The name Uwe Boll may not mean much to the average moviegoer, but it brings an unpleasant chill to the spines of film critics and video game aficionados. With only three American-released films to his credit, Boll has established himself as perhaps the most hated director working today (besting even critical punching bag Michael Bay). My fellow critic Joe Utichi, when asked for comment, said: “If porn is the closest film can come to sex, then Uwe Boll is the closest film can come to shooting yourself in the stomach and then poking at the open wound until it kills you.” He later added that Boll “makes me appreciate the inevitability of death.”
Utichi is not alone in his disdain. There is a website called “Uwe Boll is the Antichrist” that accuses Boll of “destroying the spirit of great video games.” An internet blogger dubbed him “Hitler’s Favorite Director.” There’s even an online petition (http://www.petitiononline.com/RRH53888/petition.html) that urges Boll to “stop directing, producing, or taking any part in the creation of feature films.” So far, it has over 4,700 signatures.
So who is Uwe Boll and why does everyone hate him so much?
If I said that he made video game-based movies, that would only tell part of the story. Such a statement would call to mind films like Super Mario Brothers, Doom, Wing Commander, and Resident Evil. Those are bad pictures, but they are nevertheless far superior to those made by Uwe Boll. Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, reports that Boll’s “investors are mostly German...He carefully secures the rights for potentially cheap adaptations, frequently picking games with only moderate brand recognition. He does all of the actual production himself, and swiftly finishes the product.”
The German-born director’s first video game-based effort, 2003’s House of the Dead, scored only a 6% approval rating on influential movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. His 2005 follow-up, Alone in the Dark, did even worse, scoring a 1% approval rating. (In other words, 99% of the critics who saw the film hated it.) Boll’s latest, Bloodrayne, opened January 6, 2006 and (at press time, 24 hours after its debut) was similarly scorned by critics, earning a 6% on the Tomatometer. Clearly, the director is not admired.
According to his biography on the Internet Movie Database, Uwe Boll “graduated from university in 1995 with a doctorate in literature.” He is often referred to in print as “Dr. Boll,” although some have speculated that the moniker is not earned. Then again, that could just be the haters taking a cheap shot. What we do know is that Boll made his first attempt behind the camera with the 1991 comedy German Fried Movie (released in his homeland). He moved into the horror genre for 1992’s Amoklauf and the action genre for 1993’s Barschel – Mord in Genf?
It wasn’t until 2000 that Boll’s cinematic vision reached the United States. Sanctimony - a straight-to-video release in this country – starred B-actor Casper Van Dien as a stock trader who decides to become a serial killer. Eric Roberts and Catherine Oxenberg also starred. Blackwoods (2002) was another dubious effort, with Patrick Muldoon playing a man who is tormented by the fact that he killed a girl while drunk driving. He is later chased by a man with an ax and hunted down by a family of bloodthirsty lunatics. (“Two-bit potboiler” – David Hunter, Hollywood Reporter)
In 2003, Boll got his first significant American theatrical release. House of the Dead was based on a popular video game. A group of young partygoers arrives on a secluded island, only to discover that it is inhabited by zombies. (“A cinematic piece of dog barf” – Jovanka Vuckovic, Rue Morgue Magazine) The stars of this movie are Jurgen Prochnow (Air Force One, Das Boot) and Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard). Funded with German production money, House of the Dead opened on over 1,500 American movie screens in October of 2003. In its short run, it grossed a little over $10 million, which was $3 million more than it cost to make. Combined with overseas releases, the film turned a small profit, assuring that Boll could gain financing for his next production.
Apparently not wanting to stray too far from what he felt was a winning formula, Boll again looked to the game world for his next outing, Alone in the Dark. (“Saying Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark is better than his 2003 American debut House of the Dead is akin to praising syphilis for not being HIV.” – Nicholas Schager, Slant Magazine) Christian Slater played a paranormal investigator looking into the disappearance of nineteen people and the slime dripping aliens who may be responsible. The press kit described co-star Tara Reid’s character as “a brilliant anthropologist.” You can write your own joke here.
