The Mutant Chronicles (2008) / Sci Fi-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, gore, and strong language
Running time: 107 min.
Cast: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Anna Walton, Devon Aoki, Sean Pertwee, Benno Furmann, Shauna Macdonald, John Malkovich, Justin Rodgers Hall, Pras, Steve Toussaint
Director: Simon Hunter
Screenplay: Philip Eisner
In Earth's distant future, the world is divided into four geographical countries, each one controlled by a major corporation, now fighting with one another for total supremacy. During one of the skirmishes, an ancient seal is re-opened containing a giant machine of alien origin that turns ordinary humans into homicidal zombie mutations who seek to do nothing more than make more like themselves. Recognizing that this force is going to soon take over the entire planet, the remaining humans seek desperately to go to a safe colony on Mars before they end up like the rest. In one last ditch effort, a crack squad of soldiers is sent into the vast underground cave in order to destroy the machine. Although the mission is likely suicide, if they fail, it would mean the destruction of the Earth's entire human populace as we know it.
Here's why it's difficult for games to be turned into movies, whether they be video games or, in the case of The Mutant Chronicles, pen-and-paper role playing games (as if the woeful Dungeons and Dragons weren't enough of a caution). The plot is little more than a set-up for a dungeon crawl game, as we watch a motley crew of misfits, each with their own unique weaponry and fighting expertise, on a thinly developed mission, confronting many enemies along the way that they either dispatch or get dispatched by. While this sort of Dirty Dozen premise may make for a relatively intriguing role playing adventure when played with friends, as a film, it's very much on the anemic side, without many plot developments tossed in by screenwriter Philip Eisner, whose Event Horizon also featured the same premise of a portal to hell manifesting itself in a futuristic setting, to keep our attention.
As directed by Simon Hunter (Lighthouse), the look of Earth and its technology centuries from now appears like it came from decades ago, with WWII-style uniforms, steampunk-esque mechanical tanks and cannons, and low tech ammunition. This does present problems, as one can never buy this hypothetical look at Earth's future as remotely plausible. Even taking into account the fact that technology would regress back to the steam era with the squandering of Earth's resources (and yet, metal seems to be in abundant supply), the special effects are just not believable, with many scenes wholly green-screened in as the actors are in the forefront of obvious artifice. Such things as blood and gashing wounds are added in digitally in post-production, further cementing the action as too unrealistic to buy into. The zombies resemble the ones found in 28 Days Later, save for one of their hands have morphed into a giant stabbing weapon.
If it looks like a film made out of the cut scenes of a modern video game, perhaps it's what the makers of this film should have done with the footage instead of deliver it as a full-length motion picture release. One could easily envision this as the next entry in the "Doom" or "Quake" series of video games, from which its look and style the creators of this sci-fi action horror flick borrow liberally from. Though not without moments of intrigue, the plot and developments are inherently derivative, with credible thespians like Jane (The Punisher, Dreamcatcher) and Perlman looking like they are on autopilot throughout. I can only wonder why on Oscar-nominated actor like John Malkovich (Beowulf, Art School Confidential), who is particularly out of sorts here in a very tiny role, would sign on to b-movie material, but then one remembers that he also signed on for an equally weak fantasy entry in Eragon.
Despite all of the weaknesses, I could envision the same film working for cheesy sci-fi heads if the creators played up the humor, which is mostly relegated to lots of F-bomb interplay among the macho cast. Sadly, we're not getting the next Starship Troopers so much as just another in the vein of Ghosts of Mars (reportedly, John Carpenter had been a consideration as director prior to Hunter's signing on). While the visuals aren't throwaway by any means, they come off too stiff and distancing. Unless you're a glutton for sci-fi/horror hybrids, even at their most derivative, this is just a lot of talented people trying futilely to bring a DOA script to life.
©2008 Vince Leo