There's nothing worse (in the world of film, anyway) than a movie that begins with an intriguing premise and potential-packed storyline, only to see it all be flushed away with the unfortunate introduction of an utterly familiar and tired construct that renders any unique or fascinating elements of the setting completely moot. And worse yet, it does so in exchange for an utterly banal set of circumstances and an snarling thinly drawn antagonist straight out of half a dozen other sci-fi or horror films in the last decade.
Set sometime in the future, where, due to humankind's tampering with the weather in an effort to combat global warming, the Earth has been encased in ice and snow and perpetually blanketed in freezing temperatures, 'The Colony' begins with a solid foundation that could have gone in a myriad of interesting directions, but winds up instead taking the path always chosen.
The film stars Kevin Zegers ('Titanic: Blood and Steel') as Sam, a young survivor in Colony 7 that's headed up by a man named Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and his increasingly ruthless second in command, Mason (Bill Paxton). Through the magic of the expository voiceover, Sam informs the audience of the world's circumstances and the increasingly dire food situation of his colony in particular. (Sam's colony has gone to great lengths to harvest and store seeds from the food they've managed to grow, but actual sustenance and things like protein remain in short supply.)
It's a desperate situation that brings up many questions and, more importantly, a desire on the part of the audience to investigate and learn about these characters' circumstances. How are they going to survive? How have they survived for this long? What are these strange-looking structures housing these people, and how do they work? These are basic questions that could be answered however co-writer and director Jeff Renfroe had seen fit – it is his world, after all, and thereby he can play by his own rules. But any hope of uncovering answers or even exploring this frozen world with anything more than a cursory glance is quickly dashed when a distress signal form a neighboring colony is received, and in answering it, Briggs, Sam and a young member of their colony unwittingly stumble across another band of survivors who have gone feral, and have killed and eaten nearly everyone in the neighboring colony.
Along with this new development is the surprise revelation that may bring an end to this manmade ice age, but rather than investigating the revelation and uncovering what it might mean for the characters, and the future of this world, 'The Colony' lazily chooses to transform itself from admittedly far-fetched sci-fi adventure, to a disappointingly rote chase film filled with extras who took their acting cues from Danny Huston in '30 Days of Night.' Like the nameless individuals populating the various colonies, the feral people serve no other purpose than to look terrifying and then die at the hand of Fishburne, Zegers, or later, Paxton. And although he commands nearly as much screen time as Paxton, the leader of the feral folk is not really a character at all (though, neither is Paxton, if we're being honest); he's simply a plot device ensuring the progression of a tired and pointless plot that forces the main characters further and further away from anything remotely close to interesting.
Still, it's not as if the writing wasn't on the wall. Early on, after watching hard-nosed tyrant-in-the-making Mason go against colony protocol by executing a sick man who was supposed to have been given the choice between <"The Walk" (which is fairly self-explanatory) or taking a bullet, the optimistic and morally upright Sam says, "This isn't right," to which Mason replies, "This is survival." So that's about the level of sophistication the film is dealing with in terms of delving into the complexities of a world on the brink of complete and utter collapse. And yet the problem isn't Mason's trite response to Sam's assertion of wrongdoing; it's the fact that, like the film's setting as a whole, Sam's statement opens far more interesting door than the one 'The Colony' chose to go through.
Mostly, though, 'The Colony' suffers from a story not being well suited to the film's setting, and winds up ultimately working directly against what was working for it early on. It's frustrating to watch as a movie actively engages in a storyline that ignores its biggest strengths, but you keep watching and hoping that somehow it will turn things around. In the end, watching 'The Colony' is a bit like watching someone walking in a whiteout minus the guide rope to aid in reaching his or her destination. Invariably they wind up straying far from their intended path.
'The Colony' comes as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard slim keepcase. Hailing from Image and RLJ entertainment, the film does have a few previews before the top menu, but they can all be skipped.
'The Colony' is presented in a very nice looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that manages to make the most out of what is a deliberately drab looking film. Naturally, everything on the outside world is going to be white, gray or black, depending on the time of day. And as most of the exterior sequences look like they may have been filmed against a green screen (or some other SFX equivalent background) they generally have very little color inserted into them in post-production. Interiors are mostly factories, or old concrete buildings (the credits mention NORAD as one of the filming locations), so there's not much hope for color there, either. And yet, certain shots manage to have incredibly vibrant blues in the cloud cover, or hints of color in a character's wardrobe that really stand out.
When the characters' faces or the settings' backgrounds aren't being covered in digitally windswept snow, there's a good amount of detail in both. In that regard, the interior sequences of the film provide the best look at the disc's ability to reproduce detail in facial features and fine textures, but even during the exterior bits, there is a nice amount of depth and detail to be appreciated in nearly every scene.
Where the image falters, however is in the area of banding, which is present too often throughout the film. Deep blacks are the biggest cause of this irritating effect, but here, the blue and gray skies often fall victim to it as well. It's a disappointing problem for a disc that otherwise makes a great presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very nice and manages to demonstrate a wide range of sounds from the harsh resonance of heavy concrete walls to the omnipresent wind that howls so fiercely during the exterior parts in the film. In that regard, the mix does a terrific job of making the outside world sound as harsh as it was likely intended to look.
Sound effects and the musical score make up the rest of what this mix has to offer. Both are fairly perfunctory exercises in their respective categories, but they still manage to sound clear and move across multiple channels, to deliver a great sense of atmosphere and immersion for the viewer. Occasionally, as the film becomes more violent – and therefore more explosive – the mix will display some impressively heavy LFE effects that make explosions or fight sequences feel a little more exciting. Additionally, dialogue is also nice and crisp, and easily understood.
This is a fairly standard audio track, but while there's really nothing to go wild about, there's also nothing to gripe about either.
It's a telling sign when a film featuring a potentially compelling premise opens up with a scene that engages in unmotivated slo-mo shots of people being killed, as a way to superficially enhance the movie's visual style. And that's what's wrong with 'The Colony' in a nutshell: it's constantly doing things it doesn't have to, because it seems afraid of losing the attention of its audience – which makes losing the elements the film gets right early on so much more frustrating. Sadly, what could have been an interesting sci-fi flick about survival in a harsh and unforgiving realm becomes yet another yawn-inducing chase movie filled with villains we've all seen countless times before. Still, with a decent image and good sound, you might find something in this film worth liking, so it could be a rental at best.