Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Nicky deBoer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett
A group of strangers find themselves trapped in a
structure filled with lethal booby traps.
Take a bunch of strangers, each with
their own idiosyncratic skills and abilities; thrown them into an
unfamiliar environment from which there is no escape; set them a series of
tasks to keep them on their toes, and keep them under constant
observation. If all this sounds like the premise for some cheap-ass
Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall game show, then you’ve obviously never seen Cube,
Vincent Natali’s intriguing 1998 Twilight Zone-style
The disintegration of First Independent, one of the
UK’s few remaining autonomous film distributors, left their extensive
catalogue of acquisitions in a state of limbo. First Independent (originally
called Vestron Pictures), like many companies who joined the video
industry early on, built much of their success on genre titles (The
Company of Wolves, Lair of the White Worm, etc). As the years
rolled on, their horror output dwindled (especially after being purchased
by the more puritanical HTV) but the company was still run by people who
recognised a decent scary movie when they were offered one.
It’s reassuring to find some of the company’s titles
becoming available again. The UK
Region 2 DVD comes with a commentary track by the
director and co-writer Andre Bijelic, and a transfer in widescreen ratio
of about 1.85:1, (contrary to what it says on the sleeve, though, it’s
not enhanced for 16:9 sets). The sound mix is mainly used for ambient
atmosphere, and is adequately served by a digital stereo presentation. The
disc also contains a theatrical trailer, and a handful of design sketches
and storyboards. The Region 1 disc features more of this material, as well
as a couple of short deleted scenes. Where’s a ha’porth of tar when
you need one?
The best available version is the French
Region 2 disc, from Metropolitan Film and Video. It's the first release to
present the film with anamorphic enhancement, and for that reason alone
fans may want to consider an upgrade. The new disc is a DVD-9 (with twice
the capacity of the previous versions), and the presentation is a big
improvement on the merely letterboxed UK version, which now seems quite
smeary in comparison. The film itself is presented in French or English
(both at almost twice the 256kbps bitrate of the UK version’s English
track) with optional French subtitles.
The French disc would seem to have all
the additional supplements of the US and UK versions (the commentary
track, the production designs, storyboard and photo’ galleries, the
storyboard-to-film comparisons (some synced up with the soundtrack or
appropriate clip) and the deleted scenes, presented in low-resolution
video, with optional commentary). A French version of the trailer on the
UK disc is also included, as well as a version in English with French
subtitles. A handful of French trailers, including ones for The
Astronaut’s Wife (Intrusion) and The 13th Warrior (Le
13ème Guerrier), are also included.
The French disc trumps the US
disc with a three-minute interview with the director (this featurette is
notionally in French, but Natali’s comments and the film clips are in
English, with French subtitles). The icing on the cake, though, is an
astonishing coup de grace: Natali’s 1996 short film about three
people (including Cube’s Hewlett) trapped in a lift, Elevated (Le
Court-Métrage). This, too, is in English with optional French
subtitles. The French disc not without flaws however, (including some
lip-synch drift that also is also apparent on the UK version), but these
are minor, and not a factor to be seriously considered.
A 1998 interview with director Vincenzo Natali,
from Shivers magazine
Vincenzo Natali was eleven years old when
he made his first film, a Super-8 epic called Dark Forces, a
movie heavily influenced by the then-latest blockbuster, Star Wars.
Although born in Detroit, Natali has lived for most of his life in
Toronto, where he has recently completed his first feature film, the
quixotic Cube. The film is about a small group of people who find
themselves trapped inside the eponymous structure, an apparently
never-ending series of seemingly-empty rooms. They don’t know why
they’ve been selected, and they don’t have any idea where they are. It’s
a tense psychological thriller that’s been gathering positive reviews on
both sides of the Atlantic.
Natali explains that the idea for the
film was born out of pragmatism: “The film came about because I needed a
film that could be shot in one location, for a very modest budget:
something I could do with a small number of actors, in a controlled
environment. It occurred to me that if I could use one set to represent
many sets, then I could still move my characters around. First of all I
began writing a story about a maze. I’m a huge fan of the artist M.C.
Escher. That got me thinking about the idea in mathematical terms, and
the story about the Cube sprung from that. I’ve always gravitated
towards horror and science fiction films, the gorier the better, so the
genre of the piece was determined very early on.
“The script changed significantly from
the original version, which I wrote on my own. It was this Terry
Gilliam, mythological, fantasy, Alice In Wonderland-type thing. I showed
it to a good friend of mine, Andre Bijelic, and he suggested simplifying
it, so that it was just about the people trapped in the Cube and the
mathematics. We rewrote it together, and made it more straightforward.
Shortly before filming I brought in a third writer, Graeme Manson, who's
someone I went to Canadian Film Centre with, and he really beefed up the
Natali says that making the leap from
script to screen was a relatively painless process: “I’d made a short
film at the Canadian Film Centre about three people trapped in a lift,
called Elevated. It wasn’t a big jump for them to see how I might
go from that to doing Cube. They have a division that funds
features films, for first-time directors, and they agreed to put up all
the money for it. They gave me complete control, and final cut. I was
able to use the cast and crew that I wanted, so I ended up using a lot
of the people I’d worked with over the years on other short movies, like
Mouth (1992) and Playground (1993). Cube ended up
being like another of my home movies, but with more money! It’s a
brilliant scheme, and I am extremely grateful to them.
“Although the film essentially takes
place in one room, it wasn’t as simple as that might sound, because that
room does a lot of things. The set cost almost our entire production
budget. We actually made one and a half rooms, each fourteen-foot
square, which allowed a bit of second-unit shooting. The only other set
we had was the passageway that linked two rooms, and we only had one of
those, so every time you see the characters moving from one room to
another, it’s the same passageway!
“The plan was to shoot the film in
chronological order, which you’d think would be pretty easy, but we had
some problems with the door mechanism on the first day, and so that
immediately threw out our schedule, because an awful lot of scenes
involved the doors.
“It was a tough shoot. We shot the film
in twenty-one days, and everyone was getting cabin fever, especially
when we had all six walls up. The walls were Plexiglass, and lit from
behind, so it was like a little oven in there. Not only did it have to
look good, it had to be solid, because we had people climbing all over
it. We had to build it off the ground, so that the characters could
enter and leave through the floor. The people who built the set said it
was the most difficult thing they’d ever made.
Natali hopes that the film will make a
lasting impression: “There’s a lot of ambiguity in the film about the
Cube itself, which was deliberate. We felt that any answers that we
provided would be unsatisfactory. We had lots of theories, but I think
it’s more interesting, and scary, to not have all the facts laid out
before you. I love movies that you can go out with your friends and
argue about afterwards! People still argue about the monolith in
2001: A Space Odyssey, for example.
With thanks to David Hewlett.