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Darkest Hour Blu-ray Review

The Darkest Hour (2011) movie poster The Darkest Hour

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2011 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: Chris Gorak / Writers: Jon Spaihts (screenplay & story); Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern (story)

Cast: Emile Hirsch (Sean), Olivia Thirlby (Natalie), Max Minghella (Ben), Rachael Taylor (Anne), Joel Kinnaman (Skyler), Veronika Vernadskaya (Vika), Dato Bakhtadze (Mr. Sergei), Gosha Kutsenko (Matvei), Nikolai Efremov (Sasha), Georgy Gromov (Boris), Arthur Smoljaninov (Yuri), Anna Roudakova (Tess), Petr Fedorov (Anton Batkin)

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From road trips (Paul) to abductions (Mars Needs Moms) to moon terror (Apollo 18) to engaging in wars with American military (Battle: Los Angeles) and inner city British youths (Attack the Block), aliens were a significant presence in cinema last year.
2011's last entry to the sci-fi subgenre arrived on Christmas Day as an alternative both to big tentpoles and Oscar fare.

The Darkest Hour follows Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella), two young American software designers, to Moscow, where they intend to strike rich with corporate backing of their GPS-based social network. Instead, the company takes their idea and makes it their own, which the Swedish CEO Skyler (Joel Kinnaman of AMC's "The Killing") explains is a fair business move based on the lack of a non-disclosure agreement.

Down but not out, Sean and Ben drown their sorrows at a trendy Moscow nightclub, where the lights suddenly go out. Everyone makes their way outside for the simultaneously beautiful and eerie view of bright items resembling giant electric dandelion seeds falling to the ground and disappearing. The allure immediately fades and is replaced by danger, as these evidently invisible extraterrestrial beings proceed to shred to a fine dust anything in their path.

Five young people (Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Olivia Thirlby, Emile Hirsch, and Max Minghella) try to survive on the streets of a Moscow infested by invisible aliens in "The Darkest Hour."

Sean, Ben, Skyler, and two female travelers from the boys' network, Australian fashion photographer Anne (Rachael Taylor) and her American assistant Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), take shelter in a locked storeroom, where three days pass in mere seconds. With their food supply depleted and the catastrophic outside sounds seemingly subsided, the group of five ventures outside with a plan to get help at the American Embassy.

Though Russia is downright apocalyptic, the silent alien threat persists, detected only by the displacement of small fragments and by flickers of electricity in devices that are passed. This being a movie, our survivor ensemble recognizes those patterns and the unlikely fact that the invaders cannot see through glass as weaknesses to exploit as they make their perilous journey (with light bulb necklaces and tossed cell phones) to a rescue that seems increasingly implausible.

Characters are killed off mostly in reverse order of the cast billing, with the group encountering some assistance from local survivors, tough girl Vika (Veronika Vernadskaya) and eccentric Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze), who has built a fortress and a microwave-emitting weapon he hopes can combat the aliens' "lethal wave energy." Later on, there is a militant group of rugged men, who have their own less scientific defenses in place.

The Darkest Hour is the second film directed by Chris Gorak, whose career began designing miniature effects on the Coen Brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy. Gorak has worked his way up to art director and production designer on some highly distinguished films, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club, and Minority Report. But, he seems more than a little out of his league here, especially with the lame debut screenplay Jon Spaihts (a scribe on Ridley Scott's upcoming Prometheus) gave him.

With this microwave gun, Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze) ain't 'fraid of no alien. Meanwhile, Matvei (Gosha Kutsenko) has conventional weaponry and Russian resolve.

Obviously, you can't expect complete realism in an alien invasion movie. However, you do hope that such a movie asking you to take its plot seriously will do the same and not just empower ordinary citizens with extraordinary powers of deduction and invent rules on the fly to kill or save its cast as it sees fit. In both the threat and response that it plots, The Darkest Hour is ludicrous.
Hardly a moment goes by without you wondering, "Why would you do that?" or "Why not just do that?", as these reckless, aimless youths make their way around the quiet, abandoned metropolis at night, watchful for the subtle signs of life. I guess a group of people locked together in a shelter wouldn't make for the most exciting alien movie, but based on how this scenario is presented, that is the only reasonable option. It's tough to appreciate or sympathize with the group's plan to fight back by following their illogical impulses and hoping to board a miracle submarine.

The film does deserve some credit, because it has personality. I can recall several recent alien films that I was able to completely check out of because there was nothing to cling to emotionally: Skyline, Battle: Los Angeles, all three Transformers movies. The Darkest Hour keeps you invested, if only because it maintains a certain coherency and because it is almost so bad it's good. If "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is ever revived or emulated somewhere well down the line, this movie would appear to be perfect fodder for it, its miscalculation so apparent and amusing.

Gorak's film isn't ironic or wryly funny. It's not paying homage or sending anything up. It's just this big, dumb disaster movie full of plot holes that you simply cannot look away from. You almost certainly will not genuinely like the movie in any way, but you may muster some respect for a film that: effortlessly finds and follows multiple distant individuals in a telescope, presents the aliens' heat vision point-of-view as what looks like a previsualization CG animatic, and casually laments the newly-deceased with random anecdotes. You almost suspect the production of making a play for the same demographic that appreciates Syfy original movies for their camp value, but The Darkest Hour just seems too innocent, naοve, and sincere to accuse of such intentions. It is surprising that a film of such a low caliber was able to attract a cast of young, recognizable talents, but perhaps that says more about the actors' diminished prospects than of the project's unrealized potential.

