As a critic, it's easy to harp on film cliches, but they aren't automatically an issue. Plenty of movies function just fine on a stripped-down formula because they're executed with skill and style. In theory, the direct-to-video market ought to be the perfect place for these kinds of movies: take a simple, easy-to-market story, and spice it up with the kind of creative execution that comes out of budgetary constraints. The fact that many A-listers have found themselves doing DTV to pay the bills only sweetens the deal, providing some recognizable faces for producers to slap on the box, and lowering the need for amateur actors. Sadly, most of what gets made is like The Colony: a double dose of the cliche, without the inventive execution.
In the future, weather modification technology sends the world into a permanent deep freeze. People struggle to get by in underground colonies, living in whatever underground bunker they can find. In Colony 7, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) encourages order with a system of rules, the most important of which cover disease. For reasons that are not entirely explained, colds are deadly in the future. The slightest sniffle sends a person to quarantine, and if they don't improve, they're given a choice to walk off into the icy outdoors or take a bullet. Briggs' second-in-command, Mason (Bill Paxton) is losing patience, believing the choice is a weakness that will bring the colony down. He's already taken one man's options away when the colony receives a distress call, which Briggs and the film's young, anonymous protagonist Sam (Kevin Zegers) go to investigate.
The Colony is a tiring movie for the worst reason: it's not really because it's overly dumb or poorly made, but because everything on screen has been done before, and director / co-writer Jeff Renfroe makes no obvious effort to shake them up. I'm sure anyone can easily guess the basics of what the rescue party finds when they investigate the distress call, or whether or not Mason relents. Worse, there are a couple of elements here that briefly sound like they might lead somewhere more interesting, but the film ends up veering away from them, back toward the beaten path. At worst, the film is frustrating, and at best, it's an incredibly boring slog.
The first point of interest is Briggs and Mason, who served together on a medivac copter when society first began crumbling. In one of the film's better scenes, Briggs explains that he and Mason saw the same mental breakdown in people who lost any sense of structure in their lives, and that Colony 7 was meant to prevent that from happening. The 180-degree change in Mason's could make him more than The Obnoxious Naysayer, but the reasons for Mason's change are never explored. The second point of interest -- minor spoilers ahead -- is the revelation that the other colony has been overrun by cannibals, the very kind of mentally destroyed people that Briggs and Mason are both afraid of. Again, instead of shading in their insanity with any sort of nuance or interest, Renfroe makes them into little more than fast zombies, a monster that allows Fishburne to do a couple of ice-pick fight scenes (admittedly a little fun).
The rest of the film is simply lazy. Although the filmmakers give Sam a backstory, they don't bother to give him any real motivation, other than opposing Mason's militant attitude. Despite a complete lack of identifiable hopes, dreams, skills, or thoughts, Sam is actually the film's protagonist. He's got an equally bland girlfriend, Kai (Charlotte Sullivan), who seems to exist solely so Sam can have conversations with her about his backstory, and so he can rescue her at one point. The film also frequently falls back on convenience (gigantic, human-sized air ducts), and ignores blatant plot holes. In one scene, Sam and Briggs are followed after an overnight stay thanks to their footprints in the snow, despite the fact that it is always snowing when the characters are outdoors. It's too bad: taken as a whole, The Colony is another example of genre entertainment that lives right into the viewer's lowest expectations.
The Colony arrives with another new standard in home video releases: a trio of actors above a shot of the setting, with the title in the middle. Unremarkable, but not ugly, as far as basic Photoshop goes. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly DVD case with no insert, and the package slides inside a slipcover with identical artwork and a nice foil finish.
The Video and Audio
The Colony's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is severely underwhelming. The film adopts a blue-gray and white color palette to convey the deep freeze the world has settled into, but it's not a look that lends itself to standard definition. It's constantly snowing in outdoor scenes, but the flakes are completely eaten up by the landscape, appearing completely blurry and indistinct. Contrast is very poor, with gray for black at all times, accentuated by whatever color the gray is a backdrop to (orange, slime green, cold blue, etc.). Banding is a constant throughout the film, which often takes place in dimly-lit bunkers. On top of it all, the image is very soft, rarely conveying any fine detail. Even adjusting for the limitations of DVD, a 2013 really ought to look better than this.
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is much more pleasing, if only decent overall. Mostly, the track is about environment ambience: dank underground caverns, an abandoned helicopter as protection from the wind and snow outside, large caverns, etc. As the movie progresses, there are also some thunderous explosions, crowd scenes, and a siege on the colony that really perks up the ears with directional creaking and banging inside air vents. Dialogue is clear and music is nicely rendered, even bringing a little bass to the mix. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
"The Colony: Behind the Scenes" (9:49) is a standard EPK with the cast and crew discussing the story and their characters amid clips from the film.
Trailers for The Numbers Station, Evidence, and Blood play before the main menu.
On a technical level, The Colony looks fine, is cast well, and offers plenty of opportunity for action and excitement. Sadly, there's no effort here, resulting in a real chore of a movie. A flawed picture and complete lack of interesting extras are just nails on top of an already closed coffin. Skip it.
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