Eve of Destruction (1991) Retrospective

EVE VIII is a military android created to look and sound exactly like her creator, Dr. Eve Simmons. When the robot is damaged during a bank robbery, it accesses memories it was programmed with by her creator. The memories used though are dark and tragic ones.

The robot is also programmed as a killing machine if anyone tries to stop her mission. Colonel Jim McQuade is tasked with eliminating the unstoppable machine. With the help of Dr. Simmons, he tries to outthink the intelligent and emotional robotic doppelgänger.

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EVE OF DESTRUCTION is Gibbins’ second feature. His first in 1986, was Paramount’s FIRE WITH FIRE (“a movie that didn’t make any particular commercial impression, “according to Madden, who produced that one as well), the story of boys from a reformatory invited to a dance at a Catholic girls’ school. The director built his name in the music video field, creating concepts for videos by such artists as George Michael and Glenn Frey. Gibbins takes little responsibility for FIRE WITH FIRE (“I was a hired hand,” he said), which , unlike EVE OF DESTRUCTION, he didn’t write.

Principal photography on EVE OF DESTRUCTION began early last December inside an abandoned Budweiser glass factory in Valencia, California, converted to a movie soundstage, housing war room sets and futuristic corridors. Essentially a vast tin box sitting atop a cement floor, the building provided little protection for the cast and crew from the icy winds outside. The production filmed exteriors in San Francisco and New York, and wrapped shooting in Los Angeles on February 12. The supporting cast is led by Kevin McCarthy, who plays the father confronted by his daughter’s android look-a-like.

“We determined that we were going to hire the best people behind the scenes that we could find,” said Madden. “We wanted to make this look like a $35 million movie even if we didn’t have that kind of money to spend. So we set out, to use a widely overused phrase, to put every penny we had up there, on the screen. We are fortunate because, unlike many other movies, we aren’t spending $12 million or $24 million on our actors. Given that Renee and Gregory are a bargain, we could still make the movie at a reasonable price.”

Sources on the production put the movie’s budget at between $7 and $11 million, with a significant portion going to set design and construction. Alan Hume is the director of photography, a British native who has worked on RETURN OF THE JEDI as well as three installments of the James Bond series. Production designer Peter Lamont has worked on every James Bond film since 1963’s GOLDFINGER. Costume designer Deborah L. Scott worked on E.T., and supervising producer Madden, has done such films as FATAL ATTRACTION and THE FLY.

Producer David Madden freely admits that Eve of Destruction does have some similarities to other killer-robot films, including Terminator. But, he says, “It’s as if Michael Biehn or Arnold Schwarzenegger were playing both characters in Terminator. The Terminator is a killing machine, and that’s all he is. Eve VIII is more similar to Frankenstein’s Monster we try to give her a psychology, in some sense. We want to work on the same action-adventure level Terminator worked on, but we’re also trying to do a more complex, human-interest story at the same time.”

The story does indeed sound like it adds another dimension to the now-familiar tale of an android run amok. Eve VIII was designed for use in hostage situations, to be undetectable as a robot, at least under cursory examination. The idea is that she will walk into a hostage situation, and take over. Just in case she’s not persuasive enough, she does have a small nuclear device tucked away inside, one that can devastate 20 city blocks.

While writing the script, Gibbins knew he and Udoff were on to something a bit different when they came up with the idea of the robot’s journey through Dr. Simmons’ past and repressed desires. “You start with the hardware, the robot, and then you start with the scientist. When we injected the emotional content into the piece, when the robot started going back through the scientist’s life to sort things out, that’s really when we spun it into a new orbit, and away from comparisons to other films.

“If the audience identifies with the characters, you have a chance of having a very successful movie. If you just have pyrotechnics, you’re not going to have that successful a movie. There are certain directors around, who shall remain nameless, who have great eyes but no ears. They do big movies, and they’re relatively successful, but once you go for the visuals without emotional content, you end up with people watching the movie but not being involved in the movie.”

