a critiQal film review The 6th Day (2000)

Plot: In the near future, the Sixth Day law - outlawing human cloning - has been passed. This information doesn't really affect pilot Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) and his family - until the day he comes home to discover he's been cloned. On top of that shock comes another - now that he knows about the Sixth Day violation, there are a number of people who want to kill him to protect that secret. Now he must expose the truth - or lose his family forever.

1150 words (Est. Reading Time 5m 45s)
  • ...a somewhat meager attempt by Schwarzenegger to recapture his glory days - but the film does grow on the viewer with a second viewing.

The first time I saw The 6th Day was back when it was in the theaters. I was really disappointed, and thought that Schwarzenegger had made another bad choice – which he has done occasionally (box-office bombs like Last Action Hero (1993), or Junior – featuring a pregnant Arnold – and of course Collateral Damage).

Months later, a friend was watching the DVD, and I decided to stick around and watch it too, since I didn’t have anything better to do. Surprisingly, I liked it enough the second time around to buy myself a copy (cheap). Now that Ah-nold has said he isn’t going to be making any movies anymore since he’s the Governor of California, I decided to give the movie another go, and see if my impression had changed. Would the third time convince me that I was just having a bad day in the theater that day, or would it prove that my first instinct was correct?

The acting in The 6th Day wasn’t exactly top-notch, and Ah-nold was definitely not on his best day, but this third time around it stood up well enough to get the viewer through the film. Both Ah-nold and Michael Rapaport could have done so much better (Ah-nold proved it in True Lies (1994), Michael in Cop Land and True Romance (1993)), so it’s kind of a disappointment in that respect. If you allow yourself to get over that, however, you may notice they seem to have kept it low-key to keep pace with the actors around them, all of whom are also doing only a so-so job, Robert Duvall included.

The plot of The 6th Day is an interesting one, especially considering that a sheep being cloned and the human genome being mapped were big stories at the time. I’m sure that many people were starting to debate amongst themselves about the possibility of cloning humans – heck, I know there were a couple of stories where people had claimed to have done it already (don’t know if those were ever proven to be true or not). Anyway, it was a hot topic at the time, so the premise of human cloning being used against a human was sure to draw people into the theaters. Just like when robots hit big in science fiction – it’s a fear that we as humans have of our science taking control of our lives from us. Look at some of big sci-fi blockbuster movies of the past (The Terminator (1984), Jurassic Park (1993), etc.) and you’ll notice the theme.

But, when the filmmakers set out to tackle the cloning issue, they may have wanted to look at the rest of the plot as well – there are a couple of inconsistencies throughout the film (if this future is “nearer than you think”, why are there so many changes in everyday life, i.e.. bathroom mirrors with TV and scheduling built in, inventive looking new aircraft, lifelike dolls, telephones totally replaced by video conferencing, etc.? And that’s just one of the inconsistencies – the major one doesn’t occur until the end of the film – and it’s never explained, either.)

The only big problem with portraying this on the big screen, as the filmmakers found out, is putting Ah-nold in scenes with his clone, and making them believable for the audience. Their answer: to make the scenes quick, with a lot of moving camera shots, so the audience can’t focus in on any mistakes in the editing. What the filmmakers didn’t count on, and why 6th Day didn’t so well in theaters, was the boredom audiences were already feeling towards stars as two identical characters in a film. It had already been done by Van Damme (Double Impact) and by Jackie Chan (Twin Dragons (1999)), just to name a few, so by the time 6th Day came along, it was getting a bit old (although The One came out shortly afterwards and managed to make the double-starring thing interesting again).

The filmmakers did try to make The 6th Day original by using one plot twist that cloning causes – if you can be cloned, you can kill off the bad guys again and again, and the audience will buy seeing them again, as long as they get a view of them being cloned in between. The filmmakers took this plot device to the hilt, and threw out the stops to throw in a bit of humor into the film – not to mention helping to freak out the hero in the beginning. This grisly comic relief is the lighter side of the film, and you are taken aback and also amused by how quickly the bad guys are killed…and how often.

Too bad this idea wasn’t around during your Commando (1985) days, eh Ah-nold? How funny would it have been to fight a whole army of just one guy, cloned over and over again? On second thought – maybe it’s a good idea that never occurred to the filmmakers back then.

The special effects in The 6th Day are so uneven it’s really very surprising. It’s almost as if the filmmakers didn’t plan their budget for effects very well, and ran out before they could finish. The flying scenes, and a lot of small stuff (football players’ helmets have a transparent computer screen before their eyes, hologram statues, etc.) is perfected as well.

But when it comes to on-screen duo of Ah-nold and Ah-nold…well, that could have used a bit of work. It just looks fake, and pulls the viewer out of the believability of the film. It’s so uneven it’s off-balancing, and may be one of the reasons I didn’t like the movie in the theaters – the errors on the big screen have much more impact than on the small screen.

Overall, The 6th Day is a sad try by Ah-nold to get back to his film heyday, and only turns out to be average in terms of quality. With the surprising low quality performances by Rapaport, Duvall, and Schwarzenegger himself, along with uneven special effects quality, I can see why I didn’t like it the first time around. It also was the first movie to show Ah-nold’s real decline in films – it’s almost as if he knew his popularity was waning, so wasn’t going to try as hard anymore…and maybe everyone else just took their cue from him.

One thing for this movie, though, is that it grows on you a little bit the second (or third) time around. You still won’t think it’s Ah-nold’s best…but it’s definitely not his worst, either. Rent The 6th Day sometime, watch it twice…and see if you don’t agree with me.

PS…For you WWE fans out there, I think this film is the only film to feature the short-lived, Vince McMahon created, XFL league…if you notice it in any other film, let me know.

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