Like most Summit Entertainment movies that do not have the word "Twilight" in their title, The Darkest Hour bombed at the box office, grossing a measly $21 million on a reported $30 M budget. That was with the premium prices of 3D exhibition, which continues to seem like something of a deterrent to most new films' fortunes in North America.

Not yet fully converted into their new phase as a Lionsgate subsidiary, Summit recently released The Darkest Hour to DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D. We look at the second of those here.

The Darkest Hour Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.49
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D ($29.99 SRP),
and Amazon Instant Video


The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 picture is slightly lacking in ways that are hard to pinpoint. Sharpness isn't quite stunning and more than once there seems to be faint compression artifacting, an issue that rarely crops up in the high definition format. On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is great, putting you inside the action, as subtle as that may be most of the time. The film's plentiful Russian dialogue is translated in player-generated subtitles, which makes it a bit of a nuisance to get the regular English SDH subtitles should you need a line clarified.

A variety of meaningless global perspectives are provided in the short film "The Darkest Hour: Survivors." Chris Gorak directs the talent in "Visualizing an Invasion."


The all-HD extras begin with the highly-touted The Darkest Hour: Survivors (8:09). This frantic, generic, tacky short film serves us slices of life of other survivors around the globe and their efforts to stay alive. Even if the feature film was something special, this wouldn't sustain much interest because it could apply to any other doomsday scenario that could unite U.S. Marine and Afghani terrorist.

"The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion" (12:09) is the extent of making-of video. As the title suggests, it focuses on visuals, showing us storyboards, animatics, and a lot of B-roll. Crew members sound off on realizing the film's visions, while cast share a few thoughts on reacting to nothing.

Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) gets to share with Sean (Emile Hirsch) her friendship  story in this extended scene. Film clips play within alien electricity on the Blu-ray's menu.

Four deleted scenes and an extended one (4:48) can be viewed individually or collectively, and with or without terse audio commentary by director Chris Gorak. The brief character bits would not have significantly changed the film other than to push it over the 90-minute mark.

Finally, Gorak provides a solo feature audio commentary. He has clear enthusiasm, speaks without lulls nearly to the end of the closing credits scroll, and has a lot of information to share, but listening to this is nonetheless a poor use of your time.
Gorak talks about filming in Russia (where production had to be suspended for weeks due to smoke pollution), shooting in 3D (a fact which doesn't even register in 2D viewing), post-production touch-ups, the contributions of producer Timur Bekmambetov (the director of Wanted), and his favorite "shreds." You realize where the director went wrong about a minute into this track, when he admits wanting to make "a film like Red Dawn." At least he sounds nice and genuine here.

The disc loads with trailers for Summit's first two underperformers of 2012, Man on a Ledge and Gone. The Darkest Hour's trailer is nowhere to be found on the disc, but you can stream it with an Internet connection and patience. A BD-Live section, billed "What's New" and "Summit LIVE!", houses that and additional streaming trailers for Summit movies, including an entire Twilight Saga subsection.

The menu plays clips inside floating electric orbs while the pulsing score is looped. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback, but it does support bookmarking on the film. At least the packaging is cool, with Summit topping the eco-friendly Blu-ray case with a liberally embossed, foil-embellished cardboard slipcover.

Emile Hirsch tries to hit those invisible aliens with his best shot of microwave gun. Those electric aliens sure know how to clear a Moscow street corner, whether visible or not.


The Darkest Hour ranks pretty lowly among the long line of alien and disaster movies. Hindered by a clunky script, a frugal design, and severely flawed logic, the film's most redeeming feature is its abundant supply of entertaining failures. Summit's Blu-ray is adequate, but finding that out would probably be a waste of your time.

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Emile Hirsch: Into the Wild • Speed Racer | Rachael Taylor: Transformers • Shutter | Joel Kinnaman: The Killing: Season One
Olivia Thirlby: Juno • No Strings Attached • New York, I Love You • Solitary Man | Max Minghella: The Ides of March
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Aliens: Skyline • Battle: Los Angeles • Cloverfield • Planet 51 • Mars Needs Moms • Lilo & Stitch • District 9 • Knowing
Adventure Abroad: Unknown • Flightplan • Eastern Promises • Push • The Ruins

The Darkest Hour Songs List: Marselle - "Mockba (Moscow)", Richard Vission and Static Revenger featuring Luciana - "I Like That", Veronica Nelt - "Karla Loves Boris", The DeeKompressors - "I Don't Really Care", Spin Silhouette - "Fever", "Little Grey Wolf", Jee Day - "Like a Child", Pilot Hill - "The Uprising", "Cossack Lullaby"

Buy The Darkest Hour: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Amazon.com: CD • MP3 Download

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Reviewed April 22, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011-2012 Summit Entertainment, Regency Enterprises.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.