(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week, we take an unwise look at the sequel to what’s regarded by many to be the worst video game adaptation ever made.)
Film adaptations of video games would kill to get even a sliver of the respect and success currently afforded movies based on comic book superheroes, but instead they’ll have to settle for articles about the apparent impossible nature of making a great one. Why is it so damn difficult bringing a video game to the screen? No one knows for sure, but in 2005 someone invested over $20 million in the hopes that Uwe Boll might be the filmmaker to break the curse with an adaptation of one of the first (and still one of the best) 3rd-person survival horror games.
It’s okay to laugh.
Alone in the Dark is the second of six different video games that Boll has brought to the screen — the others being House of the Dead (2003), BloodRayne (2005), Postal (2007), In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007), and Far Cry (2008) — and its 1% score on Rotten Tomatoes is somehow more embarrassing than a flat zero. (It’s worth noting that the six films have a collective RT score of 21%. That’s not an average, that’s a combined total.) The film bombed in every conceivable way, so of course three years later a sequel was released straight to video. And now, for you, I have watched Alone in the Dark II.
The Beginning – Alone in the Dark (2005)
Many, many years ago, an ancient civilization discovered — and stupidly opened — the door to another world filled with evils beyond imagining (except by underpaid and overworked interns at a third-rate digital animation company). Their existence ended with their disappearance, but legend states that before they vanished they hid special artifacts around the world that hold the power to reopen the doorway to the other dimension. Edward Carnby (Christian Slater) is a modern day detective familiar with the supernatural, and together with a genius archaeologist (Tara Reid) and the bad-ass commander (Stephen Dorff) of secret government agency they might just be the only hope the world has at surviving the coming darkness.
The DTV Plot – Alone in the Dark II (2008)
Forget everything you thought you knew. Edward Carnby (Rick Yune) is enjoying a stroll when a scared and scarred man approaches him for help. It seems a powerful witch is unleashing magical mayhem on those who cross her path, but when Edward takes on the case he quickly discovers others are doing the same. Along with a group of witch hunters, Edward realizes that a young woman is the evil’s primary target, but protecting her life might not be in any of their futures.
Boll directs the first film with all the nuance and skill you’d expect, but he settles for the producer’s chair on the sequel. Instead, it’s the first film’s co-writers (Michael Roesch, Peter Scheerer) who return to write and direct the follow-up. Is it in improvement? Meh? The more noticeable changes come in the casting.
You’re probably thinking the untouchable threesome of Slater, Reid, and Dorff can’t be beat, and I’m here to tell you that you’re both right and wrong. The three actors are each laughably miscast in Alone in the Dark as none of them convince in their roles. They’ve each done well elsewhere, but otherworldly detectives, brilliant scientists, and tough guys are simply out of their respective wheelhouses. Only Edward Carnby returns for the follow-up, and the arrival of Yune (Die Another Day, 2002) in the role, while a solid step towards representation, fails for other reasons. Where Slater is/was all about personality and presence, Yune shows very little of either. He’s flat, and in the face of supernatural shenanigans that’s the wrong play. The supporting cast appeals towards genre fans with the likes of Lance Henriksen, Bill Moseley, Danny Trejo, Michael Paré, and PJ Soles, but none of them have very much to do meaning it’s a minimal appeal at best.
How the Sequel Respects the Original
The sequel does little to respect the first film and instead feels like a reboot of sorts. It does, however, show a bit more respect towards the original video game series. The first game, released in 1992 on PCs, is a small-scale adventure as Edward faces off against ghost, monsters, and puzzles in a haunted Louisiana mansion. It’s a creepy little affair, and the sequel returns to that more confined story line with its tale of an angry witch and the folks fighting against her evil efforts. Similarly, while the character of Edward Carnby remains throughout the game series the stories are individual tales of supernatural horrors and threats, and to that end this film’s standalone feel suits the source material well. It ultimately improves on the first to a degree by localizing the terror and focusing on the characters involved, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to actually make it a good film.
How the Sequel Shits on the Original
Can you shit on shit? I mean, obviously you can, but does it make it shittier? I’ll leave that question to science, but for now I’ll point out that the sequel’s biggest diss towards the first film is in not addressing that ending. Spoiler incoming for a movie you’ve never seen or have regrets about watching, but the 2005 original takes a bold step with its ending by having Edward and his gal pal stop the demonic invasion… but wipe out all of humanity in the process. It’s honestly the best thing about the movie, and it leaves the couple wandering alone in an otherwise empty world. That’s dark!
The sequel, though, ignores all of that. It also posits Edward as a man working alone without the unwelcome aid of Bureau 713 and their vast military resources. Not a bad thing in the grand scheme seeing as the smaller scale is welcome, but it leaves the film and lead character feeling like they could have been called anything else resulting in the same outcome. Additionally, while the scale honors the games it makes the odd choice of knocking Edward out of commission for a large chunk of the film. The witch hunters get more of the action — which it should be added, is never all that exciting and instead annoys as they continually shoot at the ethereal witch despite the bullets having no effect — but there’s no reason to care about them as characters. We don’t know them, we don’t want to know them, and then they’re dead. Witches man, witches.
There was promise in a DTV sequel to a universally reviled film — could Alone in the Dark 2 be the home video unicorn? a DTV sequel that’s actually better than the first? — but unfortunately the movie is simply bad and underwhelming in its own ways. The first is dumb, this one’s boring. The first is miscast, this one’s boring. The first features some unimpressive effects, this one’s boring. You get the idea. It’s a damn shame, too, as the games offer a wealth of material for fun cinematic adventures with the supernatural detective facing off against Lovecraftian creatures, ghostly pirates, and more. You can skip the movies, but if you have access to a DOS PC or a 3DO I highly recommend you give the games a spin.
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