Director/Photography – Peter Hyams, Screenplay – Andrew W. Marlowe, Producers – Armyan Bernstein & Bill Borden, Music – John Debney, Music Supervisor – G. Marq Roswell, Visual Effects Supervisor – Eric Durst, Visual and Creature Effects – Rhythm and Hues Inc, Church Miniatures – Hunter-Gratzner Industries Inc, Subway Sequence – Stirber Visual Network (Supervisor – John K. Stirber), Additional Visual Effects – Centropolis Effects & Todd-AO Hollywood Digital, Special Effects Supervisors – Scott R. & Thomas L. Fisher, Creature Effects – Stan Winston Studio (Supervisor – Stan Winston), Makeup Effects – Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger E.F.X. Group Inc, Production Design – Richard Holland. Production Company – Beacon Pictures/Universal
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jericho Cane), Gabriel Byrne (The Man), Robin Tunney (Christine York), Kevin Pollak(Bobby Chicago), Rod Steiger (Father Kovak), C.C.H. Pounder (Detective Margie Francis), Udo Kier (Dr Abel), Miriam Margolyes (Mabel), Derrick O’Connor (Thomas Aquinas)
It is three days before the turn of the millennium. Jericho Cane, a burned-out former police detective now working as a bodyguard, prevents an assassination attempt on an investment banker. He then finds that the assassin was a former priest who has cut out his own tongue. Further investigation leads Cane to secret cabals within the Catholic Church that are trying to prevent the return of Satan to Earth at the dawn of the millennium. The focus of diabolic interest is Christine York who has been destined since her birth to mate with Satan at the hour of the millennium. Cane becomes Christine’s protector as Satan, who wears the body of the investment banker, marshals the supernatural forces and minions at his command to get to Christine.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the hottest name in action movies. Gradually, Schwarzenegger’s name started to fade after successive big-budget flops like Last Action Hero (1993), True Lies (1994) and Batman & Robin (1997). Schwarzenegger completely dropped off cinematic radars after Batman & Robin. When End of Days was made, Schwarzenegger had not appeared in a trademark action vehicle since the humdrum Eraser (1996). In the interim, the press was abuzz with stories about problems concerning heart surgery, rumours of anabolic steroid abuse catching up with him and financial problems in his Planet Hollywood restaurant chain. Not to mention a devastating character assassination in a Premiere magazine article about Schwarzenegger’s vulgar abuse of women and aides. Towards the end of the 90s, Schwarzenegger made a concerted attempt to return to the big-budget action film with End of Days, which jumped on the then current obsession with fin du siecle anxiety, and a handful of other action films like The 6th Day (2000), Collateral Damage (2002) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) but failed to regain the stride he had through the mid-80s/early 90s. Subsequently however, Schwarzenegger bounced back to become Governor of California in 2003.
End of Days was the biggest budgeted of the millennially-focused films that came out at the time. Of the treatments offered, it was the only one that leaped in with a full-blooded explosion of millenarist doom-and-gloom harbinging, seeing the turn of the century as the coincidence of Satan’s return to Earth yada yada. In this respect, End of Days is the most traditional and cliched representation of the millennium. The End Times prophecies aspects that it uses are dreary regurgitations of the cliches that have been established by The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) et al – numerological interpretation of prophecies, The Devil wanting to impregnate a woman (why, we never know – this has become such a cliché, he just wants to per se), conspiracies within the Catholic Church, mysterious figures living on the edges of society, crazed priests, reality and illusion games. None of this is presented with any type of creativity or originality.
