Vincenzo Natali's 'Splice' was shortchanged by its straight-up horror marketing. It's like Warner Bros. decided it wouldn't be able to sell 'Splice' without making it seem like just another horror flick. The trailers, with all their intense jump-out-and-scare-you moments, are mostly scenes plucked from the movie's third act. What 'Splice' really is, is your classic "should we do it just because we have the technology?" science fiction story.
Clive (Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are the typical rogue scientists who populate sci-fi movies where something goes terribly wrong. They work for a pharmaceutical firm and have engineered two new life forms named Fred and Ginger. By splicing together different genes from a whole host of animals, Clive and Elsa have created new organisms that produce a protein needed for cattle. Fred and Ginger are blob-like creatures that crawl around like slugs and look more or less like over-sized, pulsing brains. After their creation, the director of the pharmaceutical company announces that they're going to shut down the splicing program and start searching for the protein they need so they can mass produce it. Clive and Elsa are heartbroken, they voice their opinion that they need to try it with human DNA.
By now you've guessed what's going to happen. Elsa is reckless and doesn't hold rules or social mores in the highest regard. She wants one last shot at creating a hybrid organism with human genes. Elsa bullies Clive into doing it, he caves. He loves her. She uses him.
They were only supposed to see if they could create the organism, which they did. Elsa though, has other plans. Before they can put the sample on ice and go back to the mundane work of locating the protein, Elsa takes off towards what can only be described as the birthing machine. She implants the newly created embryo into a makeshift uterus, and now we have the beginnings of a sci-fi monster movie.
Natali, who directed the mind-bending cult classic 'The Cube,' does a wonderful job at staying away from many of the clichés that pervade sci-fi monster movies. This story is more about what Clive and Elsa do with their new specimen. Do they treat it like a science experiment? Or do they learn to love it, because as it grows older it looks more and more human. It's hard for them not to care about, and even fall in love with her.
I like Natali's take on the story, and think the first two-thirds of the film are smart science fiction blended with some decent special effects and two lead actors that nail their parts. The third act, for me, is where the movie slightly derails. After this slow, methodical sci-fi piece about learning to love and appreciate a whole different organism and the challenges that come with it, we're thrown headfirst into a monster movie chase scene around a dark forest where extraneous cast members are snatched up and devoured. It almost seems like the last part of the film is there to satiate the horror fan's lust for blood and thrills. It can be argued that the final act is needed because we need to see why Elsa's choice was indeed the wrong one, but I can't help but think what 'Splice' could have been if Natali would have continued with the slow calculated feel that he started off with so well.
This 1080p presentation on Blu-ray is faithful to what I saw presented at Sundance. The film, overall, comes across a bit soft.
'Splice' has a cold, blue-tinged color palette that hangs over almost every scene, which gives the movie a very ominous sci-fi feel. Fine detail is handled well for the most part, with tiny hairs and pores being visible. I was happy to see that the special effects didn't look worse when the resolution was bumped up to HD. A lot of the times CGI effects take a hit in realism in the world of 1080p, but here they look good. Dren's legs move fluidly. Those legs were my biggest concern going into this; I was hoping they didn't look too choppy or fake. 'Splice' was shot with 35mm film, which gives the overall image a nice layer of filmic grain that gives the movie that cinematic feel. Skintones are spot-on, they do take on a bluer hue when the scientists are in the lab, but that's just the color palette. Blacks are deep, but crushing is nowhere to be found, even when the characters are running through a shadow filled forest at the end.
So, where does the image fall a little to the wayside? Banding. It's a significant factor whenever black gradients are changing to grays, fade outs are employed, or when flashlights scan across a room, in all these cases, banding lines can be found. Banding is also very visible during the cool title sequence at the beginning. Other than the banding there aren't any other technical issues to report. It's a good looking transfer, but the banding problems definitely bring it down a notch.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation accompanying 'Splice" on Blu-ray is a well done, fully engrossing audio experience. It does everything well. Dialogue is clear as crystal and is given the entire frontend of the soundfield. The foreboding soundtrack creeps its way through to the rear speakers most of the time. Where 'Splice' really excels is in its ambience. Dren can be heard all over the soundfield as she bounds out of sight or jumps up to a ceiling and breaks out of a skylight. Directionality works perfectly here, placing characters, and especially Dren, in the right place in the soundfield whenever they are heard off screen. During the final chase scene, whooshing and swooping of wings can be heard all around your head, making you feel like you're being chased by the monster. LFE is present almost all of the time. It rumbles during the soundtrack, and then bursts to life whenever something is smashed or broken. There isn't much here to find fault with. The soundtrack envelops you in the creepy atmosphere of the movie, and that's all you can ask from it.
I think I liked 'Splice' much more than most people did, and that's fine. Its sci-fi elements, and how it deals with the life-changing aspect of creating a new humanoid life form, make the movie worth watching. I think the last part of the film drifts too much into territory we've seen in hundreds of other horror films, but that can be forgiven because of the sly tongue-in-cheek way it looks at science during the first part. The video has banding issues, but the audio sounds great and really surrounds you with its great surround sound capabilities. Only one special feature is a big letdown, especially for fans of the film, so overall I would say rent this one and see if you like it enough to make the purchase.