Looking and sounding suspiciously like deleted scenes from Minority Report, the French sci-fi import Chrysalis is a movie destined to die a slow death in the free movie section of digital cable. It's not incompetently made, just blatantly cobbled together from various better movies. Only a handful of the performances are interesting, and even that's due to the performers themselves, and not the movie they're in or the character they're portraying.
David Hoffman (Albert Dupontel) is a police officer tormented by the death of his wife and partner (Smadi Wolfman) and the escape of the serial killer thug, Dimitri Nicolov (Alain Figlarz), who stabbed her in the line of duty. When the cops find a body that might lead to Dimitri's capture, they call Hoffman in and hook him up with a new partner named Marie Becker (Marie Guillard). Their chase leads to a science lab where Professor Brugen (Marthe Keller) is working to rehabilitate her daughter, Manon (Melanie Thierry), after a brutal car accident, but something sinister is going on behind closed doors.
The premise behind Chrysalis is about the subjectivity and importance of memories. Brugen is involved with a program that has allowed people to re-create someone's memory from scratch, and the movie questions the use of such a technology with heavy-handed ominous overtones. Unfortunately, on top of the fact that memory has been covered in films both deep (Memento) and goofy (Total Recall), it's not quite as potent a subject as seeing the future (the aforementioned Minority Report) or cloning (The Island, for lack of a better example). The list of things you can do with someone's memory seems limited, and while the big reveal of this film may be traumatic to its characters, it doesn't really carry over to the audience.
On the upside, director Julien Leclercq does stage some solid action sequences. He doesn't fall prey to is the hyperkinetic shaky-cam school of directing, and the fight sequences are easy to follow and mildly engaging. I also liked a chase sequence that's shot from fifteen feet up, so that both characters involved in the chase can be seen on screen at the same time. It doesn't last long enough, but it's a breath of fresh air. He also tosses in a handful of interesting angles and integrates the digital effects with ease. Unfortunately, Leclercq mentions in the bonus features that he wanted to shake the cold, emotionless aesthetic of most sci-fi films. Yet Chrysalis consists of the same shades of dull, blue-tinged gray mush as every sci-fi actioner lately. While this won't bother most viewers, it turned me off the film more than anything. I have never liked the de-saturated look, even when it was new (in Saving Private Ryan), and I haven't grown more fond of it as every filmmaker in Hollywood adapts the process. It makes the movie look boring, sucking the slickness out of the sets and the liveliness from actors' faces. Blade Runner and Star Wars would look boring with the vibrancy removed, and Chrysalis is no different.
Two faces stand out amidst the muck: Melanie Thierry and Marie Guillard. Neither actress gives a phenomenal performance, but they both have that special something, that extra bit of charisma that makes them easy to watch. Guillard seems strangely out of her element, a factor that works in her favor. She's probably the most interesting movie cop I've seen in a long time, with her quiet demeanor and unassuming attitude. She works well with Albert Dupontel, who seems merely bored by the entire scenario. Thierry will be recognizable to anyone who saw the over-bashed Babylon A.D., and she always appears to have something on her mind. Her quiet contemplativeness is easy to watch, and she gives the best performance in the movie (although she's really just giving 10% when everyone else is giving zero).
It all comes down the plot, however, and it's the movie's Achilles heel. Chrysalis has nothing new to say on the nature of of anything it presents, and it doesn't provide enough action to make up for its empty-handed philosophizing. Combine that with exceptionally boring cinematography and we have a movie that sums up "nothing better to watch" in a nutshell: perfect for an audience half-asleep, watching it for free in the comfort of their own home, in varying levels of picture quality, with a big bag of potato chips and a cold drink. And unlike the memories painstakingly preserved by Professor Brugen, your memory of Chrysalis will be gone almost before the movie is over.
This one-disc set comes packed in a standard-width keep case. Strangely cartoonish artwork adorns the foil slipcover; the art on the actual cover is much more appropriate to the film, although I appreciate that the images are different. The disc has the same image as the real cover, and there is no insert. The menu is nicely designed and easy to navigate.
Anchor Bay's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen accurately reflects the boring look of the film, while adding a few issues of its own. The biggest problem is a distinct lack of contrast, which kills depth and dimensionality completely. With stronger blacks, this could have been a bit of an eye-popping transfer (if drab in color), but as it is, this is kind of underwhelming. There's also a bit of fuzziness to the image, which appears to be intentional but I can't say for sure.
Much like the video, the French 5.1 surround track is pretty drab. There are some directional effects during the few fight and action sequences, but I don't think anyone's heart went into preparing the mix. What I most appreciated was the ability to choose between English subtitles and English captions (something I like on Blu-Ray discs as well). On the other hand, no other languages are provided so Spanish viewers are out of luck. There is also an English 5.1 dub, for the lazy.
"The Making of Chrysalis" (25:59) is a piece produced by Gaumont itself, featuring interviews with director Leclercq and most of the cast (Albert Dupontel and Marthe Keller are absent). Distractingly, while the featurette is full-frame, the DVD encodes it in anamorphic widescreen, with pillar-boxing as part of the video image (and the film clips are letterboxed inside the anamorphic image). It's not hugely bothersome, but there's no reason why they couldn't have left it alone. That aside, there's some fairly interesting on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew, including Leclercq consulting with the director of Renaissance about his future Paris, and the challenge of working to previz during an effects sequence, but I don't know if anyone will like the movie enough to want to sit through the whole thing.
The other extra is the theatrical trailer (2:07), which makes the film look way more "intense" than it actually is. Both extras are presented in French with English subtitles.
While there are a handful of entertaining moments, the film looks dull as dirt and it's far from original. Anyone but the most curious can probably skip it.
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