The UK release, from Columbia Tristar and First Independent.

The French disc, from Metropolitan Film and Video.


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 psychological thriller. 

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 characters.

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.








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