Syngenor: Special Edition (US - DVD)
Gabe Powers would go to war with a murderous Giger-esque monster...
Norton Cyberdyne (Cyberdyne, eh?), a multinational corporation, produces high-tech military technology. Their latest super-weapon is the ‘SYNGENOR’ (SYNthesized GENetic ORganism), a perfect and perfectly ugly ‘super-soldier’ killing machine. Unfortunately, the prototype is set loose by a well meaning executive, and is leaving a trail of bodies and new Syngenors in its wake.
Syngenor is a knock-off production, but like many low budget quickies looking for an audience the knock-off qualities are worn on the film’s sleeves. I mean that literally, by the way, every cover sleeve since its VHS days has made Syngenor’s less than original qualities a front and centre issue. Since the days of Roger Corman and Dino de Laurentiis, part of ripping off a popular genre film has been making your intensions known in the assumption that fans will want to see more of the same. In fact, quite often knock-off expectations can lead to disappointment, as audiences assume they’re going to see more of the same, only to have some upstart filmmaker decide to add something of themselves into the production. Thank God there was only one person on this particular production that was looking to put something of himself into the final film: actor David Gale.
The on-paper, shortest possible explanation of Syngenor is an Aliens meets Robocop affair. This generalization is obvious from the box art alone, but the specifics back it up rather effectively. From security guards shooting up monsters, and heroes escaping through vents, to corporate villains, and tongue in cheek commercials, there isn’t a lot of original thought put into the film. The Syngenor design is very Giger inspired, created by William Malone, who’d ‘borrow’ from Giger again for his first two tries at direction, Scared to Death and Creature (and just to hammer the point home, the effects were mostly created by fellahs who work for James Cameron).
I went into the film with minimal expectations, but I was excited to see what I was assuming would be a Brian Yuzna like production. Still, I’m disappointed in Syngenor. As stated at the top, David Gale’s bizarre and campy performance is really the only memorable aspect of the film (and probably part of my assumption that the film would have Yuzna qualities). The visuals are somewhat comic bookish, and there are a few bloody moments, but nothing is taken over the top enough (besides Gale, of course) to make for a memorable experience. With a few exceptions (Gale again), the film also isn’t particularly amusing, on purpose or by accident. Given a lack of original ideas or creature designs a solid grasp of the absurd is often the only thing to make a low budget knock-off worth watching.
As is the case of most of Synapse’s late October releases, Syngenor is a re-release of an Elite Entertainment disc. This print shows its age a little more obviously than many of either studio’s average release. The overall look is generally muted, softening the film’s comic book visuals. Details are pretty soft, and grain is consistent, but besides a few really dark scenes it’s easy to tell what’s going on based on some clean highlights, and an effective sense of contrast. The colours, though muted overall, are still pretty flashy, but the noise factor is an issue, especially in warm colours and skin tones.
The 1.85:1 framing is mostly a non-issue, but there are a handful of shots that are very awkwardly framed, leading me to guess that the film was made with the DTV aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in mind.
Again, I’m not clear on the Elite release’s audio quality, but from what I can gather this disc features the same Dolby Digital 5.1 and original 2.0 options. Back to back the two tracks are almost identical, but the width of the 5.1 track is slightly more impressive, and there’s a tiny bit of extra LFE oomph. The dialogue track has been effectively centred, but it’s also the most inconsistent part of the track, changing quality and volume within a single scene. Usually the spoken audio is relatively natural, but sometimes it becomes a bit scratchy and the high end is slightly distorted. The film is mixed pretty flatly for a stereo affair, so most on-set sound is centred, but there are a few minor stereo scares throughout. The synth score is the tracks most warm and clean element.
The main extra here, and all the extras have been ported directly from the Elite release (including menu), is the audio commentary with lead actress Star Andreeff, writer Brent Friedman and producer Jack Murphy. Though not exactly full of piss and vinegar, all three participants have something to add to the track, mostly covering the blank space with anecdotes and, sadly, often explanations of plot holes. The commentators keep bringing up the film’s vaguely prophetic properties in the company’s plans to send Syngenors to Iran, but it’s not like they made it in the 1960s. The Middle East was very much an issue in 1990.
Next are a collection of brief featurettes. ‘David Gale at Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival’ is taken from video footage taken during the 1990 TFFF, which coincided with the film’s Japanese release. It’s an adorable little thing, especially the bit where Gale opens a gift, and it runs about nine minutes. Producer Jack Murphy’s narration is a nice touch, though the audio quality of the Q and A is pretty hard to discern when he isn’t describing it. The most notable thing about the two minute behind the scenes photo shoot segment is that William Malone appears to be the camera man. This is followed by another Murphy narrated featurette concerning the creature production, also about two minutes, and David Gale’s audition tape. Trailers, filmograpies and stills complete the disc.
Syngenor features some awesomely campy box art (the graphic designers at Synapse are really damn good at what they do), but non-fans shouldn’t be fooled. Besides some colourful visuals, a few fun practical effects, and a bang up performance from David Gale, Syngenor is just not a very good movie, even in terms of low budget, low expectation filmmaking. Gale’s biggest fans may want a copy for their collection (odds are they already have one), but the rest of us can skip it, save maybe a rent.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th October 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Spanish
Extras: Producer/Writer/Actor Commentary, Three Behind the Scenes Featurettes, Filmographies, Image Gallery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Elanjian
Cast: David Gale, Starr Andreeff, Mitchell Lawrence, Charles Lucia
Genre: Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 98 minutes
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