The focus of Subterano is a virtual reality game called -- not surprisingly, for a movie with an otherwise meaningless title -- "Subterano". The video game from Embo Toys is all the rage in a futuristic Australia where fascists in dark suits wreak havoc, attempting to obliterate the revolutionaries bubbling just beneath the surface. Among the hunted are Conrad and Stone, who seek temporary refuge in an underground carpark. They're joined by a drunken former Embo employee, a security officer, and four "Ferals", a punk-tinged hybrid of the kids from Lawnmower Man II: Jobe's War and the Disney Channel original movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. The multilevel facility mysteriously locks down, and one gaming ace notes that the situation is eerily reminiscent of his favorite pasttime. An unseen enemy dispatches a series of killer robots on our intrepid heroes, whose numbers dwindle with each attack. The only way to escape is to play the as-yet-unbeaten game, which is now operating by an even less stringent set of rules.
Subterano owes quite a bit to Vincenzo Natali's Cube. The basic concept is the same: a group of people are trapped in a repetitive maze whose levels and rooms are differentiated primarily by colored lighting. They're knocked off one by one thanks to technology introduced and manipulated by some unseen, unknown force. Meanwhile, an unbalanced authority figure turns on members of the group, and even its final shot is almost directly lifted from Cube.
Though the look of the carpark sequences that comprise the bulk of the film are expectedly bland, the set design outside of the building is quite nice, as are some of the CGI effects scattered throughout the film. The robots, on the other hand, are spottier. Up until the final battle, the enemies are tiny and visually unimposing, and the "Fatboy" rocket looks as if it's being pulled along a string by the non-corporeal hand of the late Ed Wood. The creepiest robot, the ever-present Messenger, is the only one incapable of directly inflicting any damage.
The writing could stand to be a bit sharper, particularly when it comes to stabs at humor. The manipulative force behind the mayhem spouts off a seemingly endless barrage of lousy one-liners. There's also a sequence early on where the Sheriff asks the Ferals for ID, and in unison, they turn around, moon her, and fart. Okay. The set-up is lengthy and excruciatingly slow-moving, and much of what's established in Subterano's early moments doesn't make much sense until well into the film. Things don't really start moving to any great extent until the 'game' begins around twenty-five minutes in. The setting of a fascist world is wasted, and it's not made clear where this toy company fits into the puzzle at all. If there's a message of some sort buried somewhere in Subterano, I've been unable to unearth it.
Subterano, once the sluggish gears of the movie begin to turn, makes for decent, if unremarkable, viewing. The same concept has been handled better before in Cube and...hell, even Chopping Mall. Its release on DVD isn't any more memorable, marred by cropping, pinched audio, and a lack of substantial supplemental material.
Video: Subterano is presented full-frame, with its ending credits letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The footage from the movie on the disc's featurette is letterboxed to 1.78:1, and a quick comparison of a couple of shots make it abundantly clear that the presentation on this disc is cropped from the widescreen image.
The movie appears to have been cropped roughly from the center, and there isn't any noticeable panning across the frame. A handful of shots seem somewhat cramped in this modified version.
Otherwise, the presentation is fairly respectable, comparable to a broadcast on digital cable. There are only a couple of scattered specks throughout, and some intermittent underlying noise is easily ignored. Some shots are really eye-catching, such as the Audi bathed in purple light around 11:50 in. The palette is widely varied, often tinted heavily (aquamarine, purple, blue, gold, to name a few) throughout the levels. Colors appear to be reproduced as intended, and in the earlier shots that aren't drenched in a particular color, the Ferals' outfits in particular are bright and vivid.
Audio: Subterano sports a Dolby stereo surround track, with 'surround' being the operative word. The rears are invariably buzzing with activity, to such a great extent that if I didn't know better, I could've been fooled into believing the surrounds weren't matrixed and monaural. It doesn't fare quite as well in other respects. The lack of any notable subwoofer activity leaps out. The low-end is anemic, even during a car wreck and the explosions littered throughout the film. Worst off is the shrill, compressed quality of the dialogue and some sound effects. It's almost painful to listen to, though I gradually was able to mentally filter it out somewhat.
There are no other audio tracks, though closed captioning and Spanish subtitles have been provided.
Supplements: A featurette running 12:54 is the featured extra on this DVD release of Subterano. It's mostly promotional in nature, centered largely around lengthy clips from the movie and comments from members of the cast and crew. It's not edited together particularly well, and there's little of interest until some of the discussion of special effects work in its final moments. A 38 second full-frame trailer has also been tacked on. Unlike most of the studio's DVDs, there are no trailers for other Lion's Gate releases.
Subterano sports a series of static 4x3 menus, and the movie, which runs 1:35:25, has been divided into 23 chapters.
Conclusion: I might have recommended Subterano as a rental, but thanks to its cropped visuals and excruciating audio problems, I'd suggest holding off for a broadcast on cable instead. Skip It.
Related Links: Arclight Films' Subterano site has more information on the movie, including a much better trailer than the brief one provided on this DVD.