I can’t think of any board-type games that have had rousing success when crossed over into film. From my limited scope, only a few attempts like Clue and Dungeons and Dragons even come to mind. And seeing that at least two higher priced productions didn’t fare particularly well, there wasn’t much hope going for the low-budget production of Mutant Chronicles.
And when I say there wasn’t much hope, I suppose I should have said that within five minutes of the movie starting, it was obvious Mutant Chronicles had no hope. The premise wasn’t all that bad; the delivery of it was God-awful.
The year is 2707. The Earth is a mess due to the depletion of natural resources and the ongoing war between the four major corporations – Bauhaus, Mishima, Capitol and Imperial – which now control the world. During one heated exchange, an ancient seal is broken which releases an alien technology that mutates humans into mindless killing machines. Being caught off guard, and finding our weapons do little to stop these creatures, survivors jump onto ships headed for colonies on Mars. A lone believer known simply as Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman) is adamant however, that a tome in his possession is the key to stopping the mutant-producing machine and saving the human race. So he recruits the best from all corporations – Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane), McGuire (Steve Toussaint), Steiner (Benno Fà¼rmann), Severian (Anna Walton), El Jesus (Luis Echegaray), Duval (Devon Aoki) and Juba (Tom Wu) – to push deep into the machine on a suicide mission to deliver a “bomb” that he believes will destroy the invaders.
Pretty interesting premise, as I said, but things go awry quickly. The first thing that threw me for a loop was the fact that the world has regressed back to 1940s technology – everything is coal driven and steam powered. If wars are being waged due to the scarcity of resources, why aren’t other power sources in use? I don’t recall an answer to that question; I guess the dirty, gritty look captured the grim scenario better. Putting that aside, immediately thereafter I couldn’t help but notice not a damn thing looked real. Cinematographer Geoff Boyle and director Simon Hunter really dropped the ball here. The mammoth troop transports and cannons, while painstakingly detailed, looked like an art student’s first attempt at digital rendering. I don’t even want to mention how poorly the actors were superimposed on the digital backdrops (although I guess I just did mention it). A whole lot more care was needed here to give the film even a minor level of believability.
If you can get past these visual miscues (which admittedly is harder than it seems), you’ll stumble into the bare minimum of character development with equally weak portrayals (watching Perlman try to do something other than Hellboy isn’t as easy as it seems either). Philip Eisner attempted to write in scenes with the express purpose of drumming up our emotions and humanizing the heroes but they’re all misplaced, long in telling and drag down the action of mass killing.
If there is a bright spot in Mutant Chronicles, it’s in the mass killings. Through all its faults, it does manage to deliver a relatively impressive hack-n-slash gorefest to the screen. The mutants, which look like charter members of the Borg collective (just not as snazzily dressed) with a slashing appendage like the harvesters from The Deaths of Ian Stone, tear through their human opponents with vigor and, although they exhibit no emotion, joy. And because it takes so much firepower and/or swift sword work to kill them, the mutants get bloodied up good too. I only wish the blood and guts were more lifelike (see my earlier rant on the cinematics, it applies here too).
Mutant Chronicles is an example of high expectations dashed. Maybe, just maybe, if there was more money backing it (ever heard of production companies Edward R. Pressman Film or First Foot Films?) the final product would have been better. It’s no wonder the likes of Roger Christian and John Carpenter passed up the chance to direct. Take their cue — you should pass up the chance to view.