THE PROJECTION ROOM (The Prisoner Compared...)


"SIX CUBED" By David Healey

Six individuals, with no apparent connections, awaken to find themselves entrapped within a strange cubic structure with no recollections of how how they got there. The cube is made up of a multitude of similar `rooms' measuring fourteen feet in each dimension, all surfaces having a pneumatically operated door located at its centre. These doors all appear to lead to similar, though variously hued, rooms, some safe havens, others incorporating astonishingly violent traps. One inmate is effectively sliced and diced by an array of laser beams during the opening sequence and another later meets a grisly end when acid is sprayed into his face.
Even though it transpires that one of the number worked on components for the structure he is ignorant of its purpose or indeed of its makers. Its origins are discussed by the occupants, with proposals ranging from a government or military funded experiment to extra-terrestrial activity, but it soon becomes evident that the question of who or why is of secondary importance to the film makers.

As was the case with "The Prisoner", it is the human element which is paramount - their reactions to this gross intrusion into their personal liberty and the interaction between the characters during their imprisonment. Literature and film have long had a fascination with tossing a cross section of society into unfamiliar settings in order to relate the development or degeneration of personalities and relationships. "Lord Of The Flies", "Animal Farm" and "Alien" are just a few classic examples and, in many ways, "Cube" can be viewed as a modem update of "Lord Of The Flies", dealing with similar themes albeit with the innocent, undeveloped personalities being replaced with more experienced, cynical and prejudiced individuals.
Obviously, the primary aim of the captives is to escape. This is not easy, however, with seemingly endless rooms to navigate, random traps and no logical explanations. The only thing that these individuals have is each other and the various skills that they have brought with them. Inevitably no one person has the necessary abilities to solve the puzzle and a pooling ofresources is the only answer. This conclusion is simple but the logistics of achieving a result prove increasingly problematic.

Inevitably there has been some criticism of the stereotypical characters who populate the film but this really misses the point. "Cube" mirrors the broad personalities of the real world and illustrates the need for them to interact with each other, befriend or use one another in order to progress or find fulfilment. Opposing viewpoints soon bubble to the surface, debates and arguments take place and a mini-social order develops. By stripping away the environment, possessions, familiy ties etc. a rather interesting platform is created which, in many ways, resembles the plight of Number 6. A variety of themes are explored ranging from trust and betrayal, teamwork and individualism, intellect and physical skills, to leadership in the forms of democracy, communism and anarchy. "The Prisoner", of course, explored similar aspects within it own microcosm of society. Ultimately the conclusion appears very similar and we discover, as Patrick McGoohan proposed all those years ago, that "the most evil, human essence is... oneself'.

The film is not one which washes over the viewer. It demands attention and examination. The storyline itself is simple but the objective of the film is not. We are clearly in allegory country here and, in common with McGoohan's vehicle, more questions are asked than are answered, the aim being audience participation rather than mere consumption.

Initially, the main question on everyone's lips is "What is the cube?". Like "The Prisoner", however, we ultimately discover that it does not matter - the surroundings are merely a shell within which much more is going on. It gives the protagonists a raison d'etre, an aim, but in reality it is only a framework requiring communication between the strangers. The same situation could have been created anywhere but the element of danger and the unknown was required to ensure that interaction occurred. Had the same six characters been placed together in a railway station waiting room the chances are they would not even have greeted one another. There is a message here and it is perhaps not one which we really wish to hear. A film such as this is not going to change the world, but it may make a few people think and while we are still questioning what goes on in the world there is still hope.

Director, Vincenzo Natali shot "Cube" on a minute budget, reportedly a mere $50,000, utilising just one specially designed set and a lot of goodwill and ingenuity. To the viewer it appears that the enigmatic structure consists of an array of thousands .of individual modules but in reality only one complete chamber and a partial second was contructed. Built from plexiglass in a Toronto warehouse and elevated off the ground the impression of many different cubes was created simply by the use of clever editing and lighting. Inevitably the limitations of this created problems for the director and crew who needed to ensure that the audience was fully aware of the nature of the cube and of the relative locations of the characters. With colour coding and some imaginative set piece special effects the restrictions were overcome and the impression of the vastness of the cube sustained.

One area of the production which did not suffer unduly, in spite of the low budget, was that of special visual effects. Natali had established a good relationship with the Toronto based Caligari Studios, who specialise in prosphetic effects, while working on Elevated, a short film project which in some ways operated in a similar area to "Cube". By good fortune CORE Digital Pictures, also based in Toronto, having just completed work on a larger Hollywood movie "Mimic", donated their services free of charge. The company, which was set up by William Shatner for his mini-series "Tek War", is run by artists and animators rather than accountants and therefore the idea of such a move was not totally alien. Dealing primaily with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) the company worked well with Caligari to create some stunning effects which would in normal circumstances be beyond such a low budget production.

The film received a limited theatrical release in the UK and is well worth investigating. With this, and "The Truman Show", 1998 was a classic year for "Prisoner" films.

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