Watching The Mutant Chronicles, I just couldn’t help but think to myself that the film wasn’t finished. I mean, it’s got a beginning, middle, and end, but there’s just something about it that makes me think it wasn’t, well, you know, finished finished. Shot in May and June of 2006, with nearly 18 months spent in post-production, this film’s been a long time coming, but the uneven state of the final product makes me wonder if this is the film director Simon Hunter truly intended us to see.
Let me take a step back, here, and talk about the movie for a second. Based on the popular role playing game, Mutant Chronicles opens with a voiceover detailing an ancient war between mankind and an alien menace who possessed a machine that turned men into bloodthirsty mutant battle drones. After a lengthy and costly battle, the mutants were defeated, and the machine was sealed and buried beneath the earth, with the secret of the entrusted to an order of monks who would lay in wait for the enemy of man’s inevitable return.
Flash forward to 2707. The world is now a warzone, divided into four corporately owned territories; Capitol, Bauhaus, Imperial, and Mishima. During a skirmish between Capitol and Bauhaus, an errant missile cracks open the seal in the earth, unleashing the mutant menace once more. The Capitol overseer, Constantine (John Malkovich), orders an evacuation of the planet, but his decision draws the ire of Brother Stanley (Ron Perlman), the head of the order charged with guarding the ancient book detailing the first mutant conflict. Brother Stanley argues than only so many can be evacuated, leaving millions behind, and begs for a chance to stop the mutants himself. Constantine gives Brother Stanley a ship and 12 evacuations passes as an incentive for recruits to help the monk with his mission. First amongst his recruits is Hunter (Thomas Jane), a military “lifer” still reeling from the loss of his friend and mentor, Rooker (Sean Pertwee), to the mutant scourge. Hunter is joined by fellow Capitol soldier, Jesus de Barra (Luis Echegaray), Mishima’s DuVal (Devon Aoki) and Wu (Tom Wu), Imperial’s Captain McGuire (Steve Toussaint), and Bauhaus aristocrat (and former Hunter nemesis) Lt. Maximillian von Steiner (Benno Fürmann). Accompanied by Brother Stanley’s silent and deadly protege, Adelaide (Shauna Macdonald), this dirty half-dozen must make their way into the heart of mutant territory, and deliver a device that, with a little faith, will ensure the survival of mankind.
Mutant Chronicles is like the bastard offspring of Starship Troopers and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, with the corny, macho dialogue and bloody action of the former presented in the same sort of steampunk-inspired retro-futuristic style as the latter. Shot almost entirely in front of greenscreen, the universe of Mutant Chronicles is a grimy, washed-out world of gears, guns, sweat, and steam. Soldiers scurry around in trenches in uniforms straight out of World War I, while firing weapons that are as rustic looking as they are deadly. Starships powered by coal and steam sputter through the skies like drunken bumble bees. It’s a truly unique and eccentric view of the future, and it’s really quite impressive…about 60% of the time.
This brings me back to what I was saying at the beginning of this review. While I’ve nothing to base this on, I get the distinct impression that, somewhere along the line, Simon Hunter was forced to stop working on this film. Be it a studio mandate, lack of finances, or some combination of the two (in one interview, Hunter mentions being rushed to meet a tax deadline), I just don’t believe that the Mutant Chronicles is a finished product. I’ve nothing to base this on; just my own observations, as I just can’t understand how a film can look so good one second and so cheap the next. Some of the sets and action sequences are simply breathtaking, while others look as though they were lifted from an episode of Land of the Lost, with the actors looking obviously superimposed on their CGI backgrounds. At first, I found this extremely distracting, but, once I started getting into the movie, I was so thoroughly entertained that I learned to live with the inconsistencies. This is a seriously fun movie, with a compelling storyline, likeable characters, and just buckets upon buckets of gore (tweaked to look exaggeratedly vibrant against the film’s almost completely unsaturated color palette). In the end, I loved what I was watching, but, at the same time, wondered what could have been done with just a little more spit and polish.
Magnet brings Mutant Chronicles to Blu-ray and delivers the film with a fantastic 1.85:1 transfer that really takes advantage of the film’s digital origins. There’s an exceptional amount of detail present, here, with textures and materials looking so lifelike you get the feeling you could reach out and touch them. The image is similar to that of the Sin City Blu-ray, with a level of depth and dimension that borders on 3-D. Blacks are rich and true, for the most part, but I did notice one scene in which digital crush was quite evident, however this was an isolated incident as I didn’t notice it again. The disc’s DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio services the transfer wonderfully, offering a rich and robust audio experience. The percussive machinegun fire rattled my chest, while deafening explosions (especially those seen during the battle between Capitol and Bauhaus) rumbled throughout the screening room. Subtle effects, like the campfires in the film’s opening sequence, sounded incredibly authentic and organic, and a full arsenal of surround effects rounded out this immersive and impressive viewing experience.
In addition to the director’s cut of the film, special features include commentary, several featurettes, deleted scenes, and loads of other behind-the-scenes material. My favorite feature (and the sole 1080p offering) is the HDNet special on the making of the film. It’s above average EPK stuff that offers interviews with cast and crew, raw footage, and a general sense of what it was Hunter was after when he took this extremely challenging project on. We also get some greenscreen-to-finished product comparisons, but the quality of the standard def image in this supplement is barely VHS level, and I couldn’t sit through it. Sorry, I’m an HD snob, now.
Mutant Chronicles is a rock 'em, sock 'em B-movie bloodbath that action, sci-fi, and horror fans alike will no doubt dig as long as they don't go in expecting much more. It’s certainly not perfect, and lacks the sheen of, say, 300 (which I disliked) or the aforementioned Sky Captain (which I disliked even more), but, in my opinion, it’s a much more entertaining film than either of those titles, visual inconsistencies notwithstanding. The Blu-ray from Magnolia Entertainment offers a fantastic transfer, and enough supplemental goodies to keep viewers busy long after the credits roll. Who knows; maybe if this one makes enough noise on the sales charts, Hunter will be able to revisit the project in the future, and give this flick the polish it so richly deserves.