If Mutant Chronicles were comprised only of its opening and closing segments, there would be a lot to forgive given the energy, style, and excitement.
Actually, Mutant Chronicles is always loaded with energy, but only of the creative kind. Director Simon Hunter and his team put a lot of work into the film, and it shows. With a low budget, the digital and traditional effects are crammed into a film that should not be able to sustain anything of the sort.
Unfortunately, someone made the decision that Mutant Chronicles needed star power. The money spent casting Ron Perlman, Thomas Jane, and John Malkovich is a budgetary miscalculation. Malkovich is completely wasted in a small, meager role that takes up less than five minutes of screen time. Giving the role to anyone requiring less on the bankroll could have improved multiple shots within the film.
If the visuals were not incredibly important to this film, they could be overlooked. Mutant Chronicles is trying (desperately) to establish a world ravaged by war between global corporations. The opening battle sequence works in this regard, rising above the questionable visuals to create a sequence of intensity. Soldiers marching for their companies open an ancient hole in the ground, releasing an army of alien-human hybrids that savagely attack the troops.
Fog and rain obscure the gory onslaught, effectively shot against a green screen. The sense of scale is excellent, and the generally eerie sense of terror is conveyed wonderfully.
Then Ron Perlman shows up in a ridiculous hooded robe and everything grinds to a halt.
Perlman plays a deeply religious monk, one of the few remaining people with knowledge of the alien machine that turns humans into beasts. He recruits a group of soldiers to destroy the machine, as foretold in legend.
A few scenes stand out as the small army marches through a city to their goal. A brief if somewhat useless sequence of a mother trying to leave the planet with her son shows the darker side of the new war, although with little impact on the full story.
The world of Mutant Chronicles is barely established, and wants the audience to accept that this civilization powered by steam can leave Earth and make it to Mars (let alone survive there). Also, despite the film stating the mutants have limited brain power, they somehow know how to pilot aircraft, creating a mildly exciting and illogical air battle.
The over reliance of green-screen effects hinders the attempt at setting scale. City streets look painfully cheap, worse for the wear after the matte paintings and miniatures have been digitally manipulated.
That could be the reason why the final chapter works, confined within the alien machine. A vicious and entertaining sword battle culminates in a one-on-one confrontation between the two stars, one that relies less on effects to focus on story and direction. Given what the crew had to work with, that is what Mutant Chronicles needed.
Filmed digitally, Mutant Chronicles looks the part with this inconsistent VC-1 encode. Everything carries that unnaturally smooth sheen, undoubtedly a source problem. Black levels are all over the place, particularly during special effect shots. Banding is evident in multiple scenes, and noise is a constant. The latter is at its worst during a conversation between Ron Pearlman and Thomas Jane in a bar around the 25-minute marker.
Some black crush is evident, if rare. Sharpness is usually strong, although like everything else, hardly consistent. Some close-ups deliver staggering levels of detail, including outstanding facial textures. Sweat, dirt, and blood splattered across an actors/actress’ face can rank amongst the best on the market, while the person sitting next to them in the same shot is the exact opposite. Any consistency would have helped.
A DTS-HD mix is fantastic, creating multiple demo-worthy scenes. Obviously, the opening war is amongst the best, with massive cannons delivering powerful low-end jolts. Gunfire spreads throughout the soundfield, while rain adds the extra layer of immersion. Crisp highs are wonderful in their clarity, and dialogue is inserted to remain audible above the hail of bullets.
Downtime is aided by positional dialogue and various audio cues used to indicate an approaching mutant. Nearly all scenes contain something of note, even if the mix can sound somewhat artificial.
A massive making-of is the centerpiece of this disc, running close to 15 minutes longer than the film itself. Given the nature of the piece and general budgetary restrictions, it makes this an engaging and interesting piece. Six deleted scenes are in various unfinished states, while three storyboard/green screen comparisons pull footage from the set to compare it to the drawings.
A promotional short film is unique in how it showcases the concept to potential investors, and the brief making-of that same short is appreciated. Thirteen interview segments capture a wide array of cast and crew to discuss their roles. Additional promos, concept art, a dozen webisodes, 11-minute Comic-Con panel, and trailers finish off a fantastic set of extras.