Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 13th, 2009
"This may be our only chance to save mankind...to save the world."
The year is 2707 and the world has changed. The entirety of the planet is more or less controlled by four massive corporations. The corporations are not content with their own massive piece of the pie, instead choosing to war against each other in the hopes of "winning it all." In the midst of the battle, an ancient seal buried under the ground is broken. The consequence? A massive army of killer mutants is unleashed upon the earth, threatening to bring an end to all of humanity. A monk named Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) chooses to fight this threat by assembling a group of expert soldiers. The leader of this group is Major Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane, The Punisher), a grizzled old soldier whose only reason for accepting the mission is to earn a pass that will allow him to travel off-planet. Will the monk, the Major, and their rugged crew be able to save humanity from the mutant monsters?
We've seen films based on older films, television shows, novels, comic books, video games, toys, and just about everything else, it seems. Now we're making movies based on board games. I was quite surprised to discover that Mutant Chronicles began as precisely that before later inspiring its own line of cards, comics, fan fiction novels, and so on. The feature film version sort of came and went without much notice in early 2009, generating middling reviews upon being made available as a limited theatrical release and a Video on Demand feature. Considering the poor reception of the film, I'm somewhat surprised to see such a lavish 2-disc DVD release for it. Ah, well. I suppose the folks at Magnolia Home Entertainment are hoping the film will become a much-loved cult classic on DVD.
Perhaps it could, but I seriously doubt it. Mutant Chronicles is a loud, sloppy mess that introduces a lot of intriguing elements but never really manages to get any of them right. The initial set-up leads the viewer to believe that they are about to be immersed in a futuristic world as complex and detailed as something like Blade Runner or Children of Men, but after the details of how the world works are introduced, such elements are tossed to the side. That's too bad, because I was quite curious as to the details of how these four corporations came to take over the world and go to war with each other. However, I assume I'm the only one who was hoping for some sort of dystopian political commentary here.
Those who check out the film are undoubtedly doing so because they want to see some intense man-on-mutant action, and that's precisely what they're going to get. I'd like to praise the film as an entertaining shoot-em-up flick, but the action is too chaotic and disorganized to be that much fun. The big opening sequence is yet another attempt to duplicate the frantic opening of Saving Private Ryan, but isn't nearly as gut-wrenching or effective. The murky color tones of the film don't help the action much either, as it often feels like we're watching random bits of blood and flesh flying through a blue fog.
There are several noteworthy names in the cast, but most of them disappoint. Ron Perlman sports a distracting Irish accent that comes and goes as it pleases, and Perlman's terribly earnest facial expressions are often unintentionally amusing. Still, he's better than Thomas Jane, whose tough guy act was much more convincing in The Punisher than it is here. I couldn't help but laugh at loud at several of his attempts to pull off action movie clichés (barely even flinching when an explosion goes off right behind him, for instance). John Malkovich receives above-the-credits billing and a prominent spot on the packaging, but unfortunately he has even less screen time in this film than he did in Eragon.
Mutant Chronicles was shot almost entirely in front of a green screen, and it often has a look rather similar to another film using similar techniques: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. However, while that film offered a vibrant and breathtaking world of pulp visuals, this landscape is a visually flat knockoff of every sci-fi horror flick ever made. One element it does share with Sky Captain is somewhat soft focus during a lot of shots, but otherwise I have no real problems with the transfer here. Murky and incomprehensible as some of the visuals are, they are the fault of the film itself, not the transfer (which is as clean and clear as it can be under the circumstances). Audio is quite strong as well, offering a very rich and exciting experience that is more engaging than the actual visuals. While I have no doubt that the DTS HD mix on the Blu-ray disc is even stronger, this is a very good standard 5.1 mix.
Those special features sure are something, though. On the first disc, there is an audio commentary with director Simon Hunter and Ron Perlman. The second disc offers a whopping 107-minute making-of documentary covering just about every aspect of the production you would be interested in hearing about. This doc is actually even more engaging than the film. You also get deleted scenes, green screen and storyboard comparisons, a promotional short film with commentary by Hunter, a "making of the promotional short film" featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, an HDNet featurette on the making of the film, storyboards, concept art, visual effects reels, a comic-con Q&A, some webisodes, and a trailer. Phew!
There was this mosquito bugging me as I was writing this review, and I finally got it. Oh, this is supposed to be good things about the film? Hmm. While it isn't the worst film I've seen of this sort, I just can't think of anything in particular that is praiseworthy.
Unless you're a genre junkie or a lifelong fan of the original game, there's no reason to check out Mutant Chronicles.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Short Film
* Concept Art