Mutant Chronicles: 2-Disc Collector's Edition - Director's Cut
R1 - America - Magnolia Home Entertainment/Magnet
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (17th October 2009).
The Film

Don’t you just hate it when a film sounds like it’s going to be awesome on paper, yet the final cinematic product barely resembles what your brain has been building it up to be? Such is the sad fate of “Mutant Chronicles” (2008), a film that had a promising title, plot synopsis and cast list, but turned out to be no better than any recent Sci-Fi pictures movie-of-the-week. I had heard some mixed reviews on the film, most citing its low-budget aesthetics as a weak point. A trailer I was able to glimpse online gave me a faint glimmer of hope that it could be an entertaining jaunt, at the least, but I maintained my cautious optimism all the same.

In the 28th century, Earth is ruled by four warring corporations. During an intense battle an ancient seal is uncovered on the battlefield, opening up a hole in the ground from which a mutant army rises up to attack the humans. Major Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane) leads a group of soldiers to fight the army and attempt to destroy them with an ancient bomb that was found years ago. Coming along for the ride is Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman), a priest with the brotherhood that has been sworn to protect the Earth from the mutant forces.

As it turns out, there was very little entertainment to be had here, aside from one performance in the film which I will discuss later. No, “Mutant Chronicles” is a low-budget affair with lofty ambitions that, sadly, lacks the visual polish and compelling story that would have helped it live up to even my most modest expectations. I give the filmmakers credit, their hearts were in the right place, but sometimes you just gotta realize that you’re out of your league. I think that had they approached this film with a smaller scale in mind, and a good practical FX artist, they could have crafted something special that genre fans would eat up.

The main problem here lies solely with the effects work. So much of the film was shot on green screens, and it’s painfully obvious. Nothing takes me out of a film quicker than shoddy FX work; I don’t care how big or small the budget is. This film is rife with badly-rendered CGI bullet holes, blood spatters, locations and minutia that I was literally cringing while watching. The only way this project could come across as a believable property would be if they had done the entire thing with a Peter Jackson-sized budget, or if they had employed some practical FX people to slap latex to skin and make this thing look tangible. Again, I realize that Simon Hunter had lofty ambitions for his project, but this is exactly what happens when you try to play in a big sandbox without the right toys.

The filmmakers were able to secure a good genre cast, however. Led by one of my favorite scene-chewing B-list actors working today, Thomas Jane, the film also includes Ron Perlman, Sean Pertwee (of “Event Horizon” (1997) and “Dog Soldiers” (2002) fame), Devon Aoki and, most amusingly, John Malkovich. But more on him in a minute… Thomas Jane has been one of my favorite underrated actors since his role as the infamous junkie-with-a-plan, Todd, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s phenomenal “Boogie Nights” (1997). I’ve always appreciated the intensity he puts forth on screen, and his role here is no different. His performance keeps the film grounded, and he manages to make even some of the most chill-inducing dialogue come through as passable. I almost feel bad that the film didn’t turn out better than expected because Jane has shown a real enthusiasm for the project.

Ron Perlman is his usual gruff self here. I always love watching him work, though the role of a badass monk was a little preposterous. Even worse, he kept alternating between speaking in an Irish accent and using his own voice. This is a common problem I’ve noticed in many films made today. Are the directors not noticing a glaring error such as this? Or do they simply not care because they’re just happy to have a “name” actor in their movie? I don’t know, but it sure would make for a good drinking game. Take a shot every time he slips out of character and you won’t make it to the halfway mark.

And then there’s John Malkovich. Oh, Lord… I don’t know if he was really high on something, or completely plastered, but to say he phoned in this performance would be like saying Hiroshima was a minor explosion. He pretty much Morse codes in this one, as his mind obviously couldn’t be further from the set if it were on Mars. Watch closely and you can literally see his eyes scrolling back and forth as he reads his ridiculous dialogue from cue cards. Abysmal, atrocious, awful, appalling… You want to talk about your all-time easy paychecks. He should be ashamed, though I suspect he’ll never even bother watching the film so it’ll go unnoticed by his own eyes.

I applaud director Simon Hunter for his high ideals and creative ambition. He had a specific vision in mind for this film, and I know he must have felt compromised by the limited budget. I’d love to see what he could have accomplished if he had all of the resources he required on-hand. Hopefully, someone sees the effort that he put forth on this project and offers him something a bit more substantial in the future. I appreciate the efforts of any filmmaker who truly works hard to bring something new to the genre, and this film had the potential to do just that; it just fell short by reasons that were (I’m sure) out of the director’s hands.

Video

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a total mixed bag, to say the least. Quality varies, literally, from shot-to-shot. Some scenes look crisp, well-defined and almost film-like, whereas the next scene will look de-saturated, washed out, grainy as hell and full of noise. Blame the technical limitations, I suppose. The green screen work looks particularly bad in standard definition; I can’t imagine how poor it looks in high-definition. Black levels wildly vary, looking deep and rich at times, weak and anemic at others. The film has a very cobbled-together appearance, though again this is likely due to the limited budget more than anything. Although, I do recall reading that the look of the film was achieved through some overzealous post-production work, so that may account for some of the lesser visual aspects on display here.

Audio

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track hits pretty damn hard. This is, after all, a film about a war against a mutant army. Rapid artillery fire pans from the surrounds, explosions rock the LFE track with bombastic force, and subtle cues as simple as doors slamming shut and soldiers marching off to war help to nicely fill out the aural assault. For a standard Dolby Digital track, this one packs quite a wallop in terms of raw power.
Subtitles are available in Spanish.

Extras

“Mutant Chronicles” arrives on DVD as a 2-disc set bursting with a plethora of bonus features. We are given an audio commentary, a full-length documentary, deleted scenes, a short film, interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboard & concept art galleries, webisodes, the film’s theatrical trailer, a handful of bonus trailers and more.

