Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A box office disappointment for Guillermo del Toro, 1997's Mimic is a superior monster movie about insects evolving to a state where they threaten to replace humans as the dominant species on Earth. The commercial market will accept and reward most any supernatural or fantastic tale foisted upon it, as long as the scares are there and the cast is young and vulnerable. But science fiction subjects are as iffy as they ever were. Audiences don't like being lectured to and many haven't the patience to sit through a filmmaker's efforts to extrapolate on good science and present day trends. The infinitely superior genetic think piece Gattaca, for example, is respected as the sci-fi thriller whose premise is most likely to come true. But it wasn't a big hit because the wider public rejects complicated or intellectual concepts that challenge their thinking. Mimic is a brainy picture but it also features a knock-down battle beneath the streets of New York City. This new Blu-ray version, which contains del Toro's slightly longer and editorially rearranged Director's Cut, is a skin-crawling monster tale of high quality.
Co- writing with veteran fantasy scribe Matthew Robbins (Dragonslayer, *batteries not included), Mimic now plays more like the pandemic movie Contagion than a monster romp. Three years ago scientist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) bred genetically altered cockroaches to stop the spread of a terrible virus, saving the lives of millions of children. Now she and her husband Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), another doctor working with the Center for Disease Control, are tracing what looks like a new species of killer bug that may be the result of her earlier work. Two street kids bring Susan a huge cockroach unlike any she's seen before, but the specimen is stolen by a strange hooded man in a cape. Eventually an odd bunch of New York citizens end up trapped in the old subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. Dr. Mann and his assistant Josh (Josh Brolin) prevail upon MTA cop Leonard (Charles S. Dutton) for an underground tour and discover that all kinds of screwy things are breeding below their feet. Shoeshine man Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) climbs into the tunnels to search for his son Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), who appears to have crawled underground in search of the "odd men with strange shoes". Susan is waiting at a subway station for Peter when she spies a hooded man waiting a few yards down the platform -- who isn't a man at all but an insect monster that has evolved a convincing disguise.
Mimic starts out smart and stays that way for almost two hours of non-stop scares. The insect menaces are icky things even in their smaller form, and probably the most successful screen nasties since 1979's Alien. Del Toro builds strong audience feelings toward all of his characters. We're upset to see the early prey fall victim to the winged, violent super-cockroaches; and we delight when adversity brings out the very best in the six humans forced to fight it out in the dark tunnels. In this longer version del Toro is able to suggest more interesting ideas, such as the notion that the advent of the mimic insects may be a sign that man's dominion on Earth is coming to an end. The battle boils down to a competition between species, to see which has the more flexible survival instincts.
The bugs mimic people, even to the point of developing folding appendages that form a sort of face that might fool someone in the dark, a few feet away. Susan teaches her fellow fighters to mimic the bugs, by masking their human scents with slime from a dead insect. It's disgusting, but it works: Peter Mann is shocked when a lethal soldier bug pokes at him a bit, and then crawls right on by. The insects fight by predictable rules -- bearing down on the scent of people or their blood, and continuing to fight even when they've been shot full of holes or cut into pieces. Humans are much more frail but are also capable of more complex teamwork and strategic sacrifice. It's just lucky for the defenders that the train tunnels are on our turf: we can improvise weapons and defenses that mean nothing to the bugs.
Del Toro's direction is nearly flawless. He milks suspense from scenes without restricting what the audiences knows, and his characters seem just ahead of the audience at all times. Mira Sorvino makes a resilient monster fighter, armed with her biological knowledge and good instincts. When facing off with a final oversized foe she's a bit like Sigourney Weaver from Aliens. Jeremy Northam looks like he could play Harry Potter's older brother. Definitely not a Schwarzenegger type, he's also a fine monster fighter. Giancarlo Giannini is effective as a dedicated father and Alexander Goodwin scores as a kid who survives becoming cockroach chow because he can mimic the insectoid clicking by playing percussive spoons. Charles S. Dutton goes from being a punch-clock pain in the neck to a noble monster fighter. In a smaller role providing moral support is F. Murray Abraham. Was he perhaps jealous of Ben Kingsley's assignment fighting monsters in Species?
Monster movie fans may see Mimic as a remake of the classic Them!, what with the heroes battling the monster in tunnels under the city. An early screenplay draft of Them! reportedly took place in New York, in the same tunnels shown here. Guillermo Del Toro gets lots of creepy mileage out of transit cop Leonard's surprise at finding that all of the underground hobos have disappeared ... along with the rats that once infested the abandoned tunnels. Unfortunately, 1997 was a bad year for giant bug movies -- Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, a movie about a bug war on a distant planet, was not considered a success either.
Miramax and Lionsgate's Blu-ray of Mimic really takes advantage of the contrast range of Blu-ray's HD signal, as much of the film takes place in semi-darkness where a normal DVD would just record fuzzy dark mush. When del Toro wants us to see something, we can see it in this precise encoding. The picture looks fine, especially all those disturbingly real-looking bugs and egg sacs, etc. One sequence of Susan being attacked on a subway landing is hobbled with a much rougher grain pattern. The special effect method used must be responsible.
Director del Toro provides a friendly personal prologue explaining what his extended Director's Cut is all about, and continues the discussion on a full audio commentary and a featurette called Reclaiming Mimic. Other featurettes show the elaborate effects used to animate the film's insect stars. Back into the Tunnels is a behind the scenes show. The disc also comes with Deleted scenes, some storyboard animatics, a wrap party gag reel and the theatrical trailer.
A second disc contains a digital copy for loading onto a computer or portable player. Lionsgate's endless string of promos at the front of the disc menus system tout delivery systems other than discs -- downloads, streaming, etc.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mimic Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Supplements: Commentary, intro, three featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards, gag reel, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 16, 2011
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2011 Glenn Erickson
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