Color, 1992, 99 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neill, Michael McKean, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jim Norton
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Paramount (Blu-ray) (Japan RA HD), Warner Bros (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Regarded as a box office and critical disappointment upon its release, Memoirs of an Invisible Man caused a mental disconnect in the public at the time but has gradually become more accepted over the years. It's essentially a straight-up science fiction thriller directed by John Carpenter... but starring Chevy Chase, who had been pushing the project through Warner Bros. since acquiring the rights to the bestselling 1987 novel by one-shot author H.F. Saint. A number of prospective writers and directors were courted at various points, most famously Ivan Reitman and William Goldman (both of whom did long, extensive work before moving on), with Carpenter eventually chosen on the strength of his work on Starman and Escape from New York. Out of the studio system since the mid-'80s, the director gave up his usual contractual "John Carpenter's" before the title in this case for what amounts to a work for hire job, but it still remains significant now in his filmography for several reasons.
The opening of the film introduces the audience directly to an invisible man named Nick Halloway (Chase), who's afraid of his impending death and wants to preserve his amazing story if the worst should happen to him. In flashback he narrates the circumstances that led him, a stock analyst devoid of any significant friends or family, to a fateful 24 hours in which his friend George (McKean) introduced him to TV documentarian Alice (Hannah), with whom he immediately hit it off. Suffering from a hangover the next morning, he decides to lie down for a few minutes in the men's room during a company meeting at Magnascopic Laboratories just as a technician's spilled cup of coffee ignites a building-wide disaster. Overlooked during the evacuation, Nick and large portions of the building become invisible on the spot, and his unique condition attracts the interest of murderous covert CIA operative David Jenkins (Neill). On the run and afraid of becoming forced into a life as a combination guinea pig and assassin, Nick decides to reveal his invisibility to Alice and sets off a dangerous chase that leads from San Francisco to south of the border.
It's easy to see why Chase would target this material as a potential crossover from his usual comedy roles, largely thanks to its combination of Hitchcockian manhunt and Ghost-inspired genre romance. Likewise, Carpenter proves to be adaptable to the material with his usual knack for striking widescreen compositions (aided here by legendary cinematographer William A. Fraker) giving the film an elegant, expansive look that's far more polished than most early '90s productions. The main problem here is an insistence on keeping Chase as prominent as possible in nearly every scene, with his narration plastered on way too heavily (especially in the first half) complete with some attempts at wit that mostly fall flat. He's also kept visible on screen in an inconsistent fashion, at first when he's just alone (but still invisible in mirrors, etc.) and then just switching back and forth with little rhyme or reason depending on the scene. On the other hand, the visual humor here works quite well including some funny bits involving his accidental interactions with passersby; the film itself isn't really a comedy, so these touches tend to blend in more seamlessly a la the similar bits in Starman. Though stuck with a fairly stock bad guy role, Neill is actually very good here in his first teaming with Carpenter, which was enough for the director to bring him back again to star in his best film of the '90s, In the Mouth of Madness. Significantly, Carpenter also opted out of composing the score this time, instead handing the reins over to Shirley Walker for her first major solo studio score. It's a fantastic piece of work that became an instant favorite among soundtrack aficionados, paving the way for her excellent later work on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Final Destination, and a co-composing gig with Carpenter on Escape from L.A.
In 2003, Warner Bros. brought the film to DVD complete with an interesting retrospective look at the elaborate visual effects, "How to Become Visible: The Dawn of Digital FX" (4m11s), and a batch of deleted scenes (3m9s), the most interesting being an excised nightmare sequence. (The rumored extended ending showing a birth is still nowhere to be found.) Both extras along with the trailer were carried over for the Japanese Blu-ray release from Paramount in 2016. In 2018, Scream Factory debuted the film on American Blu-ray, with the same bonuses listed on the packaging. As it turns out, the disc is a bit more stuffed than that; in addition to the special effects featurette, deleted scenes (still called "outtakes" for some reason), and trailer, you get a vintage EPK batch of interviews with Carpenter, Chase and Hannah (5m23s), a selection of raw behind-the-scenes footage (5m7s) focusing on Carpenter at work and a little bit of Fraker, and a selection of TV spots (4m11s). As with the prior Blu-ray, the sole audio options is a DTS-HD MA English stereo track, here with optional English SDH subtitles. The transfer itself is a massive improvement over the Japanese release; it's brighter, more detailed, has more image info, features far less edge enhancement, and sports much warmer, more robust colors. Fans of the film should be very happy with the results, and it represents a pretty significant upgrade across the board.