Aside from cheap sets, sloppy special effects, and murky cinematography, Alone in the Dark has loads of unintentional laughter. SPLICEDwire critic Rob Blackwelder comments that Boll “hasn't learned English well enough to direct a movie in English.” He points out the most glaring example - when "scientist" Tara Reid mangles the pronunciation of Newfoundland, calling it "New Found Land.” Boll is “a latter-day Ed Wood who fancies himself a cross between action-sytlish John Woo and B-movie horror-ific John Carpenter,” says Blackwelder.
Alone in the Dark was a major misfire, opening on over 2,000 American screens in January 2005 and grossing slightly more than $5 million at the box office. I myself picked it as the year’s worst film.
By this point, it was clear to the nation’s critics that a major non-talent had arrived. Further, he clearly had no plans on leaving; attached to prints of Alone in the Dark was a trailer for Boll’s next picture, yet another videogame adaptation called Bloodrayne.
“I think the reason critics respond so vehemently is simply a matter of competence. Like Ed Wood, Boll transcends issues of taste or open mindedness,” says critic Rob Vaux of Flipside Movie Emporium. “He simply has no business directing films. He's no good at it — and when I say no good, I don't mean the sort of standard Hollywood hackery that critics routinely trash. The Renny Harlins and Michael Bays and other whipping boys who trundle out studio schlock. No, Boll's form of no good is far deeper and more profound than that. He can't direct movies. He doesn't understand the language of film, he doesn't grasp the mechanics of storytelling, he can't manage even the most basic challenges of form and technique. Everyone has their talents, and Boll's clearly lie elsewhere. The fact that he persists in making movies despite all evidence that he can't do it comes across as an affront to those of us who presume to love and cherish the medium.”
Gabe Leibowitz of eCinemaCenter.com concurs: “I've seen House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, and both show utter ineptness in filmmaking. The scripts are akin to a late-night horror joke-a-thon, full of unintentional humor. The SFX are on par with what I could produce. And the storylines are rehashed. Really, he brings zip to the table, and his movies are so bad that they don't even have guilty fun.”
What is surprising – and more than a little frustrating - to critics is that Boll somehow manages to persevere and even, in some ways, prosper. Whereas his earliest films starred Z-grade pseudo-celebrities like Casper Van Dien or Patrick Muldoon, Bloodrayne was written by indie stalwart Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish) and features prime talent like Michael Madsen, “Lost” star Michelle Rodriguez, and Ben Kingsley. You heard me right – Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley has worked with Uwe Boll. One can only wonder how something like this could occur. Surely the man who has worked for directors like Richard Attenborough, Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, and James Ivory would know better. (Then again, Kingsley is also the actor who starred in A Sound of Thunder, What Planet Are You From, and Thunderbirds.)
Perhaps personal charm is a key to wooing these name actors. The official Bloodrayne website features glowing personal comments from its cast. Actress Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3) says, “Uwe’s great, I really like Uwe. He’s got a very relaxed, easy-going way about him and style, which I work with very well.” Madsen calls him “an interesting man” with a “good sense of humor.” Rodriguez, however, accidentally issues a backhanded compliment when trying to assess his problem-solving abilities. “Its like Uwe doesn’t think what’s going on, in front of the screen right now,” the actress was quoted as saying. “He’s thinking what’s going to happen in post [-production] and how he can cut it up to manipulate it to look right.”
If Boll has his way, the future will see many other star-studded video game adaptations from his Boll KG production house. Later this year, he is scheduled to bring us In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale with Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, and Leelee Sobieski. Also on his schedule are movies based on the games “Far Cry” and “Postal.”
All of this brings to mind a serious issue. Boll’s movies are critically reviled, and the mass audience largely ignores them. So how is he able to keep making them? Bloodrayne has a reported budget of $20 million. There must be money coming from somewhere, right? It’s unfathomable to think that these stars are dropping their salaries just for the honor of working with Uwe Boll, is it not?
Let’s turn again to Wikipedia, which provides a nugget of information that, if true, is both shocking and sad: “It is rumored Boll [funds his films] under a loophole in German tax law that is supported by contributors and actually rewards movies that perform badly, via a writeoff at the end of the year.” In other words, it’s possible that Uwe Boll is a modern-day Max Bialystock, and Alone in the Dark is his “Springtime for Hitler.” Is it possible that this man is intentionally peddling cinematic crap? If so, the state of modern cinema has hit a new low. Entrepreneurial directors and producers have long indulged in low-budget exploitation filmmaking. But there’s a difference between, say, Hershell Gordon Lewis, who made gore flicks to fill a void for an underserved audience, and someone who may be perversly profiting off shoddy merchandise.
