Mutant Chronicles should have been better. I’m not sure it should have been good, but it should have been better. The film’s all digital, which allows for some post-production touches. Ron Perlman’s red robe, for example, appears to be done in post. I think the movie uses miniatures in combination with practical (though not many) and CG. It works to some degree… though I wonder if it would have looked better in black and white.
The reason for that musing isn’t just Thomas Jane’s presence, but also the first act’s setup of the film as a World War I picture. The opening, with trench warfare, owes more to that genre than anything else. As the story picks up–after a very British end-of-the-world section (though most of the dialogue is from John Malkovich, who manages to maintain some credibility even here, and Perlman, who affects a semi-Irish accent to decent effect)–it abandons that genre, going into a strange mix of 28 Days Later (the monsters in this movies are a mix of that film’s zombies and the Borg from “Star Trek”), the second Planet of the Apes movie and… I don’t know… something else. Maybe Hellboy, just for the giant machines.
Lots of the film is interesting to look at, even if the effects are more workman-like than superior, because of the steampunk designs. The coal-powered airships are pretty darn cool. And the special effects aren’t bad. The monsters in this one look a lot better than the video game ones in I Am Legend. The end of this movie does feature a challenge out of a video game for its characters though (I couldn’t help but think of Galaxy Quest).
I find myself referencing a lot of other films in this post simply because Mutant Chronicles is so derivative. There are a couple moments of storytelling ingenuity. Well, maybe one. The other really good moment is just because of the filmmaking. But the one well-conceived scene–no one can hear anyone, in a crisis situation, because it’s so noisy–works really well, establishing Mutant Chronicles–along with the filmmaking creativity–as a film not to dismiss outright.
The acting from Perlman, Jane (who could do better, but is solid) and Sean Pertwee is good. Benno Fürmann seems very underused. Steve Toussaint and Luis Echegaray are both all right. Devon Aoki and Tom Wu are atrocious. They have lots of lines together and trying to figure out who is worse does provide some amusement through a bad CG period.
The problem with the movie is the approach. The filmmakers go with an expository narration from Perlman, who can deliver narration just fine, but it’s stupid. It treats the viewer like an idiot… the details of the setting and the political yada yada behind it are sci-fi genre nonsense. The story’s a film standard (group of assorted people go on a suicide mission) and doesn’t require a lot of malarky attached to it. Had director Hunter–who can definitely mix film tools to decent effect, even if his direction of actors is poor and his composition is mediocre–kept with that war tone of the first act… it would have been something interesting.
Instead, Mutant Chronicles plays like something one would watch in a motel in the middle of the night, ignoring it the first time through the channels as a “Sci-Fi Original Movie” only to stop on the second time through because there’s something compelling about it….
Compelling enough for insomnia at the La Quinta anyway.