WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Here's a film based on a Philip K. Dick short story that—in comparison with such high-profile films as Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report—is bound to suffer. However, don't let yourself be swayed by that kind of knee-jerk comparison: Impostor is an engaging low-budget sci-fi thriller that, despite its faults, clings true to Dick's spirit of future-world paranoia and loss of individuality in an emotionless cityscape. It's a finely acted little movie with half a brain—more than can be said of most summer celluloid frivolities—and it's already being unfairly forgotten.
Dick wrote the short story in 1953 at the height of the McCarthy era, and the sense of political paranoia and fear is thick. Today, the story seems to have attained a new timeliness. Scientist Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is heading up a project that promises to save Earth from evil Centauri invaders. For decades, the war-monger aliens have consistently put Earth on the defensive, forcing us to protect our crumbling cities under domes, hurling us into a wartime atmosphere of distrust, paranoia, and fear. In this military-techno future, Spencer finds solace and humanity in his wife, Maya (Madeleine Stowe). The story really gets going when Major Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio) accuses Spencer of being a bomb-implanted alien replicant. Is Spencer's real body dead in Sutton Wood, or is the police-state government horribly off track? The remainder of the film involves Spence's desperate attempts to clear his name.
Originally conceived as one part of a three-part anthology film, Impostor became a standalone feature after producers loved what they saw in Fleder's short film. Fleder, along with his cast and crew, went back to expand the film from 36 minutes to 95 minutes, and released the film to modest business early in 2002. (The DVD's "director's cut" restores an additional 7 minutes.) Even without knowing the film's history, Impostor feels somewhat padded. At times, the Fugitive-style chases through labyrinthine underground pipelines become repetitious, and a couple of the action set pieces—notably, a subterranean fight sequence—plain don't work. However, for the most part, the extended film achieves a relentless pace and steady rhythm, and there's no denying the satisfying power of the ending.
Sinise, Stowe, and D'Onofrio offer appropriately intense performances. The film has a professional sheen despite its relatively low budget. Mark Isham's score excels at boosting the ominous notes of the story, beefing up moments of tension and emotion. This is a surprisingly satisfying genre effort that will—if nothing else—compel you to read some of Dick's short fiction.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Buena Vista presents Impostor in a flawed anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Unfortunately, significant edge enhancement affects background detail to a depressing degree. (Watch the opening credits for particularly hideous halos.) Close-up detail is impressive, but backgrounds are mired in fuzziness. Colors, however, appear accurate and warm.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is much more effective than the audio presentation. I was impressed by the active surround use, placing me in the center of the film's aural universe. Bass was punchy, dialog was accurate and clear, and Isham's score was nicely presented and full.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The most interesting special feature is the original Impostor short film upon which the feature film is based. The short film is presented, unfortunately, in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0, and it's a disappointingly dirty print that's lacking in detail and depth. I say all this with disappointment because the short film is truer to the spirit and length of the original Philip K. Dick short story. This is probably the version of the film that I'll return to most often. The special effects have obviously been spiffed up for the feature, but the sense of abrupt paranoid fear is more effective in the short. All of this footage is present in the feature, reinforcing the "padded" notion of the feature.
Next up is the 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette The Impostor Files. Here's where you learn about the history of the film as one part of a three-part anthology film. The featurette, though, focuses on the shooting of the feature film. Composed of talking-heads video interviews with the director, producer, stars, and special-effects team, combined with film footage and behind-the-scenes video, it dwells on the design of the story made real for film.
You also get a full-frame Theatrical Trailer, with oddly inappropriate narration. And under a Sneak Peeks section, you get trailers for Reindeer Games, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Iron Monkey, Texas Rangers, Beneath Loch Ness, and Dimension Cutting Edge Films.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Beware of critics who dismiss Impostor as a film devoid of sparks and smarts. At the very least, this film is worthy of a rental. You'll have a good B-movie night in the home theater.