Mimic: Director's Cut (US - BD RA)
Gabe reevaluates Guillermo del Toro's weakest film in director's cut form...
When dozens of children are stricken ill by a deadly sickness spread by New York City’s cockroaches, entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and her husband Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) genetically engineer a new breed of insect to combat the problem. Dubbed the Judas Breed, these man-made creatures excrete an enzyme that kills the disease-carrying roaches by speeding up their metabolism. Three years later people begin to disappear into the sewers, and Susan and Peter soon discover that their insects have quickly evolved into man-sized monsters capable of mimicking human beings.
The mid-‘90s were not a great time for mainstream film horror, and the blame rests largely on the shoulders of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax subsidiary company Dimension loosed Wes Craven’s Scream upon the world. Following the surprise blockbuster status Dimension (usually under the supervision of Bob instead of Harvey) made a brand out of slick horror and horror/sci-fi hybrids that generally looked attractive, but were uncanny in their utter lack of memorability (it’s a word, I triple checked). The Weinsteins were quite good at finding talent, though, they just happened to be even better at micro-managing that talent into the ground. During these salad days of acute mediocrity Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro had only really made one feature length release, the well received, but not exceedingly popular Spanish language pseudo-vampire film called Cronos. Del Toro would, of course, go on to direct an ever improving catalogue of horror/action hybrids, but when the Weinsteins ‘discovered’ him, he was new to the Hollywood system, and ripe for being taken advantage of. Young, exciting foreign filmmakers rarely make the jump to Hollywood gracefully, and they almost never do it in a single film. Especially not in the 1990s (for whatever reason). Take, for example, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who followed up City of Lost Children with Alien Resurrection. And let’s not forget Hong Kong filmmakers whose ‘90s Hollywood output never touched the quality of their home country catalogue, like John Woo and Tsui Hark. Between these facts, and decades of horror stories concerning the Brothers Weinstein, it’s remarkable that Mimic wasn’t a total disaster.
Originally del Toro planned on following up Cronos with The Devil’s Backbone, and when he couldn’t find funding he developed movies with Francis Ford Coppola and Mark Frost. Eventually the Weinsteins came to del Toro and asked him to make a short for a planned horror/sci-fi anthology film. Eventually del Toro landed on a short story by Donald A. Wollheim called ‘Mimic’ (emphasis on short, I’ve read it), and co-wrote a screenplay with Matthew Robbins. The Weinsteins eventually scrapped the short, and expanded the short into a feature. Then the problems started. And they compounded. So Mimic wasn’t great. But even in defeat a Guillermo del Toro movie is a Guillermo del Toro movie. Many of the director’s trademarks make their way through the studio system – fairy tale motifs, strong kids (in a more supporting capacity), gothic atmosphere, insects (obviously), labyrinthine sewers, gory monster autopsies, and an obsession with intricate details. One could almost argue del Toro remade the film when he followed it up with Blade II, he just replaced scientists with vampires, and hyper-evolved insects with hyper-evolved vampires. Mimic is never bereft of visual feats, and it also manages to fill the usual Dimension studios quota of jump scares without being too goofy about it. Though he’s always coupled in breath with the horror genre, the director’s films are usually genre amalgamations. Mimic is actually close to his most purely thrill-based horror film, even when recut to something closer to his original vision.