As with some other directors who are nervous about being too identified with science fiction, Gibbins is pretty cautious in describing the movie that way. “I think there’s a little confusion about what kind of film this is. As soon as I say ‘robot,’ they think it is science fiction, but I would say ‘science faction.’ I have always seen the movie as a psychological thriller with the hardware as a gimmick, rather than the other way around.”

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His co-writer, Yale Udoff, previously wrote Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing, and ended up co-writing Eve of Destruction because Gibbins’ enthusiasm for the idea finally roped him in. “I don’t really consider this picture science fiction,” says Udoff, as if there is something wrong with a movie being science fiction. “There are so many movies in which the central dramatic thrust is what happens when an executive on the way up gives up everything for his work. In essence, that’s what the scientist has done, so that led us down many interesting paths. The robot goes back into the scientist’s past-her past, because they have the same emotional background. If you don’t buy that, we’ve got a problem, but I think the audience will go with that.”

Udoff points out that the robot is “like a woman who has been drinking, and is set off by the wrong thing. This woman is really powerful, she’ll destroy you and the city in which you live, if you piss her off. We realized that there were certain other movies [like this), but we didn’t consciously model it on anything. I never really thought of Terminator, but when this script was going around the studiosthey see so many scripts, so we gave this a catch phrase: “The Female Terminator.’ It was never that for me; it’s much more of a psychological thriller.”

Madden previously produced Gibbins’ first movie, Fire with Fire, but even Madden admits “it didn’t make a dime.” He reunited with Gibbins because “I believed he was good the first time, and I believed he was good this time, and I think this time, we’ll be vindicated.” Time and the box office will tell if David Madden is right, whether Eve of Destruction will explode or, well, self-destruct.

Set designer Ricker worked hand in hand with production designer Peter (Aliens) Lamont to overcome the obstacles of making the mechanics of the subway work. “Peter had a wealth of experience with varied rail vehicles from his work on the James Bond series,” Ricker recalls. “He had the confidence to say. ‘Well, we’ll just put something on the track and push it from behind, and it’ll look like the front of a subway.'”

Which is exactly how the finished product ended up: a lifelike, fronton facade with a blow-up photograph of the interior, complete with passengers, visible through the front windows and illuminated from behind. But the question of what to push it with remained unanswered until the film crew came across a railroad company in neighboring Newhall which caters to moviemaking. There they found all the track they needed, as well as a diesel-powered “speeder,” a kind of railroad service cart ideal for pushing the subway car. But, even though it was just a mock-up, the car still weighed well over a ton. and proper body clearance beneath the vehicle was a major consideration in preparation for the stunt involving Hines.

Seems the only thing the designers neglected to install in Eve VIII is an “off” switch. That’s where McQuade comes in. He’s instructed. now that Eve VIII is locked in “battle mode.” that the only way to neutralize the android is to put a bullet through her eyes. “I guess the eyes have it.” McQuade quips.

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Actor Daniel Aryk Christian, an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Army Green Berets, was brought in as a technical consultant to assist Hines in preparing for his part. and was later cast in the role of Captain Griffin. In addition, Christian helped select the weaponry used in the film. “For Greg. we decided on a 357-45 Winchester Magnum,” he says with a proud gleam in his eyes. “It’s the world’s largest handgun, the biggest ever used in a motion picture, 6 1/2 pounds of chrome steel with a laser sight mounted on the top. It’s probably going to turn out to be the star of the film.”

But before McQuade can use the awesome firearm to stop Eve VIII, he has to find her. That requires him to play the part not only of android assassin, but also of amateur psychiatrist. “Everybody’s got a dark side,” reflects Hines, “and I’ve got to get that out of Eve Simmons in order to find Eve VIII.“

With this sort of storyline. you might expect a romance to blossom between McQuade and Eve Simmons. but that idea was rejected after the script’s first draft. “In this film. the clock is ticking.” explains Gibbins. “and if you suddenly stop on the road to get it on, the audience will be thrown out of the plot and might lose interest. The development in the McQuade and Eve Simmons characters is much more subtle than that. They go from being antagonistic to being a real team, and in a sense that’s much more universal.

“We’ve worked very hard with Renee and Greg to make their characters believable,” the director continues. “If an audience is emotionally involved with the characters, and the technology being dealt with works for them, then you have a picture that can play very well.”

