Crichton's Book. Levinson's Movie.
George Lucas' Cool Filing System.

by Scott Snyder

The Lehigh Valley's Movie Theaters, by Craig Constantine
Michael Crichton's novels are such hot cinematic properties these days, thanks to the successful pureeing of his paleozoic tour-de-force Jurassic Park, that his most recent novel, Disclosure, has taken little more than a year to leap to the big screen. One wonders (I do, anyway) whether a bit more time for reflection - a look before leaping - would have yielded a more thoughtful translation. Barry Levinson's screen version makes many presuppositions about its audience's willingness to suspend disbelief and to put up with deus ex machina plot gimmicks; in the end, dinosaurs on the rampage seem a more plausible premise than much of what Mr. Levinson asks us to accept.
The plot seems at first to revolve around the return of an ex-lover (Demi Moore) into the life of a digital communications company executive (Michael Douglas), now happily married and on his way up in the CD-ROM drive industry. The old flame has become a corporate bigwig herself since the two parted; the company has hired her as senior vice president, a position on which everyone thought Mr. Douglas's character, Tom Sanders, had a lock. When Sanders's new boss tries to rekindle their steamy affair-this time from a position of corporate power-Sanders resists, then flees. And when, in the morning, he discovers that his job is in jeopardy and he is being accused of sexual harassment (an interesting concurrence), his life-is-a-bed-of-roses outlook takes a turn for the worse.
In many ways, what follows for Sanders is a reprise of Mr. Douglas's role in Fatal Attraction: small indiscretion leads hero into big trouble with wife and makes life hell; wife finds it in her heart to forgive him and works at his side to put the succubus in question back where she belongs. For, naturally (I can't possibly be giving anything away here), our hero does triumph, thanks to a series of technologically-enhanced coincidences (phone numbers dialed incorrectly, interminable answering machine tapes, last-minute revelations faxed in from Malaysia). And naturally, this being a movie that is determined not to exploit cliche's - or at least not to let on that it is exploiting cliche's - the situation only gets worse at the very point when it seems to have been resolved. The soundtrack at this point suggests we are supposed to be surprised that Sanders is merely out of the frying pan. I hope that audiences are savvier than that. If moviegoers find themselves in suspense over how Sanders will get out of either of his predicaments, then they haven't been watching very carefully.

Staff's picks: There seems to be a trend here...:Star Trek: Next Generation, Duckman, X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Frazier, Seinfeld, Star Trek
There is something insidiously misogynistic about Mr. Crichton's political-correctness-in-reverse take on sexual harassment; he seems to be exhuming the "men can be victims, too" argument, even suggesting that what happens to Sanders is not so much of an anomaly as it might seem. When a colleague mourns sympathetically, "You know how women are," Sanders can only nod wearily, having learned this rather ludicrous "lesson" all too well. And when one of his corporate higher-ups drops his jaw and tells Sanders, "I've never heard of such a thing, a woman harassing a man," we get the sense that we are supposed to laugh derisively at this naive fool. In this society, however, sexual harassment is fundamentally a man's crime, institutionalized in the structure of corporate America and the male psyche. The sociological stones that Mr. Crichton and Mr. Levinson leave unturned do much to discredit Disclosure as a serious commentary on sexual and corporate politics.
Viewers will be less than surprised, though, when the movie turns out not to be a penetrating look at the true nature of gender politics after all, but rather a treatise on what not to do when covering one's corporate behind. Even as Disclosure invites us to gloat over Sanders's personal victories, they (and the entire first hour-and-a-half of the film) are rendered inconsequential. One can't help being disappointed. I felt as though I had stayed up all night studying notes that turned out not to be on the test; plot twists are one thing, and plot resets are quite another.
Donald Sutherland turns in the best performance of the day, as the president of the corporation. Mr. Sutherland manages to be despicable and affable, childish and childlike at the same time. Make no mistake, his character is an evil creature. But he is evil in such an earnest, endearing way that we can almost believe it when Sanders doesn't quit working for him at the end of the movie. Mr. Douglas and Ms. Moore have less to show for their efforts. Both rely far too heavily on jutting out their jaws to develop their characters, and neither succeeds particularly in making the fantastical ethical decisions their characters make seem plausible.
The most bizarre decision Levinson made, though, was to cast Brian "Kato" Kaelin as a programmer and technician for the company. Mr. Kaelin is a "name," so to speak, but not the sort of name - let alone the sort of acting talent - this film really needs. In one sequence taking place inside a sort of virtual reality filing application that the company has created, Mr. Kaelin's face appears pasted onto the body of a Virtual angel, wings fluttering like hummingbird's. The angel is the filing program's on-line help system; when the user has a question, he says, "Angel, I need help," and Kato Kaelin appears over his shoulder. I should think the effect would be disquieting enough to put a damper on sales.
The filing system sequences were designed by George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic team, and, though quite implausible (like much of what we see on computer screens in this film), they are quite striking. Strapped into a VR monkey suit, the user locates files by walking down a lush mahogany-and-marble corridor, pulling file drawers out of walls, and reading files in midair before his eyes. This is the Visual Concept of the movie-an attempt, one might suppose, to distract audiences from holes in the storytelling. And it does make sitting through the movie more worthwhile - though not as worthwhile as spending five minutes actually using such a program would be.
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All this is not to say that watching Disclosure is two hours of hell or anything. About half of the jokes are funny (thanks in large part to Dennis Miller, whose timing and delivery are laudable). And the pacing is quick enough to hold interest without losing the audience in a frenetic blur. During the slower bits, we can envy the interior design of the company's office building, a glass-and-brickwork affair that could only be the environs of a Hip, Trendy Computer Corporation. Ultimately, though - despite pretenses of having an actual theme - Disclosure fails to be either as insightful or as suspenseful as it hopes to be. It's the Jurassic Park syndrome all over again. Disclosure has too complicated a plot to translate effectively to film, and in attempting such a translation, Mr. Levinson has delivered Cliff's Notes: We know what effects the story is supposed to create and what the messages are supposed to be, but we know this only secondhand. It's the difference between e-mailing someone and going out to the airport to meet their plane.

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