Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Cronos

Street Date:
December 7th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
December 21st, 2010
Movie Release Year:
1993
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
92 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Writer-director Guillermo del Toro's debut feature 'Cronos,' was released in 1993 in two theaters its first weekend in the United States. (It later played in a whopping 28 theaters.) Today he's plotting a $100 million adaptation of HP Lovecraft's Antarctic horror epic 'At the Mountains of Madness,' to be produced in 3-D with the help of some guy named James Cameron. And watching 'Cronos' today you can see the visionary filmmaker within, the one who would spawn the fantastically imaginative 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Hellboy' films, just, you know, on a much smaller scale.

The plot of 'Cronos' is an uncanny take on the vampire genre. In this case, the thing that gives you immortality and cool fangs isn't a bat or a beast, but rather a tiny mechanical scarab (with some kind of bug living inside it). It has been hiding in the base of an ornamental religious statue, one that just so happens to come into the antique shop of Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi). Gris discovers the scarab and, unbeknownst to him, unleashes its power. The scarab latches onto him.

At first he starts to, in the words of a particular generation, feel groovy. He's robust, with color returning to his hair and skin and along with it, a discovery of a newfound reservoir of energy. But things quicklyturn grotesque and that pesky hankering for human blood rears its ugly head (there's a particularly memorable scene where he's lapping blood up off the floor like a cat drinking milk).

While all of this is going on, we also get the story of Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook), a rich old man who is dying and searching, frantically, for the scarab. He sends out his nephew, Angel (Ron Perlman) to track down the artifact and the hidden scarab within. Angel is a goon who wants a nose job, and could care less about his uncle's deteriorating health, since he has his eye on a tidy inheritance.

Long before his comic book/manga-ish take on vampires, 'Blade 2,' del Toro tried to capture the creatures of the night here. And he does a spectacular job. Like most of del Toro's later, more widely acknowledged films, it's a wonderfully paced, intricately told fairy tale, in which the monster isn't a scary being as much as something that should be pitied. (Like most great horror storytellers, from Richard Matheson to Stephen King, del Toro recognizes that humans are much, much scarier.)

The fact that del Toro accomplished all of this with a fraction of the budgets that he would be awarded later in his career – this was, please remember, his very first feature film(!)- makes this all the more impressive. And while the film might not have the visual sophistication that some of his later films are equipped with, you can see him getting there. This was the first picture where he worked with his longtime partner Guillermo Navarro (who is a genius) and you can see his visual style taking shape. It might be baby steps, but it's still there.

If you're a fan of the director (and, really, why shouldn't you be?) and you've missed his first film, well, it's required viewing. Few debut films are this assured or outrageous. He's one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation, and this is where he started.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Cronos' blasts its way onto high definition with a 50GB disc that is Region A locked. This being a Criterion release, it comes in a slightly chunkier, see-through box (spine #551). The cover was designed by Mike Mignola, creator of 'Hellboy' (which del Toro adapted twice). A totally gorgeous design.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) is startling good, especially given the film's meager budget and the period it's from (there aren't a lot of particularly handsome low-budget films from the early 1990's).

Some notes about the transfer from the accompanying booklet: "'Cronos' is presented in the director's preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Director Guillermo del Toro and director of photography Guillermo Navarro supervised this new high-definition digital transfer, which was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the original 35 mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction."

While that sounds horribly complicated (and more than a little technical), it also brings up the looming fear of DNR-related muddiness, seen in things like Universal's recent 'Spartacus' botch job. But, it pleases me to report that things are actually just really, really good looking. There are no glitchy technical issues. At all.

Detail is strong, skin tones look good, textures really pop, and the overall image is startlingly clear. If you've only seen the previously released DVD (or, Oprah forbid, the crinkly old VHS), you will be absolutely blown away by the picture quality. I was. In fact, I started noticing things that I had missed before. And these aren't tiny details, but big flourishes – like the discarded statues that line the evil millionaire's office – that were indistinguishable in earlier home video versions of this movie. It's sort of a revelation.

It's the best the movie's ever looked, and an all-around solid transfer. Well done, folks.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

So there's only one audio option on the 'Cronos' disc (although there are optional languages for the intro – English or the original Spanish, I suggest the latter), a Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. This mix has optional English SDH subtitles for the feature.

It should also be noted that some of the movie is in English, like all of the dialogue from Ron Perlman's character, the nose job-obsessed thug Angel.

If you're wondering what the little booklet says about the audio transfer, well, luckily I'm here to provide you with the answer: "The stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm LT/RT magnetic soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation."

