Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mimic: Director's Cut - Blu-ray Review

Director's Cut

Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: September 27, 2011

Mimic feels almost like a lost film to me anymore. I remember it quite fondly but it never seems to get brought up very often or at all which is just a crying shame. I have always had a special place in my heart for Mimic for many reasons but the real selling point here are those three words directly following the title, "The Director's Cut". Why is there a new version of the film? It gets kind of complicated but I will try my best to convey what the heck is going on with this release.

Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: Playstation 3 Slim
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: DTS HD - English

Loves: Guillermo del Toro, Mira Sorvino
Likes: Moody monster movies, Josh Brolin, Charles S. Dutton
Neutral: Typical monster movies
Hates: Visionary directors who are not trusted by the studio that hires them
First: Guillermo del Toro movie I ever saw

The year was 1997, I was presented with an opportunity to go see a sneak preview of a movie called Mimic. At this point in my life I was gung ho to see any new movie that came my way (I guess I am not really all that different now though) so it didn't take much convincing to get me in that theater. All I knew about it at the time was that it starred Mira Sorvino and that it featured giant cockroaches. So along with a handful of close friends we made our way to the Beverly Center in Los Angeles for what I had hoped would be a decent little B monster movie. I came away from the experience fairly pleased with what was offered up, there were some neat effects, solid acting and a simple but straight forward story. The main thing that has always stuck with me though over the years whenever I look back on my initial reaction to the film is the general look and atmosphere it created. It had such a unique look and feel to it that made it stand out from all the other creature features of the same ilk. Little did I know at the time that the film's director, a then practically unknown Guillermo del Toro, was the wizard behind the curtain and that unique look and feel is now a signature of the extremely talented filmmaker.

Very loosely based off a short story by Donald A. Wollheim, Mimic is a monster movie that aggressively strives to be much more than a simple genre flick. You can see these attempts of legitimising itself through the meticulous set up of a very by the numbers narrative. Our introduction into the world of Mimic is through the eyes of Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), a brilliant Entomologist who is shown the results of a city wide epidemic that is killing off all the children of New York. Her expertise come into play when she is asked to find a way of killing off the deadly disease's carrier, the common cockroach. She devises a plan where she genetically engineers her very own breed of cockroach, called the Judas Breed, and systematically introduces them into the insect population. The results are successful beyond any one's belief and after a few months go by the disease has been completely eradicated. Unfortunately not everything went according to plan and as things often do in the world, life finds a way.

Susan prepares to unleash her little creations unto the world.

Mimic was a mild success when it was released back in the summer of  '97. It didn't really do much business because of the late summer release date mixed with having a very unpopular insect star as the primary antagonist. No matter how good a film it was or could have been, people just aren't hyped to go see giant cockroaches and to my knowledge any film that has ever featured the creepy suckers has failed. That didn't stop Miramax from trying to do it two more times though with the direct to video sequels that the less said about the better. Usually when a film does poorly or isn't embraced by the masses it can sting a bit, but I think the director had mixed feelings of his own when it came to his very first Hollywood feature.

As you have probably noticed by now this is a director's cut, meaning that what we saw fourteen years ago was not the original intention of the film's creator. According to the extensive supplemental features on this release we now know a lot of what happened and how due to studio meddling (when will they learn?) del Toro was forced to release something that had his name on it but wasn't really his. He states in the commentary that he doesn't hate the film or anyone involved with the production (as a matter of fact he says multiple times that Sorvino was a big supporter of his on set during all the chaos) but instead he is saddened that he never got to make the film he had originally intended. He has added back in and even taken some shots out for this new cut of the film so that he could get as close as humanly possible to what his original intent was.

Ah, ain't she cute....and I'm not talking about the bug.

For us the viewer the question then becomes, are these changes good, bad or even necessary? I can't answer that for you. I can however say that I found most of the additions to be rather superfluous in the grand scheme of things. There was a background storyline following Susan and her husband Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) where they are trying to have a baby but seem to fail every time they give it a go. In del Toro's cut we now find out that Susan is actually pregnant, and along with some other scenes that supposedly are there to juxtapose with the fertility of the cockroach population we get some random sequences of Peter trying to find a way to tell Susan the good news. That is what appeared to be the most significant alteration to me. Some other scenes were added in at the water treatment plant and at Susan's lab but none of that really added anything to the narrative.

Regardless of the changes made, Mimic still stands strong as one of the genre's best. It is hard to make a movie about cockroaches and have it break new boundaries in filmmaking, but del Toro did it. The key is in the trappings, the love and care that was put into it's rather astounding production (given the budgetary constraints) help elevate it to something much more than a simple little movie about giant insects. Del Toro is a master at crafting the right tone and atmosphere for his films. He can either be fun (Hellboy) or he can be very dark (Pan's Labyrinth) and here he is in full on dark mode. I don't just mean metaphorically either, this is one hell of a dark ass movie which was purposeful. The lack of sight and being able to make things out at the end of a long hall is how he is able to ramp up the fear and tension. You can tell he approached this film with a no holds barred mentality, he leaves no stone unturned and even tackles a couple of filmmaking taboos by not only killing a dog but also killing not one but TWO grade school kids in probably one of the more brutal scenes in the film.