Del Toro’s usual weaknesses are here too, chiefly in the screenplay, which he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins (uncredited script doctor on TXH 1138 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and a parade of uncredited screenwriters. It seems that del Toro’s themes and narrative issues are worked into all of his work in spite of the best attempts of his co-collaborators ( Blade II was his re-writing of David ‘how do I keep getting work’ Goyer’s script). The story is too busy with ideas (something we’ve come to love from the director in recent years), relatively unbalanced, and the dialogue is often mushy with exposition. Del Toro has a million ideas, and he tries a little too hard to pour them into a rather shallow cup. A rightfully shallow cup for the most part. Generally the bigger problem is that the first act is too busy, and the second act sags, feeling more like a climax extended beyond its station. There’s a lot of action around the middle, but the narrative basically stops in favour of set-pieces that begin to lose the film its edge. If the interesting exposition could’ve been more evenly spread (which del Toro does attempt to do in this new cut) the overall effect would’ve been more effective. Structurally speaking Mimic is similar to other mid-‘90s action/horror/sci-fi hybrids, especially (again) Alien Resurrection and Relic, which also skip through heavy pseudo-science discussion with frenetic, violent set-pieces, sacrificing character and plot in the process (not to mention they were both released the same year as Mimic). And let’s be honest, this is pre- Blade II del Toro, he hasn’t honed his action chops all that much yet. Sorvino’s subway car dodge is quite ridiculous. To his credit, the director doesn’t appear to like any of the action movie elements all that much either.
Based on del Toro’s general dislike of the final product, I haven’t seen Mimic myself since its initial release. My Blu-ray player has been on the fritz for a couple of weeks now, and the disc did break down the first time I tried to watch it. So like any sane person I went over to Netflix and streamed the theatrical version. Once the player decided to work again I finished the film, and watched del Toro’s commentary track, where the director points out most of the differences, so I had a pretty good sense of the differences between the cuts. The director’s cut is the better movie, no doubt, but doesn’t make the larger upgrade of the material really needed. Major differences include Sorvino being definitively pregnant, and minor scenes including the refuse of human underground dwellers. The ending is still rather abrupt, but less so.
Mimic makes its Blu-ray debut with what I’d call an entirely average 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. Average should not be confused with ‘bad’, especially considering the only other US release is a non-anamorphic DVD (which is the theatrical cut). The first thing most viewers will notice is how grainy this transfer is, which is not a negative – the film was shot on film, and del Toro certainly intended the film to feature grit – but certainly something that is hard to escape, and the frequency of the grain is not as consistent as it should be. The darkest dark shots, especially dark interiors utilizing the more green base palette (the bluer underground scenes are more evenly grained) are extremely grainy, like, 8mm blow-up grainy, but the look still usually works in the film’s favour. A bigger problem is overall detail, especially in wider shots. Del Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen frame the majority of the film pretty tightly in the 1.85:1, and a lot of the film is told in relative close-up, so lack of detail isn’t an overbearing issue, but the intricate backgrounds are often mushy, and feature thickened black outlines. Edge enhancement is a more obvious problem in these shots that is clearly not part of the intended look. Close-ups, especially the extreme close-ups, are relatively crisp, or at least crisp enough.
As del Toro himself admits on the commentary, Mimic marks the first time he started juxtaposing a cool palette, usually green, blue, or a mix of the two, against an amber palette. This base is anchored in rich, thick blacks (there isn’t a lot of light in any of his films), and highlighted by bloody reds. This theme permeates every other film in his filmography. Mimic doesn’t have huge red swaths like Blade II, or a bright red character like the Hellboy movies, but minor costume elements, such as Sorvino’s lips, and little Alexander Goodwin’s undershirt continue the theme. The reds do feature more obvious compression noise than other hues in wider use, but the minor poppy elements are pretty clean. For the most part the colours are more vibrant and definitely separated than what is usually expected from SD releases, and the transfer’s strongest asset. As I said, I watched the theatrical cut of the film on Netflix, in 720p HD, and noticed a few minor differences. Overall the 720p transfer isn’t as dark (the scene where Sorvino is kidnapped by the bug especially), and the tint is slightly greener during the underground scenes.
