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Saturday, August 1, 2009

MUTANT CHRONICLES -- DVD review by porfle



How much fun can one movie be? MUTANT CHRONICLES (2008) does its all-out damnedest to answer that question. A sumptuous mix of model work, mattes, some CGI, tons of green screen, and full-size sets, with marauding monsters, gore galore, and a retro-futuristic steampunk atmosphere that's a joy to behold, it's the kind of flick that gets my geek blood racing and makes me glad I never outgrew this kind of stuff.

The prologue tells of a terrible machine that comes from outer space ages ago, sets up subterranean shop, and starts turning humans into killer mutants. A brotherhood of sword-wielding monks somehow defeats the mutants and seals the pit which houses the machine. Thousands of years later, in our own post-apocalyptic future (or an alternate version thereof), the world is divided into four huge corporations that are constantly at war over global resources, and during one particularly furious battle the pit is uncovered, the seal is broken, and the mutant factory starts turning people into monsters again.

As millions of refugees (those who can afford it, anyway) are fleeing the planet in spaceships, the current leader of the monks, Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman), assembles a ragtag group of hardcore soldiers from different countries to make their way underground and try to shut down the machine. To get there they have to enter an ancient underground metropolis and descend into the earth via a skyscraper that's been buried by the sands of time. Two things stand in their way--lots and lots of mutants, and the fact that Brother Samuel's holy book, the Mutant Chronicles, tells them everything they need to know about deactivating the machine (or blowing it up--they're not quite sure) except the location of the key needed to do so.


In a way, it's a darker and grungier variation on the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy smashed together into one blood-and-thunder pulp sci-fi epic, done on a budget that probably wouldn't have gotten Frodo and his pals halfway out of the Shire. The sometimes makeshift special effects artistry, which uses just about every technique in the book, displays a great deal of imagination and resourcefulness and is a feast for the eyes of anyone not jaded by slick, mega-budget perfection.

A good example of this is the opening battle sequence, which combines World War I trench warfare, nuts-and-bolts futuristic hardware, and a retro look similar to that of Michael Radford's 1984. It's a beautiful sequence that introduces Sean Pertwee's Capt. Nathan Rooker and Thomas Jane's Major "Mitch" Hunter, two cynical, world-weary soldiers whose only cause is survival. Mitch finds himself in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle with an enemy officer from the Bauhaus corporation, the aristocratic Lt. Maximillian von Steiner (Benno F├╝rmann), which is cut short by a wave of attacking mutants. At that point national conflicts fly out the window as the humans suddenly must band together against the mutant onslaught in the first of several outlandishly gory and delightfully splattery sequences.

Mitch and von Steiner both end up in Brother Samuel's army, which also consists of a single mother with 61 kills named Cpl. Valerie Duval (Devon Aoki, SIN CITY's "deadly little Miho"), Brother Samuel's silent apprentice and expert swordmistress Severian (Anna Walton), Cpl. Juba Kim Wu (Tom Wu), stiff-arsed Capt. John McGuire (Steve Toussaint), and garrulous Cpl. Jesus 'El Jesus' de Barrera (Luis Echegaray). Before it's over, this disparate group from different races and nationalities will earn each other's respect and allegiance in combat.


A harrowing elevator shaft descent into a nest of mutants provides one of the most thrilling setpieces of the movie, leading to the climactic battle in the heart of the alien machine where our heroes must somehow figure out the secret of the key while fighting for their lives against wave after wave of murderous creatures. Some will die, others will get "assimilated" Borg-style and turn against their allies. By this time the characters have been developed well enough for us to be fully invested in their fates, so there's an emotional resonance in all of this as well. These scenes are beautifully staged and executed.

Thomas Jane (whom I've always liked for some reason) is great as Mitch, whose action-movie swagger and flippant cynicism hide a wounded and sensitive heart. The always imposing Ron Perlman is impressive, often conveying much feeling with only his expressive face. Among the rest of the uniformly solid cast I especially like Devon Aoki and Anna Walton, who are both excellent here, and of course Sean Pertwee in his brief but pivotal role. For added marquee value, John Malkovich appears in a few early scenes and lends some star cred to the trailers.

Magnolia Home Entertainment, under their "Magnet" label, is releasing three DVD versions of MUTANT CHRONICLES--a single disc, a 2-disc collector's edition, and 1-disc Blu-Ray. I watched the 2-disc director's cut which is 1.85:1 widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital, and it looks and sounds great to me. Disc 1 contains the movie and a commentary track with director Simon Hunter and star Ron Perlman, who are into it enough to continue talking throughout the 8-minute closing credits. Disc 2 is loaded with goodies including a feature-length "making of" documentary, deleted scenes, green-screen and storyboard comparisons, cast and crew interviews, a Comic Con panel Q & A, webisodes, a red-band trailer, and more.


For me, the highlight of the whole movie is the scene midway through the story in which the soldiers are being transported to their destination via a huge, clunky, steam-powered airship that resembles a flying factory. This glorious steampunk creation with its sweltering boiler room and gear-grinding machinery is like something right out of Jules Verne. An aerial attack by another ship that's been taken over by mutants leads to a thrilling high-speed descent in a diving bell-like escape pod whose parachute can't handle the excess weight of Brother Samuel's army. Just like the rest of the action scenes in MUTANT CHRONICLES, this is sharply directed, painstakingly edited, visually stunning, and delightfully exciting. But most of all, it's just a ton of big goofy B-movie fun.

Buy it at Amazon.com:
Mutant Chronicles DVD
Mutant Chronicles 2-Disc Collector's Edition
Mutant Chronicles [Blu-ray]
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