The group of survivors try to find a way out.

He doesn't stop there though, the fun is only just beginning by the time the kids and dogs are out of the picture. The real fun comes later in the film when we leave the comfort of the city streets and delve deep into the underbelly of New York's sewers. Del Toro loves sewers, between this, Hellboy and Blade 2 he has successfully featured a sewer scene prominently each time. But anyway, everything leading up to the second half of the film was all set up, but well done set up mind you. Everything isn't wine and roses here though, there are some clear cut cases of exposition going on as well as a lot of scenes that seem in place only to help inform the audience of what's going on but not the characters that need the information. These can be forgiven because not only are they done well but they take up so little screen time that is becomes a non-issue. Upon repeated viewings however they do begin to stand out and not really in a good way.

It's all well worth it though because that second half is pretty damn cool. It is your typical horror situation with a handful of people fighting to survive against a stronger enemy (you will see many influences from the film Aliens throughout it) but what makes it work so well beyond del Toro's magic touch is a combination of some great practical effects mixed with a very small amount of digital effects to bring those big bugs to life. The first half of the film we only get glimpses of them but down in the sewers is when we start to get some good long looks at them and for the most part they still hold up even by today's standards. I have always believed del Toro to be a pioneer in the realm of mixing practical effects with digital effects and that mastery is on full display here. The only unfortunate thing about the effects are the digital bugs though. While they still look convincing when covered in darkness or with quick cuts there are a few moments where you can see the strings controlling them (metaphorically speaking). The saving grace is that there are so few digital effects that any inconsistencies in the quality are overshadowed by the outstanding practical effects which take up a majority of screen time.

The last time Josh Brolin went underground he found a One Eyed Willy...what will he find this time?

There is one other key element to what really helps sell this whole affair and that is the actors. Let's start with the leading lady, Mira Sorvino. Remember her? She did that one movie with that one guy that came out a long time ago? In all seriousness though this was one of her first real big starring roles after winning the best supporting actress Oscar two years prior for Mighty Aphrodite and she was pretty damn great in this. Between this and the wacky comedy Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion (which came out the same year) she seemed to be either picking roles based on a purely script level or she was intentionally trying to sink her career. Not that either this or Romy was bad per say (I actually think Romy & Michelle was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen to be honest) but they didn't exactly get her the name recognition needed to continue getting leading roles. Which was a shame because despite her acting talents, which are ample, and her ability to be so damned adorable even when covered in muck fighting off giant cockroaches (yeah, I had a pretty big crush on her back then) she unfortunately didn't go anywhere. Other than all the independent and TV films she has played in over the years all we have left of her once blossoming career are this, and that really bad Chow Yun Fat movie The Replacement Killers.

Sorry about that, I hardly ever get to talk about Mira so when the opportunity arises I kind of derail. She wasn't the only acting talent to be found in the depths of Mimic's sewers. We also had Jeremey Northam whom actually made a good on screen match with Sorvino and lent a much needed sense of fear to the proceedings. Then you have a very young Josh Brolin as Josh (no, I'm not kidding) whom I remember my exact reaction to seeing in this back in 1997 which was, "Holy crap, that's Brand from Goonies!". Now days he is much more than that but he was still a welcome addition to the cast. A walk on role for F. Murray Abraham adds some intellectual weight as Susan's friend and mentor and Giancarlo Giannini plays Manny, the shoe shinesman and father to his little boy that has Autism and mimics any sound he hears (see the parallels there?). He did a fine job playing the worried father but quite honestly he was one of the more annoying characters in the film to me. Lastly there is a personal favorite of mine from the '90s, Charles S. Dutton as Leonard the police officer. Every movie like this needs some sort of comic relief and Leonard is that. Dutton of course adds much more to the part than just comedy and ended up being someone I wanted to see more of. Although I think it is a strange coincidence that Dutton played in two films, Mimic and five years earlier in David Fincher's disowned Alien 3, where two of today's greatest filmmakers were taken advantage of by the studio on their very first big Hollywood film...very strange.

Susan explains why the Judas Breed must be stopped.

I really like Mimic overall. It isn't the type of movie that draws attention to itself with big Hollywood names or your usual assortment of horror film parlor tricks. It is what it is and that is a very handsome looking movie with some great acting on every one's part which just so happens to feature giant man sized cockroaches that like to eat people. If the idea of giant cockroaches turns you off then nothing I can say or do will change your mind on that fact. However if that doesn't bother you then I can't imagine you finding much wrong with the film. It has the scares and the atmosphere needed to put it high above all the rest in its genre and even at times exceeds the expectations of the B movie genre in general. Most of all though if you are a fan of any of del Toro's more current work and are curious to see how his first foray into the world of big Hollywood filmmaking turned out then I suggest you seek it out immediately and discover what I knew all those years ago, which is that Mimic is just one hell of a scary, creepy and well made good time.


