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Depressed Seattle teenager Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) buys a camcorder to keep a video chronicle of his trying life. At home Andrew’s mother Karen (Bo Petersen) is slowly dying from cancer, and his alcoholic father Richard (Michael Kelly) verbally and physically abuses him. At school, he is unpopular and violently bullied. Andrew's only real friend is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who invites him to a party in hopes of helping him make friends, but Andrew's awkward behavior just continues to alienate him and he despondently leaves. While moping outside, Andrew is approached by Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the popular shoe-in for class president, who persuades to bring his camera to a strange, glowing, noisy hole in the middle of the woods, where Matt is waiting for them. The three enter the hole and discover a large, blue crystalline object that begins to vibrate and glow red, causing painful nosebleeds, and eventually a violent, chaotic cave-in. Weeks later Andrew has a new camera, and records himself, Matt, and Steve as they begin to manifest telekinetic abilities.

Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition
Love it, hate it, or used to love it and have learned to hate it, the found footage genre isn’t going away anytime soon. Movies like The Devil Inside can be produced on a shoestring and released to brutal reviews and audience reactions, but still make enough money their first weekend out to justify the expenditure. Outside of straight exploitation genres, like pornography, I’m not sure there’s ever been a popular film movement that has leveled the playing field between the major studios and independent filmmakers this effectively, as looking cheap and unprofessional is par for the found footage course. In contrast, the even more popular and continuously growing superhero genre is largely dependent on expensive, state of the art special effects. Even comparatively moderately priced superhero films run budgets into the tens of millions. Independent productions are thus limited to more ‘realistic’ concepts and satires ( Super, Defender, Griff the Invisible), or campy knock-offs ( The Almighty Thor). Obviously, the next step in the money grubbing process would be to mix the otherwise cost prohibitive superhero genre with the inherently cost effective found footage genre, thus creating a super-found footage hybrid that would brood a franchise of cheap and popular box office hits. How it took until 2012 for someone to do it is beyond my cognitive abilities.

There have been some good, even great found footage films released during this most recent deluge, and some, like Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, even get away with an overall lack of intrigue beyond the clever idea of coupling an unlikely genre (Giant Kaiju Monster) with found footage concept, but a lot of good will has been strained by too many plotless, formless, undistinguished, downright boring movies. First time feature director Josh Trank’s Chronicle isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than the uninspiring trailers would lead you to believe, and probably the best thing that’s happened to found footage since André Øvredal’s Troll Hunter (which you should probably see right now, if you haven’t already). Trank does his job efficiently, easing his audience from faux-verite into the unnatural melodrama and unrealistic action with relative grace, and he doesn’t awkwardly stop the film every time the story requires a little more development. He also squeezes every ounce of his moderate budget (estimated $15 million), and captures more dynamic impact in his bombastic climax than most blockbusters ten times the price. The economical special effects tend to show their seams, but they aren’t particularly distracting, and the no-brainer inclusion of alternate angles via media and surveillance cameras during the big psy-powered Seattle smash-up adds another layer of awe missing from most of the more ambitious found footage movies.

Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition
The screenplay and story were co-written by bona fide comic book geek Max Landis, son of bona fide horror/sci-fi geek John Landis, who does a good job of ensuring the film isn’t just another gimmick, but an honest storytelling exercise. First he tackles the omnipresent found footage issue of why anyone would be filming every aspect of his or her life. The story points to the use of the camera a little too often, which makes it a little hard to ignore, but generally it’s easy enough to overlook the gimmick in favour of the story, especially when Andrew starts telepathically controlling the camera and getting himself more theatrical angles for his chronicle. There’s little originality or deeper meaning here, but what it lacks in novelty Chronicle often makes up for in proficiency and taste. The basic plot most obviously recalls elements of the basic superhero myth (pieces of Fantastic Four, which Trank is rumoured to be rebooting for Fox), the ongoing hero/villain dynamics of Professor X and Magneto throughout the X-Men mythos, and big pieces of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. The ‘origin story’ approach is another no-brainer, but Trank and Landis is smart to revolve most of their narrative around the building fury of a super villain rather than a super hero (who’s moved into a supporting role), and even smarter to make that super villain a truly pitiable person. Found footage films tend to be populated by thinly drawn characters that are defined by singular tropes, and who spend most of their time arguing with one another. Trank and Landis are guilty of this to an extent, at least at the beginning of the story. Character motivations tend to be a bit heavy-handed, and there are major issues with expositional dialogue, but as the film progresses it’s pretty easy to ignore the simplicity, and become surprisingly engrossed in who these people are.

Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition

Video


Shot entirely digitally, Chronicle is every inch a found footage film, meaning this 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer isn’t going to win any awards for clarity, but every artefact and shortcoming is an integral part of the film’s design. The frame is flooded with artefacts including heavy digital grain, thick edge enhancement, edge jaggies, bleeding colours, and inconsistent black levels. Soon in the film we discover that Andrew’s camera is just old, as Trank edits in an alternate angles from other cameras in the area, most of which are much sharper and cleaner then the hero camera, which is broken, and then replaced with a state of the art Arri Alexa HD system. The HD scenes, which make up the bulk of the film, looks something much closer to perfect, including sharp, lifelike details (mostly in close-up, but also in medium shots), much less grain, and more realistic colours. Natural lighting continues to keep things stylistically found footage-y, but also creates some really effective contrast levels and rich blacks. The darkest shots are still plenty grainy, but nothing major is lost thanks to well-defined highlights. There isn’t exactly a defined colour palette, but there are themes based on time of day and location, including soft, white lit interiors with poppy primary hues, warmly tinted outdoor shots with lush green highlights, and vibrant red and purple party scenes.

Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition

Audio


I always have a strange problem accepting surround sound mixes on found footage films. For some dumb reason I have to actively suspend my disbelief concerning the 5.1 abilities of a hand-held camera, even though I apparently don’t have a problem with super-powered teenagers. Despite my issues, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a solid showing, and even takes the concept’s issues into aural account. As the film begins things remain restrained and mostly centered, with a slightly tinny high-end sound, and volume inconsistencies depending on camera placement. Soon enough, however, our protagonists find themselves at a rave, and the techno music gives the stereo and surround channels a bit of a workout. Then the fantasy aspects of the story begin to weave their way into the mix, and the sound design starts to vibrate with activity. The production also utilizes the new camera excuse to include more ambient effects, eventually dropping any pretense, and utilizing immersive directional effects. Highlights really begin when the characters learn to fly, and then continue as the situation slowly spirals out of control. The action scenes include your basic superhero movie levels of aggressive sound design, including swift directional effects and room shattering bass levels.

Extras


Besides the inclusion of an extended cut of the film (the extended scenes appear to mostly pertain to the film’s second act, where the boys mostly play pranks with their powers), extras are pretty brief, including only a deleted scene (1:10, HD), some pre-viz footage (7:50, HD), a camera/special effects test (4:00, HD), a trailer, and other trailers for Fox releases.

Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition

Overall


I really liked Chronicle, but I do fear the surprise of it being so much better than expected might be overshadowing some obvious flaws. I look forward to revisiting the film again after some time away. Right now my biggest complaint is that I really want more from this story, and despite an on-coming sequel, the ending supplied by this film offers perhaps too much closure, or at least too much closure on the elements I care about. This Blu-ray release looks a bit ‘used’, obviously, but is quite sharp when necessary, and the DTS-HD soundtrack develops into something truly spectacular as the film progresses. Sadly, there’s basically nothing in regards to extras here outside of some extended footage.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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