The video quality is iffy, but this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is close to perfection, and sizably louder and more dynamic than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track I caught on the Netflix version (which I’m going to assume is similar to the DVD releases original mix). Mimic is arguably del Toro’s most traditional ‘horror’ film, and is his first chance to work with a large budget. As such, it revels in the abilities of mid-‘90s 5.1 sound possibilities, and the mid-‘90s were a wild time for filmmakers messing with surround soundscapes. The opening credits alone will give your system its proper workout. The sound design mixes abstract ‘eerie’ noises, insect chattering and disembodied voices that float throughout all five channels, and Marco Beltrami alternating soft and brassy score. The overall tone is set, and sound continues from here. Besides the general aggression that accompanies gothic horror, the narrative involves giant bugs making giant bug noises. In fact, the manner in which insects react to sound is a pretty important plot point. The chatter, and accompanying crawling is expertly tweaked to signify the position of an aggressive bug, create a perfect sense of the creature moving around the audience. Other less outwardly aggressive surround elements include lots of thunder and rain, subway cars, and generally spooky wind. The only real problem with the mix is found in the dialogue track, which occasionally reveals some issues with noise reduction. The background soundtrack does become generally noisier as characters speak, only to be silenced again when the speaking stops.
This new director’s cut release begins with a video introduction with Guillermo del Toro, who prepares the audience for his incredibly honest commentary track. This track is, for fans of del Toro, and fans of Hollywood horror stories, the key reason to buy this disc. Any del Toro commentary is worth your time, but this is something special – a filmmaker given a real chance to defend a troubled production. For legal reasons he changes a few names, but otherwise is freed to speak his mind on the subject. Needless to say, this is a wonderful track, and one that I’ll be revisiting more than the film itself. Del Toro is extremely well prepared, and peppers every second of the track with terrible stories of the Weinsteins run amok, his original intent, pieces of his original screenplay that were never included, the technical aspects of filmmaking, and some of his intended subtext (I admit I mostly missed the whole pregnancy thing). I’m actually going to end my description of the commentary here, because taking it any further would feel like a spoiler, since I’m seeing this track as the real reason to buy the disc. Okay, one spoiler, John freakin’ Sayles and Steven Soderberg both worked on a rejected drafts of the screenplay!
Next up is ‘Reclaiming Mimic’ (14:30, HD) a featurette generally concerning all the things del Toro discussed on the commentary, yet he doesn’t actually repeat himself all that often. Here he describes Wollheim’s original short story, his problems with studio interference and its effect on storytelling, the film’s visual themes, and discusses some of the differences between the original scripts, and the new cut (including some of the subtle colour changes) more implicitly. ‘A Leap in Evolution’ (9:30, SD) explores the film’s creature design, and includes interviews with del Toro, and creature designers Tyruben Ellingson and Rick Lazzarini, along with behind the scenes footage and production art. This featurette discusses design solutions, conceptual themes, and the science behind the process. ‘Back into the Tunnels’ (5:20, SD) is a mix of vintage EPK elements, including interviews with a younger del Toro, and cast members Josh Brolin, Mira Sorvino, Charles S. Dutton, and Jeremy Northam, along with rough on-set footage. The disc is completed with two deleted scenes and an alternate (really extended) ending (5:10, SD), six storyboard animatics (6:00, SD), a blooper reel (2:20, SD) and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Calling this the ‘director’s cut’ of Mimic is a bit of a misnomer, since Guillermo del Toro wasn’t able to even film most of the stuff he wanted, but this is closer to his original vision, and generally a better movie than the one you saw in theaters in 1997. It’s still easily del Toro’s weakest film, though, and not one I imagine myself revisiting anytime soon…
…Unless I’m listening to the incredibly entertaining and educational director’s commentary track, which is worth the price of admission even for those of us left relatively unimpressed by the film itself. The other extras aren’t as great, but worth a look. I’m a little disappointed in the overall image quality, but the DTS-HD audio is fantastic and good fun.
*Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Director Intro, Reclaiming Mimic, A Leap in Evolution, Back to the Tunnels, Deleted Scenes, Storyboard Animatics, Gag Reel, Trailer, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Josh Brolin, Charles S. Dutton, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin
Genre: Action, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 112 minutes
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