Friday, 19 December 2008

FAL Review: Mutant Chronicles the Movie

I have now watched the Mutant Chronicles movie, and it was great fun. It feels weird to see some of the concepts I had a part in creating being made into a feature length movie. Weird but cool, of course.

Note that this review contains spoilers of the Mutant Chronicles movie. If you don't want to have the ending spoiled, just read to the end of this paragraph and no further; to sum it up the movie is a run of the mill sci-fi action horror adventure (how's that for covering genre bases?) with predictable plot development and wooden acting. Nothing more, nothing less. If you find enjoyment in movies like Dark Side of the Moon, Split Second and Pitch Black, this could be a movie for you. There are also throwbacks to Aliens and The Matrix, but compared to those luminaries, Mutant Chronicles falls rather short.

The visuals are mostly grey and drab, to good effect. The only colour to stand out in stark relief is red, as in blood red, making the cinematography vaguely reminiscent of that found in Sin City. I did love the steampunk aspects of the movie, from the large artillery guns on the battlefields to the impossibly constructed space ships carrying our heroes into the fray.

The plot is predictable and takes a lot of inspiration from the narrative structures of video games and roleplaying games; a group of hard-ass soldiers are assembled to carry out a mission to save mankind, and after a lot of one-liners and gratitious violence one of them survives and saves mankind.

The overarching themes are heroism and sacrifice. These themes carry the most weight in the scenes picturing refugees trying to get off Earth before it is run over by the mutants, and in the unflinching heroism of the NPCs ... erm ... secondary characters, or whatever they're called in movie lingo. Sure, the main characters are heroic and all that, but that's to be expected. I feel it to be one of the strengths of the movie that it lets other characters shine ... before they are killed, as often is the case.

As one of the principal writers of the original Mutant Chronicles roleplaying game, I have mixed feelings about the movie. I think that it is a solid offering for a B-grade sci-fi flick, reminiscent of the movies that was part of my growing up. At the same time it ignores a lot of the powerful imagery and plot mechanics present in the source material. The Dark Legion is only represented by some kind of machine and a bunch of identical mutants, and the diversity of the legion's threat to mankind, both from within and without, is ignored. It also feels like a wasted opportunity not to use the first encounter background from the game, and instead invent a much weaker plot vehicle to move the film along.

The tone and graphics are spot on, even though I feel that the Mutant Chronicles setting also contains polished steel, neon and plastics to a greater extent than what is shown in the move. As it is now, the film focuses too heavily on the WWI inspiration inherent in the setting, and not enough on the sci-fi tropes that also make up the background. One thing I really liked was the inclusion of religion, faith and belief, although I feel that this could have been explored much more intricately; after all, in the Mutant Chronicles setting, divine power is a reality. Or at least, mystical power is ...

To sum it up, the setting of the movie is only inspired by some of the basic ideas of the roleplaying game, but the result is still entertaining to those who find enjoyment in strong visuals and steampunk imagery. Fans of one-liner plots with dodgy acting will love it!


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