A main part of a reviewer's job is to observe, and one thing I've observed over the past few years is that films drawing their inspiration from games are almost always a bad idea. Sure there may have been a moderate success story every once in a blue moon, but the fact is the overwhelming majority of them are mangled messes or downright laughable drivel. Seriously, I can't name a single one that can be labeled as a truly great cinematic feat, and the only Oscar any of these gems will ever get near is the one who dwells inside a trash can.
Loosely based on a Swedish-produced fantasy role-playing game from the '90s, 'Mutant Chronicles' is yet another pathetic attempt to bring a recreational pastime to the silver screen. A mishmash of science-fiction, horror, action, and philosophical drama genres, the film tries to do too much and as a result ends up doing nothing particularly well. What's more, the plot is anemic and formulaic, the acting is forced and flat, and the fight sequences are dull and tiresome. The only thing the movie really has going for it is its style -- and unfortunately even that feels like a cheap knock off.
In the year 2707, the Earth is ruled by four warring corporations -- Mishima, Bauhaus, Capitol and Imperial -- locked in a constant struggle for what little resources remain on the planet. During a skirmish between Capitol and Bauhaus forces, a great seal in the ground is broken, unleashing a horde of killer mutants produced by an alien device buried underground called The Machine. As the mutants wreak havoc slaughtering humanity and many survivors scramble for passage to Mars, a monk named Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman) believes this cursed machine can be destroyed as foretold in an ancient text known as the Chronicle. With approval and a ship granted by mega-corporation bigwig Constantine (John Malkovich), Brother Samuel assembles an assault team including former enemies Major "Mitch" Hunter (Thomas Jane) and Lieutenant Maximilian von Steiner (Benno Fürmann) to descend into the belly of the beast and save what's left of our squandered world.
I'm sorry, but I couldn't get into 'Mutant Chronicles' no matter how hard I tried, and I normally enjoy sci-fi features of all sorts. Even if I could wrap my head around the asinine story of a Play Doh Fun Factory beneath the surface churning out an army of rabid mutants -- which is very hard to do by the way when the filmmakers offer little explanation for its purpose other than to propel the story along -- I had a really hard time tolerating some of the worst writing I've encountered in years. Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't it have been easier to stop the mutant invasion by simply plugging the hole? How come the mutants easily annihilate entire platoons of well-armed soldiers in the film's opening, but seem to have difficulties handling a handful of mercenaries on their own turf? And if the machine is destroyed, wouldn't there still be thousands of mutants roaming the streets? Writer Phillip Eisner amateurishly skips over these details, or didn't care. His dialogue is even worse, as the conversations are so generic and predictable that I actually counted three times where a character said something, paused for a moment, and then said the exact phrase I expected them to say. This isn't 'Mutant Chronicles' -- it's 'Mutant Clichés.'
Of course it doesn't help matters that the characters are so one-dimensional that when they turn sideways, they practically disappear. Jane is probably the most colorful, channeling some of the essence of 'The Punisher' and infusing it with more of a cocky and cynical attitude, but the rest of the cast didn't do anything for me. I'm normally a fan of Perlman, although I have to say that he felt completely miscast, as seeing him as a devout man of religion is a tough pill to swallow. Malkovich is also a fine actor, except here his role is basically reduced to a five-minute cameo and his character is only memorable for irritatingly speaking in two or three-word sentences. Everyone else is a wooden caricature, often overplaying the action sequences for the sole purpose of showing off their stuff. Keep a close eye on the Vulcan-ish Severian (Anna Walton) for a quick tutorial on how not to do stunts.
Director Simon Hunter does competently create a few scenes that are visually slick, and in the tradition of 'Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow,' ' Sin City,' and '300' he uses green screen technology to create the bulk of his apocalyptic world. The only real difference is that he opted for miniatures and matte paintings over the usual CGI route. While reviving old school techniques is commendable, 'Mutant Chronicles' still can't compete with those movies. Like the common overall theme of this review, we've seen it all done before -- and executed much better.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings 'Mutant Chronicles' to the high-definition format on a dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. It's also worth noting that the U.S. version of the disc is reported to be region-free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 'Mutant Chronicles' sports a visually attractive 1080p/VC-1 encode on this Blu-ray that looks much sharper than I had expected.
The heavily subdued palette casts a brownish gray tint over the entire image except for reds, some yellows, and the occasional shade of blue. Black levels are very solid and only fade slightly in a few indoor shots, while the snowstorm sequence offers some strikingly hot whites. A consistent sheath of grain blankets the picture creating a pleasing gritty texture throughout. There are a handful of instances where the transfer appears a bit on the soft side, but most of the time clothing and facial features exhibit a high level of detail. Other than some color banding issues, I didn't notice any significant artifacting, and aside from the mild hint of grain, there are no signs of digital noise whatsoever. In general, 'Mutant Chronicles' shines in high-definition.
Likewise, Magnolia serves up a vigorously aggressive English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
Despite its poorly-written and tacky nature, the dialogue still sounds sharp and is well-balanced with the rest of the mix. The score often drifts to the rear channels, while gunfire and snarling muties can be heard all about the wide open soundstage. The war-inspired battle sequences and the scenes with the steam-powered transport ship in particular rumble with a thunderous bass. In the most intense spurts of action, the mid-range can occasionally get slightly weak in the knees, but that's my only real complaint in this excellent lossless track.
The disc also includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Most of the supplements are the same ones included on the 'Mutant Chronicles: Director's Cut - 2-Disc Collector's Edition' DVD:
From a technical standpoint, the high-definition version of Magnolia's 'Mutant Chronicles' is a very solid disc -- boasting strong audio and video as well as a nice helping of supplements. However, Simon Hunter hit the nail square on the head when he mentioned in the Comic-Con bonus feature that this is a love it or hate it type of movie. I obviously didn't care for the film's derivative style, dreadful dialogue, and overly repetitive violence, but then again, some folks salivate over pure mindless gore. On that note, I'd have to strongly recommend giving this one a rent before potentially setting yourself up for a disappointing blind buy.