BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Aug 20th, 2009 •

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I’m calling this a 2009 film, since it opened in the US in ’09.

I haven’t been able to unearth what the budget was for this film, but on the commentary track director Simon Hunter keeps stressing how minimal it was, so my opinion of MUTANT CHRONICLES actually grew as my perception of it changed from a big budget film to a medium budget film to what it actually might have been, which was on the low budget side. Either that or the director loves to bitch unwarrantedly about production limitations. But Ron Perlman, accompanying him throughout the commentary, never contradicts his complaints, so the low budget scenario is probably true.

It’s a beautiful film. Aesthetically, every shot is a frame worthy of still-framing. By coincidence, I caught HASBRO JOE the other night, and while I found it to be a fortune good-naturedly expended for fun, I don’t remember one beautifully framed shot. MUTANT CHRONICLES is a serious evocation of comic art, so meticulously made, on so many levels, that it bears almost instant repeated viewing. Not only that, but the director’s cut is ten minutes shorter than the theatrical version (how often do we see that occur?), so that it moves along at a breakneck clip. There is the occasional effect that seems to have been abandoned at a rough stage, reminiscent of the infamous ending of George Pal’s WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. But most of the tableaus – matte paintings used more often than CGI, are convincing eye candy. We may know they’re not real, yet they’re so marvelously designed that the rug isn’t pulled out from under our willing suspension of disbelief. Apparently several new cameras were used to achieve these state-of-the-art effects.

Now let’s alternate with something negative about the film. I have to tell you that the ‘Quest’ thing is really played out. It’s time to retire The Golden Bough. It worked in its day, and then a few days later, and a year or two after that. But it wasn’t meant to dominate film narratives from the last century into this one and beyond. We all got the point long ago, we’ve memorized it, we know it in our sleep, we can see it coming, we know where it’s going… so please, let’s move on. The quest at the heart of MUTANT CHRONICLES is lame, partially because it’s too familiar. This variation is SciFi with a little Middle Earth stirred in, and it might have looked nifty on paper – a new twist on a worn out structure. But I don’t think anyone watching this film is buying the plot. Everything else, but not the plot, or the structure, which are so old hat they’re stultifying.

So what else are they watching it for? Well for one, it’s the best casting of ’09. As good or better even than STAR TREK. You can’t take your eyes off this ensemble cast. Thomas Jane (the camera loves him), Ron Perlman (tried and true), Devon Aoki (fabulous), Benno Furmann (distinct and memorable), Anna Walton (perfection), Tom Wu (on the money). When have we seen that many perfectly exaggerated characters assembled in one film before? And characters not chosen for their looks alone, but for their acting abilities as well. Maybe THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in 1960? It’s been a long time. So hats off to Andrea Clark and Jeremy Zimmerman for a phenomenal job of physical casting, and for Geoff Boyle for shooting them so that they enchant us every moment they’re on screen (I say this because in the ‘making of’ doc they’re not quite as perfect-looking – more is the achievement of the production team.)

And while I’m drooling and ranting about all this, let me toss in another negativo for balance. John Malkovich. Not that I dislike him: what a litany of great roles we’ve enjoyed him in. But as an obvious cameo, it felt silly. I hear nowadays a project needs two names to get funded, so I guess Perlman wasn’t quite enough. But Malkovich was a throwaway.

Director Hunter wears so many hats, popping up over and over in the end title roll, that I anticipated an unexpurgated egomaniac on the commentary track. But he comes off modestly, spreading the glory amongst his expansive crew, and Perlman, who I suspect does not tolerate fools or egomaniacs, has mainly good things to say about the project, and about its helmsman.

Perlman is the new Christopher Lee in that he’s in literally everything I can think of, be it Voice-Overs, Video Games, animated films, etc. He’s in another special film at this very moment – I SELL THE DEAD, an experimental, revisionist treat. Perlman wears a monk’s outfit yet again here (as he did in THE NAME OF THE ROSE, as he does in I SELL THE DEAD).

Thomas Jane plays the Noble Renegade, and he’s comfy in the role, amusing and sympathetic. He’s superb at little gestures – both physical shtick and throwaway lines. Next up for him was HBO’s “Hung”.

MUTANT CHRONICLES was shot in England, both at Shepperton Studios (the big one), and at Bray (the little one). Bray was actually a pseudo-studio created by Hammer Films out of a large house, with the owners still occupying one wing. It was the home of their gothic horror flicks of the 50s and 60s. Since Perlman has become the new Lee, a nod to Bray is only fitting.

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