"Mutant Chronicles" is best described as an ultraviolent sci-fi actioner crossed with steampunk sensibilities and flecked with religious overtones. Confused? Well, so is director Simon Hunter, who gives the visual scheme of the picture everything he's got, crafting a handsome gorefest only to be undermined by budget constraints and a laughably crude screenplay the actors seem embarrassed to recite. "Chronicles" is ambitious, and that counts for something, but bites off more than it can chew, leaving the finished product loaded with arresting sequences in search of more mature writing.
Hundreds of years into the future, the world is controlled by a handful of corporations. As they wage war on each other, a great seal is destroyed, opening up a vast hole in the Earth containing an alien machine capable of turning the living into vicious, body piercing mutants. Quickly taking over the planet, the mutants force the population to flee off-world, pushing Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman) to turn to an ancient book for answers on how to stop the infernal machine. Assembling a squad of soldiers armed to the teeth, including Major Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane), Samuel leads the team into the bowels of the planet to stop the machine once and for all. Their only obstacle is the legion of mutants ready to tear them apart.
"Mutant Chronicles" contains a horde of cinematic inspirations to fuel its mayhem, but to cut to the chase, I would say tonally it's "Saving Private Ryan" and visually it's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." "Chronicles" is a war movie with heavy sci-fi decoration, yet Hunter stays close to the conventions and bravado of WWII combat films, using the Major Mitch character as the John Wayne figure of bravery and honor in the midst of madness. Bullets whiz by, body parts are blown to bits, and grizzled men make grizzled conversation while swilling hooch. For the opening 20 minutes, Hunter creates a coarse, but stylish homage to grunt cinema, commencing "Chronicles" on a deafening, but thoroughly entertaining note of battlefield chaos.
Once the questing plot of "Chronicles" emerges, so does Hunter's inexperience with actors and dialogue, resulting in rancid exchanges between the mercenaries that typically sandwich hokey one-liners between expletives. Writer Philip Eisner ("Firestarter 2") isn't exactly helped by trivial actors such as Devon Aoki and Luis Echegaray, but that doesn't forgive the monosyllabic dialogue on display here. Hunter is aiming epic with "Chronicles," but the language is coarse and witless, deflating the experience every time somebody decides to open their mouth.
Thankfully, the visual elements of "Chronicles" offer more of a satisfying distraction. Created on digital sets, the picture is highly stylized, with every color drained from the photography except for red, leaving a graphic novel appearance that amplifies the violence. Of course, a few shots look like outtakes from a high school student film that had too much access to lousy chroma key settings, but the majority of "Chronicles" is beautifully lunar in appearance and inventively enhanced. With Hunter keeping his attention on massive amounts of bloodshed, the images strike a nice balance between the realistic crunch of war and the cartoon nature of the premise. Just expect a few wince-inducing moments.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Chronicles" is already a screwball-looking motion picture, and the DVD captures the insanity extremely well. Sturdy black levels are exceedingly important to the overall look of the DVD, and what few colors show up are acceptably maintained. Again, the film looks exceptionally artificial, with obvious greenscreen work. With that artistic goal in mind, it's a solid visual experience.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix manages the chaotic aural design of the film suitably, with a few passages of dialogue swallowed up by the heavy combat sound effects. Low-end material enhances nearly every scene, and surround activity is lively throughout. The design is fairly blunt in execution, and it works for this nutty film, keeping the sonic force direct and inviting.
Spanish subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Simon Hunter and actor Ron Perlman is an amiable technical track. The director leads the conversation, rattling off technical bits left and right, covering nearly every corner of the film. Hunter understands his limitations, which is refreshing to hear, and his articulation of intent is informative and entertaining. Perlman is there to discuss the actors and help Hunter out with observations, rolling out his lovable growl when needed. For this DVD, the commentary is merely a baby step toward a larger understanding of the picture, but it's a worthwhile experience.
"The Making of 'Mutant Chronicles'" (107:29) is one of those glorious BTS behemoths that doesn't come around nearly often enough. Covering nearly every single step of production, the documentary maintains a stupendous fly-on-the-wall perspective that educates as much as it entertains. Mutant school? Actor camaraderie? Production concerns? Filming minutiae? Model making? Techy camera worship? CG manipulation? Post-production intensity? Heavens, it's all here. Everything one could ever want to know on the making of this bizarre mutant epic. Beautifully produced and arranged, it's a must-see supplement.
"Deleted Scenes" (7:50) offers more team bonding time, a flashback for Hunter, and sermonizing from Brother Samuel. All scenes are presented in an unfinished state. "Green Screen and Storyboard Comparison" (13:59) is a terrific educational tool, breaking down the sequences "City Square," "Machine End Sequence," and "Dorothy & Peter" to study the layered, impossible filmmaking effort required to bring the movie to life.
"Promotional Teaser Short Film" (7:16) is the "mood film" intended to sell investors on "Mutant Chronicles." It can be viewed with or without commentary from Simon Hunter.
"Making of 'Promotional Teaser Short Film'" (3:27) is a brief BTS visit to the four-day-long shoot and the intense planning that created the short.
"Interviews with Cast and Crew" (25:37) sits down with all the principal talent on-set as they discuss their experiences and intentions with the film.
"HDNet: A Look at 'Mutant Chronicles'" (4:42) is a short informational piece on the feature, hosted by Hunter and featuring interviews with the cast.
"Storyboards" offer 94 pages of careful cinematic planning.
"Concept Art" reveals the evolution of the creatures, locations, and characters with 54 pages of illustrations.
"Visual Effects" (2:49) is a highlight reel of accomplishments, breaking down a few shots to show the tiers of artistry.
"Comic-Con Panel Q&A" (11:37) is the geek spotlight, highlighting questions asked after a screening of the film at the world-famous comic book convention. The intro is the best part, with Thomas Jane trying to kick start the excitement in the room with his own peculiar charms.
"Webisodes" (18:08) are twelve short promo clips, filled with footage and interviews.
And a Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Mutant Chronicles" is the type of furious genre picture to root for, but always ultimately disappoints. Hunter loses his grasp on the reigns in the final act, gumming up an efficient actioner with overcooked theatrics just to give the audience an unnecessarily seismic conclusion. The feature is better executed in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later style that encourages silence and brutality. Once the material is asked to explain itself, the entertainment value of the film curdles immediately.