It may seem strange to say it, but the Saw series really belongs to Darren Lynn Bousman. Sure, Australian wunderkinds James Wan and Leigh Whannell created the Sundance sensation, and parlayed said return to classic suspense into a certified horror franchise. But it was the relative newbie behind the lens who found a way to expand on the storyline while keeping fright fans satiated with gallons and gallons of grue. Yet oddly enough, terror is not Bousman's true cinematic love. Believe it or not, he's a sucker for the classic musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood - albeit within a peculiar, idiosyncratic perspective all his own. Proof of this comes in the long gestating pet project of his - Repo!: The Genetic Opera. Originally a stage play, and then a 10 minute pitch trailer for perspective inventors, this literal songfest arrives just as Bousman abandons the Saw series for greener - and in some ways, grosser - pastures. What he winds up with is something so incredible, so undeniably distinctive, it suggests that the best is yet to come for this 30 year old artist.
In the not too distant future, a plague has caused massive organ failure among the world's population. Thanks to the efforts of Rotti Largo and his fiendish family - sons Luigi and Pavi and daughter Amber Sweet - their renowned GeneCo body part manufacturing concern has saved the planet from extinction. People are now able to buy the failing physical element within and live a normal, happy, and painkiller addicted life. Of course, there's a catch. If you don't make the payments on that liver or kidney, GeneCo's repo man will visit you and remove it - sans anesthetic or sympathy. Because of a past connection between them, Dr. Nathan Wallace has become GeneCo's main legal assassin. His teenage daughter Shilo is unaware of her father's murderous activities. She's suffering from a rare blood disease and is trying to connect with her dead mother. When Rotti learns something about his own health, he seeks out Shilo to tell her about her parentage, her future, and a possible cure. It will all take place at the annual Genetic Opera, where GeneCo star Blind Mag will give her final performance.
Unlike anything you've seen this, or any other year, Repo!: The Genetic Opera announces director Darren Lynn Bousman as something more than an arterial spraying fright fiend. Oh sure, there's blood and gore in abundance here. You can't have a narrative centering on anatomical repo men and their unlucky victims and not spread a little viscera around. Yet there is more to Bousman's singular songfest than spilled guts and peeled faces. There's a level of imagination and invention that is sorely lacking in today's Tinsel Town talent, a real vision that leaps off the screen like a Goth gal's hidden journal entries and never lets up for nearly 95 mind-blowing minutes. Inspired by his love of musicals - and most specifically, his affinity for the Webber/Rice wonder Jesus Christ Superstar - Bousman has made one of the boldest, most subversive statements any supposed one-note filmmaker can offer. Anyone who thinks of him as Jigsaw's franchise bitch after this amazing movie must be thinking with something other than their brain. While far from perfect, Repo! is still the kind of uncontrolled fever dream that many cynical film fans have been waiting for.
It all starts with the look. Bousman has carefully crafted a future shock scenario involving a worldwide plague, a city literally built on the corpses of those who've fallen, a new technology promising a chance at life, and the various offshoot situations that derive from same. Setting his narrative firmly within the confines of the musical form, there is no mistaking the story for something other than "operatic". We get the double crosses, the mistaken identities, the last act revelations, and of course, the fatalistic climax involving many dead characters. Who lives and who dies is one of Repo!'s hidden pleasures, a running time of rooting for one individual's life or death rewarded with an obvious conclusion or a clever plot twist. Since 95% of the film is sung, it's often hard to follow the various plot threads. Luckily, through the wonders of a home theater presentation, subtitles will help clarify what is going on. The acting also helps. Stellar turns from Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, Alexa Vega (a real standout as lead girl Shilo), Bill Mosley, Skinny Puppy vocalist Ogre, and even Paris Hilton bring Bousman's unusual world brilliantly to life.
If there is one flaw here, and it's a minor one to be sure, it's that Repo! doesn't contain the kind of instantly memorable music that most sing-alongs offer. The melodies here are dense and complex, completely mimicking their classical brethren. More interesting, composers Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich eschew modern genre types to stay clearly within a set of themes and specific sonic cues. Sure, there's the grrrl power punk of "17", and the Graverobber (played by Zdunich in a bravura turn) gets a pair of potent solos - "Zydrate Anatomy" and "21st Century Cure". In some ways, the complicated nature of the aural backdrop adds to Repo!'s allure, and when you have amazing voices like Brightman and Buffy's Anthony Stewart Head belting out the numbers, the passion and emotion is inherent in the performance. But the true star here is Bousman. Arguing for a place among the lost visionaries of the medium (a growing group including Terry Gilliam and David Lynch), Repo!: The Genetic Opera stands as an idiosyncratic, singular achievement. You may not always like what you see or hear, but it's safe to say you will never forget it.
There appears to be some issue with the transfer of this title to DVD. The tech specs clearly state that Repo!: The Genetic Opera is offered in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image. But the theatrical release OAR was 1.85:1. While we don't lose that much of the picture with this disc, the lack of the original big screen ratio is confusing - and it's obvious, specifically when we see the animated cartoon inserts explaining some of the backstory. Dialogue balloons and other text explanations are cut off on the edges, reminding one of the horrific days of...Pan and Scan (YIKES!). Unless Bousman purposely wanted us to lose some of the onscreen information, Lionsgate has truly screwed up. Who knows - maybe the Blu-ray will be better. As it stands, the visuals are colorful and detailed, and the overall look his highly stylized and very, very original.
Better than the unclear visual attributes is the sonic situation. Something delivering a dynamic aural experience needs an excellent audio transfer, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is mesmerizing. The back channels add little ambient accents, while the songs and dialogue are captured in easy to comprehend conventions of crispness and clarity. Oddly enough, the 5.1 track is the only choice. The other available presentations are reserved for a pair of commentaries.
After a group of trailers and an inviting animated menu, we are treated to a smattering of added content on this, the standard DVD presentation. Rumor has it the Blu-ray will offer even more bonus material. On this disc, we get a pair of commentary tracks, and two featurettes. No deleted scenes. No video sing-along. No separate looks at the characters of Amber Sweet or Blind Mag. Instead, we get a chance to see how the play became and film and the development of the organ repo man concept. As for the alternate narrative tracks, Bousman is present for both, and each is equally interesting. First up, the director is joined by actors Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Ogre. It's a fun, effervescent discussion which deals with egos, shortcomings, and the ever-present aura of experimentation and creativity. The second conversation is between Bousman and creators Smith and Zdunich, along with musical producer Joseph Bishara. Much more technical and detailed, this is the making-of material the rest of the DVD is lacking. Overall, the disc offers up some interesting extras. One senses that something like Repo!: The Genetic Opera deserves a heckuva lot more.
Clearly, two issues keep Repo!: The Genetic Opera from earning the coveted DVD Talk Collector's Series tag. First off is the film itself. For all its unbridled invention, visual fireworks, and perfected performance paradigms, there is a minor missing musical element that keeps it all from being a full blown masterpiece. It's almost there, but not quite. Similarly, why Lionsgate would mess with the aspect ratio for the sake of a home theater presentation seems surreal. After all, this is a movie in which the look is as important as the sound. So why isn't the score simply presented in Mono? Because of these two factors, the highest rating possible here is Highly Recommended. Bousman deserves a lot of credit for having the drive, the initiative, and the determination to bring his own unique motion picture perspective to the screen. It's not everyday a commercially successful filmmaker fudges with his bankability to pursue his own dreams. Repo!: The Genetic Opera is a highly remarkable and very rewarding experience. It demands to be seen.
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