Whatever the case, Boll has become a popular target on the internet. Film critics routinely trash him, but video gamers absolutely hate him. A minor panic was started recently when rumors circulated that Boll would helm the movie version of mega-popular game “Halo.” Gamers breathed a sigh of relief when they found out this wasn’t true. That didn’t quell their resentment, though.
“As for video game fans not liking him, the answer is obvious,” says Rob Vaux. “Gamers love their games, just like comic book fans love their superheroes or TV fans love their particular given shows. When movies are made based on their treasured properties, they want the adaptation to be as good as can be — to capture the essence of what they loved about the parent property and perhaps demonstrate to others why they think it's so cool. Conversely, when it goes bad, the fans get very angry. They feel like something they loved and cared about has been badly used, which reflects badly both on them and on the game they presume to love. Boll, of course, makes TERRIBLE adaptations. Adaptations which miss the point of the games, and render their details so much mangled junk. Moreover, Boll seems to have targeted video game adaptations as his oeuvre: promising to do it again and again until he is stopped. It's not surprising then, that gamers have painted him as the Enemy.”
Boll-hating has become so prevalent that some feel there is a reverse motivation. Critic Eugene Novikov of Film Blather says, “I think there are some issues with calling his films ‘bad’ when there are so many people breathlessly awaiting the next one. In other words, I don't think people really ‘hate’ him. I think they like him, because it gives them a chance to make websites about how much they hate him.” Novikov may have a point. We all love a good villain, be it Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, or, perhaps, Uwe Boll. I confess my own disappointment in discovering that Bloodrayne was opening in limited release and would be playing nowhere near me, despite the fact that I am located a mere 30 miles from a major Pennsylvania city. While I don’t anticipate liking the film, I find myself filled with curiosity to see what Boll has come up with this time. If Bloodrayne by some chance turned out to be good, I might actually feel let down.
It’s likely that Boll is well aware of the ire he provokes. The director is said to patrol internet message boards to see what people are saying about his works. But what does he have to say about himself? In August of 2005, Boll was interviewed by 1up.com – a website that is connected to Electronic Gaming Monthly, the leading video game magazine and a legitimate source of gaming journalism. Boll told interviewer Patrick Klepek that he is influenced by Welles, Scorsese, and Kubrick. He is “still happy with Alone in the Dark” but thinks “the only weak part…is maybe Tara Reid's acting.” (He’s absolutely correct that Reid’s performance is pathetic; however, if he thinks that was the only problem, then he is completely delusional.) Boll blames poor marketing for the failures of his films.
The marketing may be poor, but it’s appropriate given the poorness of the movies themselves. Despite his ongoing plans for more game adaptations, the future may be difficult for Uwe Boll. House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark were released by known independent distributors (Artisan and Lions Gate, respectively). Bloodrayne, on the other hand, is being distributed by the unknown Romar Entertainment, a company co-created by actor Billy Zane (who, not so coincidentally, also stars in the film). The release pattern is sketchy at best, with the picture in some cases playing small towns but not larger metropolitan areas. If it doesn’t do well, American theaters may balk at booking any of the director’s future works.
Whatever happens, we do know that Uwe Boll has a left a strange footprint on the moviegoing landscape. A House of the Dead sequel is going forward without him (“We’re trying to erase the first one from people’s memories,” actress Emmanuelle Vaugier told the press) and the Dungeon Siege movie is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, critics and gamers alike will continue to sharpen their knives.
“I think Boll's films are kind of awesomely bad,” says critic Rick Curnutte of The Film Journal. “Bad in an epic kind of way. So bad they're kind of shocking and impressive in their badness. Here's one for you: Watching an Uwe Boll film is like watching...the opposite of...like...good stuff. Deep, huh?”
Post-Script: The release of Bloodrayne was an unmitigated disaster. Despite promising to get the film on 2,000 screens nationwide, Romar could only secure about 975 - many of which were in very small markets. Numerous theater chains reported that they received unsolicited prints of the film; unsurprisingly, most of them refused to play it. Bloodrayne had an opening weekend box office take of less than $2 million. In late spring of 2006, Uwe Boll filed suit against Romar for "mishandling" the movie's release.
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