The movie Mutant Chronicles features a dismal world that combines scenes of the worst moments of the WWI trench warfare with interstellar machines powered by steam (go figure!), demolished cities, sinister alien technology and ranks upon ranks of vicious mutants.
The palette – one of the first things you notice – is a subdued chiaroscuro with the odd smattering of color the Sin City-style, needless to say, completely irrelevant plot-wise. Which in a way is the leitmotif of the movie – blitz, if somewhat hammy, visuals and sadly, sadly threadbare plot thick with all the usual shticks of an SF/slasher/dark fantasy popcorn flick. Not that I have anything against popcorn flicks, it’s just that this time it took a lot of popcorn to get me through the movie, way too much.
Review by ESFM’s editor and SAndman
December 5, 2009
Director: Simon Hunter
Thomas Jane as Maj. ‘Mitch’ Hunter
Sean Pertwee as Capt. Nathan Rooker
Ron Perlman as Brother Samuel
John Malkovich as Constantine
Benno Fürmann as Lt. Maximillian von Steiner
Anna Walton as Severian
Brother Samual: You have seen the worse thing than a man can do. But you have not seen what is the worse thing than the enemy can do.
The back story tells of aliens that visited the Earth at the end of the Ice Age and brought with them the deadly Machine which can turn hapless humans into bloodthirsty mutants. Our forebears united in a single tribe to stave off the alien invasion. After they had defeated the foe, they conveniently, though completely unconvincingly, sealed the Machine under the earth.
In the present time, which in the movie is the year 2707, mega corporations Bauhaus, Capitol, Mishima and Imperial wage a never-ending war against each other over the earth’s depleted resources. The battle we are about to witness is fought in Europe. The battlefield is the very site where the machine was sealed away and where it has lain hidden for thousands of years, which naturally nobody suspects. Predictably, the raining grenades break the seal and reactivate the Machine.
Only an ancient order of priests, who happen to be the guardians of the Mutant Chronicles, the book which contains the records of the earlier battles, stands now between mankind and the imminent doom. Brother Samuel, the head of the order, recruits a team of six men who accompany him and Severian, the lady guardian of the Chronicles, on the mission to stop the Machine and save the world.
The plot relies heavily on the sense of fast-encroaching doom brought on by the extensive use of matte paintings and CGI. This proved enough to pique my curiosity at least for the first half of the movie. However, when the time came to advance the plot and develop the characters the movie simply ran out of steam.
The characters in Mutant Chronicles are never more than sketched out and, though the amount of mutant killing steps up, the plot slips in the predictable pattern. I admit I sat through the movie only thanks to the sheer stubbornness of a weathered SF movie fan, plus, I confess I wanted to see the mutant-churning Machine in action. I did get that eventually, but unfortunately it was too brief and unsatisfactory.
Later on, I found out that Mutant Chronicles was based on a role-playing game and after I had read about it, I could not help but think that the script would have been infinitely better if the authors had only bothered to consult the gaming community. I am sure they would have come up with thousands of funky ideas, twists and turns, which would have spiced up the otherwise tepid movie. And who knows, they might have even produced something that could whet the appetite of those of us who do not count themselves gamers even in the remotest sense of the word.
Anyway, the authors left the room for a sequel and we can only hope that they will squirt up a smidgen of originality if they ever venture to revisit the universe of the Mutant Chronicles. Until then we are stuck with a movie which, in all fairness, is not a total flop – I strain at the leash even as I write this! You can make a mental effort and brush aside all the jarring shortcomings and inconsistencies so that you can enjoy the sheer physicality of action sequences or the darkly titillating glimpses of what could have been a truly compelling world.