Following Eve Simmons’ transplanted life history, the Uzi-toting android travels to New York City in search of the 6-year-old son whom the scientist relinquished custody of years earlier during a divorce battle. With McQuade and Eve Simmons hot on Eve VIII’s spiked heels, the action moves underground, culminating in a tense subway confrontation. The sequence ends up being one of the most complex and planned-out in the film.

Still, the casting of the relatively unknown Soutendijk for the leading role(s) seems a risky move on the part of the filmmakers. Soutendijk has starred in many Dutch films, including THE FOURTH MAN directed by Paul Verhoeven. “Renee wasn’t the first person to pop into our minds,” Madden explained. “But we realized that (we needed] someone who had the craft and the discipline to go back and forth between the two roles, someone who was attractive enough to deliver the kind of sexual element the movie needs, and someone smart enough to play a scientist and deliver the dialogue in a way that was credible. Many days [Renee] comes in and does a very emotional scene as the scientist, and then we throw her in the makeup and hair trailer for the look of the android. To have that level of technique was beyond a lot of better known actresses that we talked about.”

Except for Tap, Hines has rarely played the solo lead in a film; he’s generally the white lead guy’s best pal, the wisecracking back-up, the co-hero. Here, he is the hero of the piece,” claims Madden. “As he said at our first meeting. ‘If this works, the audience will be cheering me at the end.’ Being charming comes easy to him; he’s very personable in real life, and he has played that type of character. We worked very hard to toughen the McQuade character up, to get him to react in short, sharp bursts. Gregory found it very tough at the beginning to do that, but now it’s second nature to him. He turns in a really good performance, very charismatic-a movie star performance.

Duncan Gibbins
Duncan Gibbins

Hines stands on the subway platform, a 400-footlong, 50-foot-wide behemoth of a set, chatting between takes with the director. The mood between Hines and Gibbins is light, amiable, full of laughter, a good indication that the shoot has gone well.

The role of McQuade, the maverick military marksman brought in by the government to track down and kill Eve VIII, represents something of a departure for Hines, who comes to the film from a musical background. He was eager for the challenge, however, and insisted on performing many of the stunts himself, one of which involved diving in front of a speeding subway car.

“Moviegoers are so sophisticated now that if you put an actor in front of a big screen that has a train coming at them, it’s not going to work,” Hines explains. “It’s always better if the actor can do it instead of a stunt double. Stunts are also choreographed, and that comes easy to me because of my dance background.”

Madden said he is pleased with Hines’ off-beat casting. “We wanted somebody that was very warm and sympathetic, with a persona for the audience,” noted the producer. “We wanted to get away from the ordinary stereotype, like Rambo. We wanted somebody more humane, with more of a sense of his own kind of intelligence. What we liked about Gregory was that he had the physical abilities to be convincing as a military tactician, but he also had real likability and warmth and a humaneness that other actors don’t have.”

Gibbins echoed his producer. “With both (Soutendijk and Hines), I wanted to go against type,” said the director. “The obvious thing to go for is some six-foot strapping actress who is very physical, and to cast an actor who is a kind of rugged marine. I wanted to play against that. Gregory was a name that was mentioned to me. I thought, ‘Yeah, what a great idea!’ He’s not a colonel type. But colonels aren’t colonel types! Movies make them colonel types. Movies are the cliche and the reality is something different.

“Renee is diminutive and she’s very tough,” said Gibbins. “What I always wanted for the part was someone with great emotional range; someone who could play all the colors and go from naught to sixty in about three seconds, in an emotional sense. She’s a kind of Porsche … You put her in gear– Boom! She’s there, she’s angry. Boom! She’s sad. Boom! She’s happy. And the way the script is written, she’s got very strong gear shifts. Eve Vill goes from being very sad to very happy in a matter of seconds. With all the actresses, Renee was just about the only one who could cut it.”

Dutch actress Renee Soutendijk, has the dual challenge of portraying both the android. Eve VIII, and the android’s creator, Dr. Eve Simmons. “It was less difficult than I thought it would be,” Soutendijk reflects as she stands in the midst of the flashy “war room” set, directly adjacent to the subway platform. “They’re different beings. The robot is very unpredictable and lives from one moment to the next.

