“The Invisible Man” to Return?
August 30, 2011 2 Comments
The LA Times has reported that Universal Studios is thinking about a remake of The Invisible Man, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite classic horror films from the 1930s. I must admit to being in favor of modern monster movie remakes, and the more the merrier! I think it’s about time that this particular horror tale should get a remodel and see the light of day again.
That’s not to say that I don’t absolutely love the 1933 original which was based on a story by the great science fiction author H.G. Wells, and directed by the legendary James Whale, the man responsible for some of the most iconic horror films in movie history, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and my personal pet favorite, The Old Dark House.
The original Invisible Man starred British import Claude Rains in his very first American movie role. It turns out that Rains’ impeccable elocution and distinctive voice was what won him the part. Because the character of the Invisible Man was to be either completely swathed in bandages or unseen for almost the entire movie, it was the actor’s voice that had to convey the bulk of the role. The Frankenstein monster himself, Boris Karloff, had naturally been the studio’s first choice, but when contract negotiations with Karloff fell through director Whale pushed for his own choice, the “intellectual voice” of Rains to play “Dr. Jack Griffin”. Rains, who had begun his career on the London stage before moving to Broadway, had actually failed his first movie screen test and was considering forgetting Hollywood and going back to London for good. But his lucky break came when someone accidentally overheard this screen test being played in the next room and suggested him to Whale for this movie. Upon hearing him speak, Whale knew he had found his man.
To create the “invisibility” effects needed for this movie, Rains was filmed wearing a black velvet suit which enveloped his entire face and body and then photographed against a black velvet background. Rains was reportedly claustrophobic and found wearing the form-fitting costume agonizing, as well as being difficult to breathe through. These shots were combined with location shots using a matte process (masking certain areas of the film emulsion to selectively control which areas are exposed) and both elements were then photographically melded into a single, final image. In order to help him appear to disappear, additional claustrophobia-inducing head and body casts had to be made and a resultant mask of Rains was created. This mask was photographed against a specially prepared background, and the film treated in the studio’s laboratory, completing the special effects. Wires were used to to create the illusion of the invisible man opening and closing doors, and to make items appear to fly through the air as they were carried by him. These procedures may seem laughable to modern movie goers with today’s CGI techniques, but at the time the special effects of the movie were considered groundbreaking achievements.
Which just makes me all the more curious to see what marvels could be created by today’s VFX wizards. We have a starting point in 2000’s Hollow Man modern visual effects, in which Kevin Bacon was made to melt into invisibility through dissolving layers of tissue, veins, muscle and skeletal systems, and the short-lived TV series starring Vincent Ventresca that followed. But what might the intervening 10 years have taught the newest FX studios? WETA Digital has shown us in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and more recently in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that the quality of visual effects can enormously advance in the space of just a few years’ time, so I look forward to seeing what additional magic will be available to dazzle moviegoers should a new version of The Invisible Man make it past the initial planning stages and onto the big screen. I only hope that Universal is wise enough to choose someone with as interesting and distinctive a voice as the inimitable Claude Rains to give the character real life.
Cross-posted to SciFi4Me.com