The Authentic Invisible Man

So I guess Universal wants to reboot their classic monster line-up again, whatever that's going to entail. Sure, fine, good luck to all that. But if you want to see a really great, effective revitalization of The Invisible Man, it already exists by way of this totally underrated BBC adaptation from 1984. It's actually a made for British television series in six episodes, and by far the most faithful adaptation of HG Wells' original novel. And there's a fine DVD of it over in the UK.

There's actually not that many versions of The Invisible Man out there. Yeah, there's plenty of films and TV shows about killer invisible people that are clearly flowing in the original's footsteps, like Hollow Man, The Amazing Transparent Man, The Invisible Maniac, etc. But ones that actually, sincerely tell the story from the original novel? There's the old 1933 James Whale film, and there's this. And this is a full BBC mini-series that really takes the opportunity to present the entire book, as opposed to the standard "hit the highlights" version most movies make out of books.
And it's really well made. The acting is great all around. It still hangs onto the humor in the novel and original film, but also keeps the darker subtext. One big thing the old film changed was in that, the invisibility formula turned the man insane, like Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. But this version sticks with the original novel's approach, where it's a man who only makes himself invisible, and the only "evilness" comes out of real human foibles boosted by the power he's given over others while simultaneously being isolated from them. It's more of a dramatically compelling tale that becomes a valuable exploration of our own nature, as opposed to just a fun "what if?"

Yet it's actually not so much longer than the original film. Universal's was a tight 71 minutes, and this one, when you take out all the repeat opening and closing credits of each episode, is maybe two and a half hours? So it's less of a mini-series, in terms of length, than just a longer, more in depth movie. Of course, the Universal version added a bunch of extraneous nonsense which dumbed things down somewhat. The invisible man in this one has a doting fiance with nothing but hammy scenes; and her father and his friend are scientists who are figuring science things out and delivering exposition like crazy. So if you figure the movie added all of that, it had to leave out even more of Wells' stronger material.
I'm not saying the 1933 version is all junk, by the way. It's a lot more faithful than most invisible man films that only share the basic "a scientist turns himself invisible and kills somebody" premise. Both films have all the major set-pieces of the mysterious bandaged scientist who rents a room at a small inn and makes everyone suspicious, and both eventually have him meet his former colleague to plan an ambitious abuse of his powers. The tone of the original actually holds up surprisingly well, with a highly entertaining mania to the villain, plenty of fun invisibility gags that were of course innovative for their time but are also still appealing today, strong performances including a lot nice touches with minor characters, and a cool, bleak ending that diverts pretty far from the book, but worked well in the movie. It's just a different, simpler version of the story that turns it into a more digestible, Hollywood-ized light entertainment. It works great on its own terms; it's just not a serious adaptation of the novel like this BBC version.
And for being a television production, the effects are all pretty well done. They use a variety of techniques to put across the various invisibility issues, and they're actually pretty impressive. I remember John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man getting a lot of attention for showing the food going into the man's mouth and down his throat as he ate... but they did it here first, and it works perfectly well. This production more dated by being a full-screen shot on video production than anything else. The costumes and locations (this is also the first telling of Wells' story that keeps it in the 1800s as opposed to modernizing it) are all great; there's lots of slick camera moves. And the final chase is actually quite thrilling for what seems so superficially modest.
So, the picture is 4:3 and looks like video because that's what it is. There's no HD transfer of a 35mm negative to be made here. But this is a stable, clear presentation that looks as good as this show surely ever has or could. There's no interlacing, video noise, softening, color bleeding or any of the other issues that often plague older television series on DVD. BBC has done a thoroughly professional job getting this series onto disc; and they've even added optional English HDH subtitles.

And it's not entirely barebones. Chiefly, it has one brief extra: a 6-7 minute excerpt from the BBC television show Did You See? where several guests discuss the latest episodes of The Invisible Man mid-season. It's not actually cast or crew from this series, but other personalities, and their observations are sometimes a little on the banal side, but I'm glad they included it. It's definitely a time capsule. And that's all that's on the disc, but there's also a rather thorough, 20-page booklet included, which talks in-depth about everything from past attempts to film The Invisible Man, how this show got its funding, details of the original script, descriptions of the production, and how it was eventually received by the public when it aired in the UK back in 1984. Someone really put a lot of time into it.
This isn't a new release; it's from 2005. But I don't think you're going to see any company take another pass at this. And that's fine, because you can't realistically ask for more than this. It's a good disc of a great show that fans of smart horror should really check out. There's no way Universal's going to cook up something this good with the character in the next couple years.

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