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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Thompsons (Blu-ray)
The Thompsons (Blu-ray)
XLrator Media // R // December 31, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $20.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 31, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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The blurb on the cover art screams "Twilight meets Tarantino!", and...yeah, that's pretty much on the money. I mean, you're lookin' at a starcrossed romance between a brooding, day-walking bloodsucker and the gorgeous brunette he just fell for. On the Tarantinoier side of things, The Thompsons is hyperviolent, has a cacklingly dark sense of humor, nicks Pulp Fiction's fiercely non-linear
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narrative, and even has the lead shopping from the same catalog as the bank robbers in Reservoir Dogs. 'Course, like Twilight and like just about every movie that flails around shouting "we're like Tarantino too! See? See?", The Thompsons reeeeeally isn't all that great.

Maybe you used to know 'em as The Hamiltons, but these days, they're going by the name of Thompson. This family of fanged, superhumanly strong bloodsuckers -- call them vampires if you want -- is on the run after getting caught in the crossfire of a killing spree. Lost without their mother's guidance, the Thompsons don't have anyone to turn to on these shores, so they trot across the Atlantic in search of help. The family spreads out across the British countryside and into Paris, desperately hoping to find someone with their...unique condition; someone wiser in the ways of vampirism who might know how to bring their kid brother (Ryan Hartwig) back from the brink of death. Francis (Cory Knauf) finds what he's looking for in the sleepy British hamlet of Ludlow. Then again, there's that whole thing about being careful what you wish for...

Maybe I'd have a different take on The Thompsons if I'd caught the first movie in the series, The Hamiltons, beforehand. At least as far as the story goes, this followup stands completely on its own, but I really don't feel like I had a chance to get to know the family. None of 'em have a personality that takes more than one or two words to sum up, and most of the HamiltonsThompsons are sitting on the sidelines pretty much the entire time anyway. It's really Francis' show, and...well, when you see Corey Knauf in the extras, he's this bright-eyed, instantly charming, ridiculously charismatic guy, but in The Thompsons itself, Francis doesn't really have any presence whatsoever. He's brooding dead air to keep the plot chugging along. When the movie's called "The Thompsons", it just seems like you oughtta feel invested in The Thompsons, and I can't say I do. I found the family they go to war with -- the Stuarts -- far more compelling, especially Selina Giles in the role of their bloodthirsty matriarch. Of course, she's also the one you see the least. Elizabeth Henstridge acts her heart out as the young girl who's caught in the middle, and she's a tremendous discovery who's already on her way to bigger and better things.

The script doesn't really give the cast a lot to sink their teeth into (I know, I know, sorry), and they make up for it by cranking everything up to eleven. The Thompsons heightens
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everything to standing right on the brink of camp. It's too spastic and ridiculous for the intensity or drama to register, but it's too restrained to be infectiously fun. I get the tone that the movie's aiming for -- kinda falls in line with the Tarantino nod on the cover blurb -- but it's a swing and a miss. Unlike many of the films that inspired it, there's no sparkle or wit to the dialogue. I mean, "God save the queen and all that crap. Now you're gonna fuckin' die!" ...?!? I can't say any of the bloodsuckers on either side ever really strike me as particularly menacing.

I like The Thompsons' playful, non-linear approach, which helps mask the fact that the movie's basically two vampire families beating the hell out of each other in an ancient British pub. The Butcher Brothers, who direct and co-write, ensure that it doesn't overstay its welcome, with the flick clocking in at seventysomething minutes minus credits. The Thompsons doesn't skimp on the vampiric batle royales or the buckets of blood that are sloshed around. Some of the digital splatter and one particular set of CGI fangs can be kind of dodgy, but the practical effects are top-notch. To keep ticking off all the exploitation checkboxes, The Thompsons dishes out plenty of nudity and sex while it's at it. The direction and cinematography are impressively slick as well. I don't know what the final budget is, but every cent and then some is there on the screen. I appreciate that The Thompsons breaks away from a lot of the usual vampire imagery -- quite a bit of the film is set in the bright of day, and it occasionally juxtaposes brutal violence with a cheery, cutesy backdrop -- and it disregards just about every last one of the rules from the Traditional Vampire Playbook. The Thompsons doesn't overromanticize either family. Every last one of 'em has blood on their hands by the end, and the title family has murdered plenty of innocent Happy Meals with Legs along the way too.

