RLJ Entertainment // 2013 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 10th, 2013
When the earth froze, the rules of survival changed forever.
Isolation is one of the few dangers that can't be effectively overcome. Disease can be prevented, animals and weather barricaded against, but take too few people and put them too far away from their fellow humans and it rarely ends well. Or at least that's what movies and TV would have us believe. Isolation is usually caused by an inhospitable environment, but the ultimate threat tends to be man's inhumanity to man. The Colony hopes to give us a post-apocalyptic spin on the genre, setting its story after a future ice age. Familiar faces and some decent action can't overcome the fact that The Colony doesn't quite know what it wants to be.
In the near future, the Earth is plunged into an ice age. Humans survive in heavily-fortified bunkers. One of them is lead by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix), and he's tenuously holding onto his command despite the efforts of Mason (Bill Paxton) to undermine him. When the station receives a distress call, Briggs and Sam (Kevin Zegers) head out to help -- what they find is far more dangerous than they imagined.
With The Colony, you get two movies for the price of one. The first is a kind of post-apocalyptic drama that gives us a peek into what it would be like to live in a bunker during the next ice age. We see the political structure, as well as the extreme measures the "colonists" have to go through to prevent the spread of disease (like exile or death). Tension in these moments is provided by the conflict between Briggs and Mason, which play out like a TV show investigating the future.
The second half of the film, however, is survival horror mixed with a "defend the castle" plot much like many famous Western (or indeed Assault on Precinct 13). Briggs and Sam discover cannibals are the reason for the distress call, and those cannibals follow Briggs and Sam back to their bunker. Then it's a pitched battle between the good guys and the cannibals, with the main result being lots of blood.
Two for the price of one sounds like a good deal, but ultimately neither half of The Colony is substantial enough to satisfy. There's enough drama in the first half and enough horror in the second to give viewers the impression that further development of either would be good, but instead of reinforcing each other, the two halves get in each other's way. If either half were expanded a bit -- say 25% drama, 75% horror, or the reverse -- then the film would stand a chance of overcoming its current bland configuration as neither fish nor fowl.
At least the DVD itself is pretty good. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is unsurprisingly heavy on the white and the black, with muted colors in between. Detail is generally pretty strong, and the black levels are deep enough that shadow detail stays okay in the underground scenes. There's a bit of noise here and there, but overall this is a solid transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio is similarly good. Dialogue is always clean and clear from the front, and the surrounds get a decent amount of usage for the more atmospheric bits. Dynamic range is shown off as well during some of the more tense scenes.
Extras include a set of interviews with the cast and crew. They're not substantial, but provide a bit of background on the making of the film.
The Colony isn't a bad film, even if it feels uneven. The ideas underpinning it are solid, and the film is helped immeasurably by the big names in its cast. Fishburne and Paxton are both able to give their characters a gravitas that many no-name action actors couldn't hope to match, and Kevin Zegers holds his own against his more experienced co-stars. Of course the presence of such big names will no doubt lead to expectations that The Colony can't hope to match with its low-budget roots, their presence makes the film much more tolerable.
Also, despite a low budget, The Colony does a pretty good job of creating a believable world of a future ice age. One of the benefits of a "defend the castle" kind of movie is that sets are limited and location shooting isn't as necessary -- The Colony certainly capitalizes on this aspect of the genre.
The Colony feels like a missed opportunity, giving viewers a bit of drama and a bit of horror, along with some familiar faces. It's not a bad film, but it never feels like it really gets going. The DVD, however, is solid and worth a rental for fans of the actors who keep their expectations in check.
Guilty of wasting talent.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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