DISC ONE:

First up is the audio commentary with director Simon Hunter and actor Ron Perlman. Hunter seems genuinely pleased with much of the film, though I’m sure he wishes it had a much larger budget as he recognizes the limitations that were in place. He touches on what to look for in just about every shot, from little artistic flourishes in the frame to the composition of each shot and where miniatures, green screen effects and matte paintings were blended to create certain locations. Perlman chimes in with some anecdotes on shooting the film and his character.

Bonus trailers are included for the following:

- “Ong Bak 2” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds.
- “Surveillance” runs for 2 minutes and 19 seconds.
- “HDNet” promo runs for 59 seconds.
- “Stargate Universe” runs for 38 seconds.

DISC TWO:

“The Making of Mutant Chronicles: A Documentary” runs for 1 hour, 47 minutes and 54 seconds. This exhaustive behind-the-scenes documentary that looks at the making-of the film covers all bases. Running longer than the feature itself, we literally get a look at everything that went into this production, including make-up effects work, green screen shooting, interviews with the principal cast and crew about their respective roles and on-set and on-location footage. I can’t say it did much to make me like the film any more, but it helps to see how hard everyone worked to get this thing made.

A series of deleted scenes, All of them are available to watch individually or together with the “play all” feature. They are available for the following:

- “Bottom Lift” runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds, Mitch and Samuel exchange some dialogue at the bottom of the elevator shaft.
- “Cottage 1” runs for 2 minutes and 31 seconds, this unfinished shot features Mitch paying a visit to Nathan’s wife.
- “Cottage 2” runs for 48 seconds, this provides a minor extension to the above scene by including one of Nathan’s daughters.
- “Passengers” runs for 14 seconds, various carnage shots of dead people on a ship.
- “Samuel/Corporate” runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds, Samuel gives some more backstory on the mutants.
- “Ship Captain” runs for 50 seconds, Mitch talks with the steamship’s captain.

“Green Screen & Storyboard Comparisons” are available. Each of these shows comparisons between the storyboards drawn for the scene, the unfinished green screen shots and the final shot from the film. All of them are available to watch individually or together with the “play all” feature, they are for the following:

- “City Square” runs for 4 minutes and 3 seconds.
- “Machine End Sequence” runs for 9 minutes and 1 second.
- “Dorothy & Peter” runs for 54 seconds.

A “Promotional Teaser Short Film” runs for 7 minutes and 16 seconds and is available to watch with optional audio commentary from director Simon Hunter. This short film is the precursor to the feature film, but oddly enough I found it to be far more interesting. Although that could be because it was only 7 minutes long. The look of the short is identical to the quality (or lack thereof) of the full-length picture.

“Making Of Promotional Teaser Short Film” featurette runs for 3 minutes and 27 seconds. This is a brief fly-on-the-wall look at how the short film came together.

“Interviews with Cast and Crew” are included, all of which are available to watch individually or together with the “play all” feature. They contain the following interview clips:

- “Simon Hunter” runs for 2 minutes.
- “Thomas Jane” runs for 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
- “Ron Perlman” runs for 3 minutes and 9 seconds.
- “Devon Aoki” runs for 2 minutes and 25 seconds.
- “John Malkovich” runs for 1 minute and 52 seconds.
- “Benno Fürmann” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “Sean Pertwee” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds.
- “Tom Wu” runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds.
- “Anna Walton” runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds.
- “Luis Echegaray” runs for 1 minute and 54 seconds.
- “Tim Dennison & Peter La Terriere” runs for 2 minutes and 16 seconds.
- “Edward R. Pressman” runs for 1 minute and 23 seconds.
- “Fredrik Malmberg” runs for 58 seconds.

“HDNet: A Look at Mutant Chronicles” is a featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 41 seconds. This is mostly your standard EPK fluff, with director Simon Hunter talking about the film and its story.

“Storyboards” gallery contains 94 images and “Concept Art” gallery contains 50 images.

“Visual Effects” is a featurette which runs for 2 minutes and 48 seconds. We get a look at some of the film’s digital effects work, both completed and in their raw state.

“Comic-Con Panel Q&A” featurette runs for 11 minutes and 37 seconds. The cast & crew talk to the audience at the annual event, discussing the film and getting some audience feedback.

Webisodes are next, all of which are available to watch individually or together with the “play all” feature. They are for the following:

- “Corporate Warfare” runs for 2 minutes and 36 seconds.
- “Devon Aoki” runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds.
- “Ron Perlman” runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds.
- “Thomas Jane” runs for 1 minute and 36 seconds.
- “Luis Echegaray” runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds.
- “Mutants” runs for 46 seconds.
- “Anna Walton” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.
- “Sean Pertwee” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “Benno Fürmann” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.
- “John Malkovich” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds.
- “Tom Wu” runs for 1 minute and 8 seconds.
- “The Architecture” runs for 2 minutes and 17 seconds.

Finally, the film’s red-band theatrical trailer is available, running for 2 minutes and 3 seconds.

Packaging

The 2-disc set comes housed in a standard amaray case with a groovy, shiny slip-cover which replicates the cover art. It’s quite eye-catching, actually.

Overall

The film is ambitious, perhaps too much so because the low-budget, cheeseball lines and underdeveloped core story left me wanting more. Much more. Less discerning fans of post-apocalyptic, Sci-Fi channel-level pictures will probably eat this one up. At the least, this 2-disc comes loaded with a bevy of bonus features, so you’ll be getting a substantial package for what is, unfortunately, a sub-par film.

The Film: D+ Video: C Audio: B Extras: A- Overall: C

 


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