I mean, I respect what The Thompsons is trying to do. It's never boring. Its dark, depraved heart is in the right place. We're just talking about a war movie that doesn't give me a reason to really care which side wins. You can feel the effort as The Thompsons labors to be clever and dementedly fun, but it never really hits the mark. Worth a rental but tough to recommend buying sight-unseen. Rent It.


Video
The Thompsons generally looks pretty incredible in high-def. Aside from one brief set of shots halfway through that are out of focus, the digital photography is impressively crisp and detailed throughout. Contrast and color saturation can vary, but black levels are frequently robust, and its palette is punchier than the desaturated hues I'm used to seeing in horror nowadays. I wouldn't say it's perfect, though. The gear they're using doesn't hold up well under extremely low light, leaving a few shots buzzing with coarse, gritty noise. The image holds up very well despite the anemic bitrate; all in, the AVC encode and lossless audio total just 11.5 gigs! There is some banding and posterization, though, and it's especially noticeable during fades. One case in point, and...yeah, I know it's dark. You'll need to open it up to fullsize to see what I mean:

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Generally, though, this is a really nice looking release, and none of my gripes are even close to being dealbreakers.

The Thompsons is dished out on a single-layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1.


Audio
The Thompsons is rocking a 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design is front-heavy but takes advantage of the 5.1 setup when it counts: unnerving sounds skittering across the rears, taunting
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chants that slowly encircle a couple of hapless victims, and even some nice discrete effects such as a knock on the door in the right surround channel. Clarity and fidelity are nothing startling, and the dynamic range isn't all that expansive, but I still don't have a lot to complain about here.

No dubs or commentaries or anything this time around. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH).


Extras
I had a blast with the extras on The Thompsons. With no EPK-style promotional filler to get in the way, its stack of featurettes are very comprehensive and genuinely interested in giving viewers a look behind the curtain.
  • Featurettes (75 min.; HD): All told, The Thompsons' six featurettes run just about as long as the movie itself! Every last one of them is worth taking the time to watch, and I don't get to say that too often.

    "Relocating the Family" (12 min.) delves into the appeal of shifting the setting to pastoral England and the process of lining up locations there. "Scribed in Blood" (12 min.) touches on how the British backdrop influenced the writing, the collaborative and not even a little bit rushed screenwriting process, and teases at the possibility of a third film in the series. Though the business end of things is explored briefly as well, that's covered in far greater detail in "Awakening the Project" (19 min.), from crewing up to lining up financing.

    "Humans to Monsters" (13 min.) is basically about how these vampires were brought to life, although they're not technically undead, so...well, you know what I mean. The featurette
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    tackles the fight choreography, costume design, practical and digital effects work, and differentiating between the two clans. "Family" (17 min.) chats with each member of the cast about the character that he or she plays, and, in the case of the Hamiltons, it explores how they've each changed since the first film. The last and shortest of the featurettes is "The Ringlestone Inn" (2 min.), a brief history of the centuries-old pub where so much of The Thompsons is set.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer.

An anamorphic widescreen DVD is also along for the ride in this combo pack.


The Final Word
One of the great things about XLrator Media is the pricing of their genre releases. The Thompsons looks pretty great in high-def, there are a ton of worthwhile extras, and the whole thing is going for $12.99 on Amazon as I write this. Rolling the dice is a lot easier when there's no sticker shock to get in the way.

If you're a card-carrying fan of The Hamiltons, maybe you'll look at this followup a lot differently than I am. For my money, it's imitating a lot of what's earned Quentin Tarantino such a rabidly loyal fanbase, but The Thompsons never really figures out how to get that to gel into a movie. Totally watchable but kinda forgettable. Rent It.
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