effectively. Though all these things are frustrating, it’s a good kind of frustrating. However, the other reasons for the frustration are not the good kind. The futility of the film is in the back of your mind as you watch it. I just know that they’re all going to die, that we’ll never figure out who made the cube or what is outside of it, and that most of their efforts are ultimately in vain. Watching them struggle through the maze, you just know that soon they’ll discover they’ve gone in a circle. And not long from then, you just know that the cube which becomes a bridge to the escape door will be the one they started in. Thus, it’s not that grand cathartic moment the filmmakers would hope for when they realize they should have never moved to begin with. The last frustration I mentioned is the characterization. It doesn’t help that the actors are wooden, but the scripting of the characters is mechanical and lazy. The characters basically serve the scenes as plot devices. Their behaviors, attitudes, philosophies, and emotional states are so uneven that the dialogue could have been interchanged between almost any of the characters without much disturbance. I couldn’t understand the characters and as a result, didn’t really care what happened to any of them.

Look me in the eyes and tell me that's good acting...

Aside from these flaws, the film is pretty good. There are not as many “cool” deaths as I expected, but the first two are definitely worth it. The production design and art direction deserve so much credit for this film’s success. Indeed, there would be no movie without the world created by the art department. The complexity coupled with simplicity of the cube makes for compelling visuals that force the audience to look hard at what they are seeing. The cinematography could have stepped up to match this superb visual design. While it does have a distinct style (the use of wide angle lenses, deep focus, and canted angles), the power of shallow depth of field and extreme close-ups would have been appreciated in a film that revolves around character subtleties. The spinning-world effect of the cinematography grows old pretty quickly; I would have liked to see the style evolve with the changing of the characters and their slow decent into madness.

Why does everything look like a fishbowl?


I’d recommend Cube because it’s just one of those films you have to see, but I can’t say that I’ll ever watch it again.

5 comments:

  1. I can agree with some of those points, but in my first viewing it wasnt as predictable as it was on yours. I still feel there is nothing else out there that even remotely resembles Cube, and I reproach it every couple of years. If you are interested in seeing the sequel and prequel, prepare yourself. The sequel takes each of your vices with the film and exaggerates them to the Nth degree. The prequel, however, offers increased gore, a decent storyline (though be it a retread of the original), and finally gives some insight into the inner workings of the beast. I think theyre worth checking out if only for a single view, but again I love the original.

    I love actually hearing a disserting opinion on the film though, it receives such high praise in all other forums! On IMDB, the only negative review youre likely to find is "This moovie sukced and you suck if you like it!!!1" =D

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  2. And it doesn't help that I watched the film years after its release. So some of the predictability may come with age, so it's not the film's fault.

    I may check out the sequel one of these days though because it is such an interesting premise to have fun with.

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  3. I think you can skip the sequel, but the prequel it's def a worth watch, let us know what you think after that!

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  4. It was okay when i watched it when i was 17. now its pretty lame.

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  5. I love the prequel - Cube Zero. It does a great job expanding the mythos of Cube.

    -mAQ

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