In short, just like the video transfer, this is the best the movie has ever, ever sounded. As the rundown suggests, there's very little in the way of glitchy audio issues, and there is a surprisingly dynamic amount of range with the two-channel mix. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and well prioritized and Javier Alvarez's score sounds terrific here.

Is it going to trump the latest Michael Bay blockbuster in terms of bass-rattling power? No. But it's a truly great mix for a film that definitely deserved it. It's fantastic to hear the movie sound this great.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

All of the extras on this deluxe reissue of 'Cronos' also appears on the concurrent DVD release. Also included in the extra-chunky Criterion box is an essay by Film Comment regular Maitland McDonagh called "Beautiful Dark Thing." There are also great "Director's Notes" from Guillermo del Toro (both typed and written) and an additional, gorgeous illustration by Mike Mignola.

  • Commentaries There are a pair of commentaries on this release, both of which are holdovers from the original Lionsgate DVD from a few years ago. The first is with writer-director Guillermo del Toro. If you've never had the pleasure of listening to a del Toro commentary (or if you already have), then this is a no-brainer: listen to it! It's great. He's insightful and technical and giddily imaginative and it's a hell of a listen. Less essential is the second commentary track with producers Arthur H. Gorson, Bertha Navarro (who went on to marry del Toro) and Alejandro Springall. This track is in both English and Spanish, with subtitles available.
  • Geometria (HD, 6:27) This is the big reason for a lot of fans to pick up this disc – a short film that del Toro started in 1987 and finally just finished recently. It's a really fun little sketch of a film about a kid who wants to get out of taking a geometry test. It's highly stylized and funny and evocative of the way that del Toro would evolve as a filmmaker. You get even more context when you watch the interview that accompanies the film (HD, 6:52) in which the director talks about what he changed from the original version, the influence of Italian horror film makers, and how he's created his own signature color palette.
  • Welcome to the Bleak House (HD, 10:15) This might be one of my favorite special features ever! It's a guided tour (by del Toro, of course) of his self-described "man cave" or Bleak House (for those Dickens fans out there) in which he keeps all of his trinkets as well as his pre-production offices. It's sort of staggering. He loves all of this stuff so wholeheartedly and has a wonderful juxtaposition of truly junky crap next to totally high art. If you want to know what my home will look like when they pull out my bloated corpse in sixty years, I'll direct you to this documentary.
  • Interviews There are really wonderful new interviews here with director Guillermo del Toro (HD, 17:35), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (HD, 12:37) and actor Ron Perlman (HD, 7:24). They both recount stories of what it was like working on 'Cronos' and what effect it had on their career, as well as how the entire experience shaped them. There's a lone interview from the original Lionsgate release, of Frederico Luppi (HD, 5:24), in Spanish. It's weird considering that Luppi has stayed a del Toro team player, appearing in the later films 'The Devil's Backbone' and 'Pan's Labyrinth.' All of these interviews are highly recommended.
  • Photo Gallery Normally I say "photo gallery? Screw that" (or possibly something stronger) but this is really a gallery worth looking at. They are gorgeous photos from Guillermo del Toro's personal collection and they will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.
  • Trailer (HD, 1:28) A not particularly great trailer that seems to have been made for American audiences (since there is only music). This is probably the only thing on the disc that you can handily skip.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

I love 'Cronos.' Big time. It's the first chance we had to see Guillermo del Toro's fractured take on the world, one in which vampires are old men who run antique shops and the real monsters are powerful millionaires lusting for the secret to eternal youth. It's that same mixture of humanism and the fantastic that has made del Toro one of the finest purveyors of emotionally rich genre madness. The film is being brought to high definition in a deluxe package that is truly jaw-dropping – vastly improved picture and sound and a host of worthy extras. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a must own. The only way it could have been better would be the original intention to house the disc inside a reproduction of the cronos device. Imagine opening up that glittery gold scarab and taking the Blu-ray disc out! Yeah, that probably would have gotten old pretty quick. And how are you supposed to lend it out, anyway? Getting back to the 'Cronos' Blu-ray: For fans, it's a must own. For others, it is highly, highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • TBA

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/TBA

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • TBA

Supplements

  • Audio commentary with Guillermo del Toro
  • Audio commentary with Producers Arthur H. Gorson and Bertha Navarro and coproducer Alejandro Springall
  • Geometría: an unreleased 1987 short horror film by Del Toro, finished by the director in 2010, plus a new video interview with him
  • Welcome to Bleak House: a video tour by Del Toro of his office, featuring his collectibles and personal work
  • New video interviews with Del Toro, Navarro, and actor Ron Perlman
  • Video interview with actor Federico Luppi
  • Stills gallery
  • Trailer
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Maitland McDonagh and excerpts from Del Toro's notes for the film

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