What's on the disc?

If you want to know what exactly all went down fourteen years ago while making Mimic then this disc has got you covered. It isn't the most extensive look back at production problems I have ever seen (that honor still goes to Blade Runner) but I guarantee that after taking in all the features here you will have a new found respect for the director, the actors and the film in general. Seeing as how this film had never gotten a true special edition treatment until now I can't imagine it being much better than what we get here. Although I would have enjoyed hearing from the cast and finding out what their thoughts on the film are now all this time later.

The happy couple doesn't get to stay happy for very long.


Audio Commentary - Guillermo del Toro provides a very candid commentary. He states up front that certain producers names will be changed and that he won't be able to go into full detail when discussing the ins and outs of the hell he was put through. With that sort of set up you know there are some great stories to be told and he doesn't let you down. From how he came to work on the film to how he eventually lost artistic control of it by the end, it is all fascinating stuff and even if you are not a fan of Mimic you will find most of everything he has to say fascinating regardless. This is an essential listen for fans of the film and del Toro fans in general.

Video Prologue with Director Guillmero del Toro (1:05 min) HD - Del Toro introduces the new Director's cut to the viewer and what to expect from it.

"Reclaiming Mimic" Featurette (14:31 min) HD - Del Toro goes into more detail about his history with the film as well as giving thoughts on what he perceives to be how a horror film should work. Mostly though you will find a lot of discussion on the restoration of the film to better match his original vision. I also really appreciate his candidness when it comes to accepting the blame for something with his name on it regardless of the circumstances surrounding the project.

"A Leap In Evolution - The Creatures of Mimic" Featurette (9:35 min) HD - This feature goes into the genesis for using cockroaches and how del Toro insisted that the people in charge of bringing them to life on screen had to actually study the real insects and use that knowledge when applying design aspects to the look of the creatures. For someone that never wanted to use cockroaches as the central bug, del Toro certainly made the best of what he was forced to use.

Mira Sorvino in full on badass mode.

"Back into the Tunnels - Shooting Mimic" Featurette (5:22 min) HD - This is a vintage behind the scenes feature used to promote the film back in 1997. You get your usual ass kissing with the actors having nothing but great things to say (although I can't imagine them being dishonest) and some very limited scenes of del Toro filming on set. These features are usually nothing more than a big promotion for the film but given the lack of footage in all the other features on the disc it was a welcome addition if for no other reason than seeing some honest to goodness behind the scenes footage.

Deleted Scenes - HD - These scenes can either be played together or individually. Other than the really out of place alternate ending, these scenes are mostly uninteresting beyond just basic curiosity of what was left out.

- Lunch at the Park (2:30 min) HD - Susan and Peter take a stroll through the park where she informs him that she might be pregnant.

- Kidnapped (:44 min) HD - An alternate version of Susan's abduction in the subway.

- Alternate Ending (1:57 min) HD - Susan and Chuy are reunited with Peter at a train station...during daylight. I really wish there would have been some sort of explanation for this scene because it doesn't make any sort of sense as to how it was supposed to work in conjunction with the finished film. The only thing I took away from it was a lingering feeling that one or more of the creatures survived.

Storyboard Animatics  HD - These features can either be played together or individually. All storyboard sequences are presented in a cinematic fashion with some bug sound effects playing in the background.

- Judas (:46 min) HD - Susan releasing the Judas Breed.

- Pinned Down (:13 min) HD - Susan in the lab with the "Weird Bug".

- Pipe Limbo (:31 min) HD - Susan's escape after being abducted.

- Death of Josh (2:18 min) HD - The title says it all.

- Run for the Car (1:10 min) HD -  Susan and the others running for the train car.

- The Big Bite (1:06 min) HD - Leonard's confrontation with one of the creatures.

Gag Reel (2:20 min) HD - This was unexpected. I had no idea filmmakers did gag reels before the days of DVD but here it is. While it isn't really anything spectacular, it was still a treat seeing the on set goof ups on a film that is over a decade and a half old. It also helps sell the fact that despite the problems del Toro was facing from the producers that everyone seemed to enjoy themselves while filming.

Not a good place to be at all.

Final Verdict:

Mimic has definitely held up over the years, much more so than I would have guessed. It was fun revisiting it and finally seeing what del Toro's vision could have been like if he were left to make the film he wanted. If you can get past the idea of the giant cockroaches then you will find a surprisingly effective and well made film from the early days of one of our greatest current filmmakers. The Blu-ray offers up a clean a crisp image with only a few shots here or there with a noticeable amount of grain and the sound from the haunting musical score to the chirps and clicks of the creatures will have you completely enveloped in the dark world of Mimic. The extra features do an admirable job of piecing together the incidents that went down during its production and provides a fairly candid look at what can happen when a filmmaker doesn't see eye to eye with their producers. This disc comes highly recommended on all fronts.

Movie   -  B+
Video   -  A
Audio   -  A
Extras  -  B




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