Soutendijk is not widely known in the United States, but those who have seen her in her European films, or the mini-series she has starred in know she’s an impressive talent. She has an edgy, intelligent quality to her playing that’s quite distinctive. If you can,’seek out the videos of the two films she made with Paul Verhoeven, Spetters and, particularly. The Fourth Man. Her American accent is very nearly perfect, betraying her non-U.S. origins more in occasional odd word choices than by any kind of inflection. She says, for example, “I would not so much like to be a star in America.” What she wants Eve of Destruction to do for her is show that she is an actress capable of playing many things. I don’t want to be typecast; I hope I won’t be offered films like Terminator and-a-Half after this. It was great to also have the scientist to play, the more human and natural side.”

In fact, she admits that I would have thought longer about playing this if the part of the scientist had not been there. If I had only done the robot, I would have doubted more that it was a good choice to do it.”

Playing both roles was an interesting challenge for Soutendijk. “At first, when I started preparing for this part, I wanted to have a lot of difference between one and the second, but in fact, there shouldn’t be, because the scientist has programmed this robot with all of her own information. So, it was more interesting to start off closer together, and then make them more and more different toward the end. Both characters go through different stages in the film, which for me made it very interesting to play.

She’s very focused, very alert, mechanical in behavior. In the beginning, the robot is much more human than the scientist. During the story, the robot changes, becoming more obsessed, more confused, more crazy. I didn’t want to portray her as the second Terminator. I wanted to keep her human. Although she’s doing a lot of violent things, somehow as an audience you have to understand why and feel some sort of compassion for her.”

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Location shooting for Eve began on the streets of New York City, then shifted cross-country to San Francisco before the filmmakers settled into a makeshift soundstage at the old Thatcher Glass Company in Valencia, California. When it was operational, the place turned out thousands of beer bottles every day. But lately, the gigantic tin sheds have played host to a steady stream of film crews migrating out of Hollywood.

Veteran cinematographer Alan Hume was pleased with the set. “It’s so well-designed, this set, that they put all the lighting in as per the real station, and our film stock is so bloody marvelous these days that I put the minimum amount of light over the top of this. If you look over there, you’ll see some lights hung up in the beams, and that’s really all one needs to do.”

“It has been a hard shoot for me,” the British DP (director of photography) admits. “We did three weeks of night work, 12 hours minimum, but sometimes 14 to 16 hour days, a lot of rain, gunfire, police activity, helicopters landing, vehicles coming and going, so it really has been hard going. A little bit like a James Bond film in that regard, two or three cameras going most of the time.”

Some of the visual FX involving the android required the use of prosthetic devices by Christopher Biggs, a process Soutendijk found somewhat disturbing. “It’s a terrifying experience to begin with because you’re encased in plaster. Then it’s very tiring because when it’s time to do the scenes, it takes four or five hours to put the piece on, then another two or three hours to take it off again. The scene in which the robot is lying on the operating table was the worst. It was my head but matched with an artificial body. My body was directly beneath it, crammed in some kind of box. It felt like a coffin.”

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Producer Madden becomes particularly excited when describing the inner workings of the android. “If you open up Eve VIII’s skin. which we do, you don’t see nuts or bolts like something on Lost in Space. You see synthetic tissue that’s been colored to match muscles, and instead of nerves you see very fine electronic circuitry. If she’s shot she’ll bleed, but she won’t die because the blood has no medical function. She might not pass a hospital examination, but if she were to walk through an airport X-ray machine she’d look human.”

Eve of Destruction (End Title) Philippe Sarde

Duncan Gibbins
David Madden
Duncan Gibbins
Yale Udoff

Gregory Hines
Renée Soutendijk

Philippe Sarde

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2 thoughts on “Eve of Destruction (1991) Retrospective

  1. Yes, a Terminator cash in, but one of the best. Renee Soutendijk is superb in her dual role, especially as the EVE robot. Total bad ass killing machine, who looks great while doing it. Lots of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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