The chief permutation that End of Days offers is to transform the basic plot of The Omen into an action movie. [There are striking similarities between End of Days and the horror/action film The Minion/Fallen Knight (1998), which came out a few months earlier]. End of Days is a Devil Returns to Earth film told in terms of a big-budget blockbuster – thus when The Devil walks out of a restaurant, it blows up; when he emerges from the sewers, it comes accompanied by gas explosions and cars going flying in slow-motion; and whenever the Devil or his agents are encountered, there is a massive outlay of artillery fire and/or fisticuffs. The film comes packed with gratuitous action sequences – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt to snatch an assassin off a rooftop while hanging from a helicopter on a winch, a flight aboard a crashing subway train – which are of slim or almost no connection to the main plotline. The climactic showdown with The Devil has The Devil emerge as a giant CGI effect and, as a routine matter of course, the church exploding while statues of the Virgin Mary ignite and stained glass windows spectacularly shatter.
End of Days is a mindless film. It gives the impression it has been assembled for no other reason than to highlight explosions, CGI effects sequences and a numbing barrage of gunfire and room-destroying fights. There is one good scene with Gabriel Byrne trying to tempt Arnold Schwarzenegger where Byrne has been outfitted with some memorable lines – “God is the great underachiever of all time – whenever something happens it is attributed to Him, whenever nothing does He moves in mysterious ways” and “That piece of overrated PR – The Bible.” However, this scene is isolated – it seems that whenever the film is in danger of developing a plot, it quickly leaps back into another barrage of slam and bang action and effects. In fact, there have been few action films that so determinedly set out to resist any intellectual content. Unfortunately, when it comes to the image of sweet and rather cuddly figured Miriam Margolyes throwing former Mr Universe Schwarzenegger around a room and trying to crush him with a grand piano, the risibility that has been bubbling beneath the surface of the entire silly farrago emerges into outright laughability.
The way End of Days seemed in synopsis and even the way that one hoped that it would be from its trailer – after all, it did have the once reasonably worthwhile name of Peter Hyams as director – is a vehicle that offered a fin du siecle wound-scouring that ached with the pain of social moral collapse – in the same way that serial killer thrillers such as Se7en (1995) and tv’s Millennium (1996-9) did – and held up Arnold Schwarzenegger as its redeemer. The action movie hero forced to carry the weight of society’s salvation from the abyss upon his shoulders. Alas not. The melding of the End Times film and of the blockbuster action film never easily gels. You could say that End of Days is “the action movie takes on The Omen” – and The Omen loses.
On a subtextual level when End of Days tries to grapple with finding a theology, it only ends up parroting action movie sensibility. God, we learn, does not intervene in humanity’s affairs but leaves mankind up to fighting for its own destiny – in other words, the action movie theme of the aggressively self-won destiny of the two-fisted action hero. As Arnold Schwarzenegger remonstrates Rod Steiger’s priest at one point, “Between your faith and my Glock .8mm, I trust in my .8mm.” At least the film has Schwarzenegger come to the climactic realization that he must strip off his arsenal of heavy weaponry and face The Devil open armed. However, such a realization is quickly undone by the resulting showdown with The Devil that is nothing except a big special effects punchout and more explosions. Rather than discovering that any quality of being or moral character is necessary to win the battle of Good vs Evil, Schwarzenegger simply throws himself upon a sword where he spills his guts in another CGI explosion of light. The emphasis on flash and bang drowns any point about sacrifice that the film may have made.
End of Days was directed by Peter Hyams. Hyams made a trilogy of underrated sf films around the early 1980s – Capricorn One (1978), Outland (1981) and 2010 (1984). He also produced the quirkily appealing Universal monster homage The Monster Squad (1987). Hyams vanished subsequent to that but returned in the 1990s with the likes of Stay Tuned (1992), Sudden Death (1993), Timecop (1994), The Relic (1997), The Musketeer (2001) and A Sound of Thunder (2005). At one point, Hyams was a multi-disciplined filmmaker – on 2010, he acted as director, writer, producer and cinematographer but upon his return in the 1990s, he gives the appearance of having abandoned original creative input and merely sold himself as a director for hire. Timecop and The Relic were competently directed films but Stay Tuned, Sudden Death, End of Days and A Sound of Thunder have been hackwork of the most mindless order. One has long given up on Peter Hyams as a genre director worth looking out for.