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Lions Gate presents
"What do I care about eternity?! I don't want to be eternal, I just want to get out of this."
DVD ReviewWhile renowned horror director Guillermo del Toro's first film subtly probes the themes of vampirism, Cronos is much more of a personal story about the emotional bond between a grandfather and his granddaughter than it is about blood-sucking monsters. Quietly mesmerizing, Cronos avoids Hollywood clichés and presents a unique spin on the genre. The result is an intriguing though somewhat plodding film that may have horror fans dozing off long before the end credits.
A narrated prologue tells us of a 14th-century alchemist who invented a key to immortality known as the Cronos device. After living through the next 400 years, the alchemist was killed in a building collapse and took his secret with him to the grave. The device is not found until modern-day, when a modest antique dealer, Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi), and his mute granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath), find the device hidden in a statue within their store. Jesús is almost immediately taken by the allure of the device, an egg-shaped golden scarab that punctures its user with painful crab-like claws, yet instills them with the appearance of youth. Jesús begins carelessly using the device, though soon finds that immortality comes with a price when he is stricken with an insatiable desire for human blood. Though Jesús does not savagely bite the necks of unsuspecting victims, in one scene he reluctantly licks the remains of another man's nosebleed off of a restroom floor. Jesús' affliction is a curse not easily reversed, even by the presumed finality of death's door.
Though billed as a horror film, Cronos is neither scary nor terribly horrific. Instead, the film is more of a serene character study about the consequences of greed and addiction. The story focuses around the relationship between Jesús and Aurora, a kindred bond as natural as that between the members of any typical family. The fantastical story is often injected with flourishes of emotional realism. One such effective scene comes when Aurora's concern over her grandfather's obsession leads her to hide the Cronos device. After finding Aurora with the device, a humbled Jesús is inspired to tell her a similar story of how his son, her father, hid his cigars in an attempt to destroy his smoking habits. Despite her concern for her grandfather's mounting addiction, when the curse of Jesús' immortality eventually takes hold, Aurora unconditionally becomes his caretaker, loving him despite his bloodlust and hideous outward appearance. Never does their relationship prove more tender than when she greets her newly undead and rain-soaked grandfather with a smile and a towel, or when she allows him to sleep in her toy chest, which serves as a sort of coffin.
Cronos is a slowly paced horror story, boasting keenly developed characters and carefully constructed visual pageantry in lieu of bombastic action sequences and graphic violence. It is apparent that del Toro put a lot of tender loving care into this project, infusing the characters with a heart and soul that is lacking in so many modern pictures. While not overtly entertaining, Cronos is a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so often limited to stories about lifeless imbeciles who suffer one gruesome death after another.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer is an impressive recreation of the low budget source material. While colors appear a bit muted and dingy, they are equally balanced throughout, providing a consistently dreary aesthetic. Much of the film takes place in darkly lit areas, and though black level is stunningly realistic, I found the image to be a bit too dark on occasion. Compression artifacts are occasionally evident, yet never obtrusive. Other transfer-related atrocities, such as edge enhancement, are virtually nonexistent. Subtle graininess is often present, adding to the film-like quality of the image. Overall, this transfer is clear and smooth, and exhibits what I would imagine is quite similar to the theatrical appearance of Cronos.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is somewhat of a disappointment. Most notably lacking is any sense of dynamic range, with everything sounding slightly up front and harsh. The music is much too aggressive, frequently compelling me to turn the soundtrack down during these moments. A minor hiss is also audible during quiet passages. While the soundtrack succeeds in driving the narrative, it can best be described as unpleasant.
The original 2.0 soundtrack is also offered, and may be preferred over the strident 5.1 track.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cabin Fever, Godsend, Intacto
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Guillermo del Toro; producers Bertha Navarro, Arthur Gorson, and Alejandro Springhall
Moving on to the special features, we begin with an excellent audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro. Anyone who has ever heard a del Toro commentary knows that he always provides an extremely in depth analysis of his films, and Cronos is no exception. Del Toro covers everything about the production that I had hoped for, while never forgetting to elaborate on the story as well. This is an outstanding commentary that hooked me from the start; once it began, I could not shut it off.
Next, is the producers' audio commentary, featuring participation from Bertha Navarro, Alejandro Springhall, and Arthur Gorson. English subtitles have been included for the comments of Spanish-speaking Navarro and Springhall. Though this track is not quite as entertaining as the director commentary, it is still full of fascinating information, holding my attention for its duration.
The Director's Perspective is an enlightening interview with Guillermo del Toro that covers his roots as a filmmaker as well as his experiences of making Cronos. The director mentions that he began making films using his father's Super 8 camera. We are graced with footage from these films as well as clips from his pre-Cronos filmmaking efforts. Happy to be a horror director, del Toro takes pride in his unique spin on the genre and graces us with many fascinating tidbits about his inspiration behind the creation of Cronos.
The Making of Cronos is an interesting conversation with Cronos star Federico Luppi, who talks about the allure of the script and the fascination of working with Guillermo del Toro. While Luppi's dialogue is charming and there are several candid behind-the-scenes clips, this "making-of" is a disappointment, as it only runs five minutes long. Though enjoyable, this featurette unfortunately ends as quickly as it begins.
Also included are a photo and artwork gallery. The photo gallery merely contains still pictures from the film as well as behind-the-scenes photos, while the artwork gallery features a scant collection of original concept drawings illustrated by del Toro. While this artwork is impressive, it is only a tease that fueled my desire to see more.
For some reason, the theatrical trailer for Cronos is partially hidden in easter egg fashion, along with trailers for three other films. The Cronos trailer, albeit brief, is an effective piece of marketing.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsCronos is an unusual but welcome entry into the horror genre, a refreshing and unique vision that earned nine Mexican Academy Awards including best picture and best director. However, while the DVD boasts an impressive image transfer and several interesting special features, the defective English subtitles are an insult and all but demand that current copies of this disc be recalled.
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