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Paramount Home Video presents
"I had a family once. I had a life. Now all I have is a mission."
DVD ReviewThe DVD Review and Extras Review are by Joel Cunningham.
Aeon Flux is a schizophrenic sci-fi picture, caught between the heady, incomprehensible animated series upon which it's based, and Hollywood's idea of what makes this kind of movie work: action, action, and more action. It wasn't screened for critics before it opened and gained a reputation as a Catwoman-level misfire for lead Charlize Theron, fresh off an Oscar win for Monster. Audiences stayed away, but I think those that give it a chance on DVD are in for a small surprise. While by no means a great movie, Aeon Flux is a stylish, fairly intelligent, estrogen-infused vision of the future from director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight).
Of course, this is sci-fi, so you have to take a bit of a leap of faith about the whole thing, especially considering the out-and-out bizarre atmosphere of Peter Chung's MTV cartoon. Otherwise, if you aren't already rolling your eyes at the opening text scroll, which explains that, 400 years after a devastating plague, the last vestiges of humanity lived within a walled, seemingly utopian city known as Bregna, you'll at least get a good chuckle at your first glimpse of Aeon (Theron), striding around in a skin-tight outfit with a black mesh hood covering half of her face like she's just out for a stroll. This is bright and splashy comic book sci-fi, in the vein of Barbarella or Danger: Diabolik, with dialogue to match, and you either go with it or write it off as an unsalvageable, silly exercise in style.
The populace of Bregna is beholden to Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), the descendant of the man who cured the killer plague 400 years ago. But all is not right in a seemingly perfect world. People are disappearing, and the government is to blame. A resistance springs up, calling themselves Monicans, and Aeon is one of them. After her sister is mistakenly assassinated in her place, Aeon has nothing left but the mission: kill Goodchild. But as she gets in deeper, she finds he might not be the man she thought he was, and that nothing, and no one, is what it seems.
The twisty plot plays like an oversimplified version of the cartoon, dealing in metaphysical and spiritual debates even as it piles on the action sequences, and though the script is hardly original, it's fairly satisfying. There are some intriguing side characters to add some flavor. Hotel Rwanda's Sophie Okonedo plays Sithandra, another Monican agent, a pupil of Aeon's, who has had her feet surgically altered to function like hands, resulting in a few unusual acrobatic sequences. High-class character actors Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite also appear, in orange fright wig and layers of craggy makeup, respectively, putting an off-kilter spin to roles that wouldn't otherwise make an impression.
Kusama has crafted a film that strays from its source material quite a bit, but retains the same look and feel. The costumes aren't as sexualized, but the organic qualities of the animation are here. Some of the visuals recall the show's obtuse artistic/confounding imagery—the Monicans, for example, have developed a way to communicate telepathically by taking special pills, and the "mind word" is a pure white opera house where everyone dresses like one of Padme's handmaidens and flowers randomly emerge from people's mouths to deliver coded messages. At one point, Aeon and Sithandra infiltrate Trevor's compound, and must get past sentient, spore-spewing seedpods and literal blades of grass.
The action is often thrilling, but watching Aeon blow away faceless guards will more than likely remind you of more impressive sequences in The Matrix and other wire-fu films. There is originality in it, though. It's clear a woman was behind the camera—though badass girls in skintight outfits have become a cliché, there actually seems to be a point to the female leads here, beyond simple titillation. The action is grounded in emotion, and Aeon is motivated by her maternal instinct, a desire for love and family. Theron is surprisingly compelling in the role, finding a nice balance between vulnerability, pathos, and pissed off warrior woman.
Aeon Flux isn't as heady as it could be, but it is somewhat intelligent, which is saying something for this particular sub-genre (recent entries Underworld 2 and UltraViolet provide a counterpoint, if you like pain). Former indie darling Karyn Kusama has made an interesting big-budget debut, an action chick-flick with its own aesthetic charm.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The HD picture is extremely striking, with plenty of detail and texture that just pops off the screen. It's quite sharp and crisp, as one would expect for a recent sci-fi epic of this nature, relying heavily on digital effects. Candy-colored visuals are well-rendered, most noticeably in the almost impossibly rich reds. There's a gorgeous quality to those reds that is just scrumptious. The natural world in contrast to the artifical world of Bregna, and the odd combinations of the two, are vivid to the extreme. There's a bit of ringing in a few very high-contrast shots, and minor aliasing on some CGI elements (such as overviews of the city, and the Retical), but on the whole it's very attractive and few will be dissatisfied with the visual image.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The disc includes DD+ 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish, as well as a standard DTS English track. There's not a ton of difference between the DD+ and DTS tracks, though the DD gets a nod for a bit more gradation and subtlety to the audio quality. The mix is very active, with plenty of surround activity, starting right off the bat with the famous fly sequence, as we hear the insect buzz around the soundstage until Aeon traps it in her eyelashes. Bass is excellent, and the music has plenty of range, without distortion. A very solid modern soundtrack.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) Charlize Theron and producer Gale Anne Hurd; 2) co-screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Extras Review: All of the substantial extras from the standard special edition are ported over, with the trailer being upgraded to HD. The other materials are presented in MPEG2, with DD+ audio tracks.
The making of Aeon Flux is explored in two commentaries and five featurettes that cover fairly familiar territory in an entertaining, largely informative fashion.
The first track, with producer Gale Anne Hurd and Charlize Theron, is a bit slow. The two talk about the movie-making process in terms that are entirely too serious for a movie this borderline ridiculous. Luckily, screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi inject some humor into their track, discussing what they like and don't like about the finished film without disrespecting those who worked on it. It's a fairly frank discussion, and they talk about studio pressure versus the director's vision, resulting in a film that feels somewhat schizophrenic. Worth a listen, which isn't something I say often in these days of two commentary tracks for every film.
The longest featurette is Creating a World (20m:48s), which covers adapting the visuals and aesthetic of the cartoon into live action, featuring interviews with series creator Peter Chung, the screenwriters, the producers, director Karyn Kusama, and storyboard artists. There's talk of creating a futuristic look that goes against the grim and rainy Blade Runner mold, and discussion of the strong female characters.
Locations of Aeon Flux (14m:43s) reveals that most of the movie was not shot on sets. The original plan was to shoot in Brasilia, which was designed entirely by one architect in a futuristic mold. For logistical reasons, it was ultimately filmed in Berlin, and there's a look at some of the key locations.
Stunts (09m:01a) explores the training regime that allowed Theron to do her own stunts, and the development of the movie's overall fighting style. No discussion of the actress' much publicized injury while shooting a scene with some wirework, however.
Costume Design (13m:36s) discusses the desire to have costumes that differ from what I like to call "Matrix pleather"; they have more of an organic/retro feel, and the director says Bertolucci's The Conformist was a touch point. Finally, Craft of the Set: The Photographer on Aeon Flux (03m:36s) is a short look at still photographer Jasin Boland, who took shots during filming later used for promotional materials and such. An interesting if odd little piece.
The disc wraps up with the trailer and assorted promos.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAeon Flux exists about two steps away from utterly ridiculous, but it's ultimately an enjoyable, appropriately cartoon-y update of the MTV animated series, and hardly the goose egg its critical reputation and theatrical gross would have you believe. The HD rendition just sparkles.
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