Paramount Home Video presents
Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection (1995)
"That which does not kill us, makes us stranger."- Trevor Goodchild (John Rafter Lee)
Stars: Denise Poirier, John Rafter Lee
Director: Peter Chung, Howard Baker
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality, strong violence, S&M outfits)
Run Time: Approx. 235 min.
Release Date: 2005-11-22
DVD ReviewIt would be easy to take one look at Aeon Flux—the lead character's barely-there outfits, the exaggerated sexuality, the over-the-top violence—and write it off as mere eye candy, brainless animated T&A. But this groundbreaking animated series, which began life in 1991 as a series of dialogue-free shorts on MTV's animation showcase Liquid Television, is impossible to ignore once you've actually watched it. The plots do feature a lot of sex and violence, yes, but they're also intelligent, playing off familiar sci-fi conventions—What is reality? What defines the self?—in ways both striking and subversive. Like a pre-cursor to The Matrix, Aeon Flux works on more than a surface level, and there is really a point, whether philosophical, ideological, or political, to all the animated mayhem.
The story is rather oblique, to say the least—though the main characters appear in every episodes, the plots are only loosely connected, if at all (this DVD set muddies the waters by presenting the episodes out of broadcast order). The story is set in the neighboring cities of Monica (freethinking utopia) and Bregna, an oppressive police state ruled by Trevor Goodchild (John Rafter Lee ). Aeon is Monican, but her loyalties are never clear. In some episodes she seems to be something of a freedom fighter; in others, she's a terrorist, or a self-motivated opportunist. She and Trevor have a complicated relationship—antagonistic, romantic, sexual, dangerous. Everything in the world of Aeon Flux is in shades of grey, and its interesting to watch a series that doesn't really have a hero to root for, and feel your emotions and loyalties constantly shifting.
The brainchild of Korean-born animator Peter Chung, Aeon Flux was, oddly enough, inspired by his work on Nickelodeon's kid-friendly series Rugrats. He felt constrained not just by the obvious story requirements for a children's show, but by the characters themselves—the stocky babies weren't able to do much. He countered this by creating Aeon, lithe, long-limbed, and agile. Her leather strap outfit looks like simple sexual exploitation, but Chung argues he designed her that way because, particularly in the original, wordless shorts, he wanted her body to do the talking, and worrying about how realistic clothes would animate just proved to be another constraint. The choice works for dramatic reasons, too—Aeon's intense nature seems compounded by her Amazonian body.
Each episode plays like an O. Henry story, with a complex set-up, and lots of twists and turns on the way to an ironic, usually tragicomic ending (despite the violence and post-apocalyptic tone, the series is full of perverse humor). In Thanatophobia, Aeon interacts with a woman trying to cross the border from Brenga into Monica. She suffers a spinal injury that requires a vertebrae to be removed, so she can actually twist her back all the way around. Trevor uses her medical situation (she needs a special drug inserted in her spinal column daily) to mess with her mind, to see how much she really wants to escape from Bregna. In the commentary, Chung explains that the story was inspired by his experiences growing up in Korea, witnessing the divide between north and south. A Last Time for Everything is another strong installment, exploring the familiar concept of cloning, and the fact that a human being really is defined by the sum of his or her experiences. The Purge considers the moral implications of a device that implants an artificial conscience into a criminal. In the bizarre The Demiurge, Trevor and Aeon battle over the fate of a strange god-like being; the Monicans want to launch it into space to rid the world of its influence, but Trevor believes he may be able to use it as an instrument of control. The episode seems to be an exploration of the religion's power to manipulate.
What I find so impressive about Aeon Flux is that these rather heady themes are wrapped in such a slick package. Aeon Flux is not just beautifully designed, but wonderfully animated, with inventive, comic book staging, intense action, and downright outlandish surrealistic touches (Chung must have a thing for long, waggling tongues). The budget for these episodes was likely less than nothing, but they hold up very well even today, when the target audience is likely used to glossy anime series.
All 10 episode have been reworked slightly for DVD, adding back some content that was removed for the original airings and, in some cases, re-recording dialogue to improve continuity and clarity from episode to episode. While purists may complain that the shows don't appear as they originally aired, Chung's signature on the DVD cover indicates this is the definitive version of Aeon Flux, and it's tough to argue with him.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Episodes have been scrubbed and polished for their DVD debut, and they look great, considering the age and low budget of the material. Colors are solid, detail is excellent, and the source prints are clean and mostly grain-free. I noticed no color bleeding or edge enhancement.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Episodes are remixed in 5.1 and sound pretty great (not quite surprising, considering the sometimes intense action). Dialogue is anchored in the center channel and sounds clear and natural, while the front mains and surrounds are put to good use handling the action, with good stereo separation and directionality. Drew Neumann's sound design really shines in the remix (DD 2.0 tracks are included as well).
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Aeon Flux, movie and videogame; Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection—Vol. 1
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by creator/director Peter Chung, director Howard Baker, writer Mark Mars, executive producer Japhet Asher, story editor Peter Gaffney, voice actress Denise Poirier
Packaging: Boxed Set
- Aeon Flux pilot and original shorts
- Production art
- Other works by Peter Chung
- MTV Liquid Television shorts
So, on to the extras. Discs 1 and 2 include commentary on 6 out of 10 episodes, from such varied contributors as creator/director Peter Chung, director Howard Baker, writer Mark Mars, executive producer Japhet Asher, story editor Peter Gaffney, and Aeon's voice actress, Denise Poirier. The episode-specific tracks focus on story and theme, with discussion of censorship battles with the network and the animation process in general. They're great to listen to, and really added a lot to my respect for the series in terms of how much thought went into even the most action-oriented scenes.
The rest of the extras are housed on Disc 3 (save for the forced trailers on Disc 1 for the new Aeon Flux live-action movie and videogame, and the Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection—Vol. 1). The most essential bonuses are obviously the series' pilot and original shorts, which introduced Aeon on MTV's animation showcase Liquid Television. The pilot sets the tone, and the shorts are quirky fun—Aeon dies in every episode, and is sometimes little more than a minor character. Most of them are also entirely dialogue-free, and on the optional commentary tracks, Chung and composer/sound designer Drew Neumann discuss the challenge of creating the shorts and transitioning to the full-length episodes. All told, there are five shorts, totaling about 20 minutes, plus the 12-minute pilot, presented in DD 2.0 and DD 5.1.
Investigation: The History of Aeon Flux (17m:11s) explores the series from its inception (Chung was inspired to create it by, of all things, his work on Nickelodeon's Rugrats), to the Liquid Television days, to the airing of the series proper, to the DVD restoration. There are plenty of interviews with the crew and the producers, and even a few shots of voice actors at work.
The Deviant Devices of Aeon Flux (6m:06s) is more an animated production gallery, as Aeon chats about various weapons and vehicles while 3-D renderings and blueprints flash by. Her comments are kind of funny (her favorite toy is her "chastity belt"). There's also an actual production art gallery, with images broken up into Sketches, Model Sheets, Storyboards, and Color Stills, plus two entire shorts (War and Mirror) in half-finished/half-pencil test form.
Other Works by Peter Chung offers a few odd inclusions. There's a bizarre MTV Loaded promo that features Aeon-style animation, an Aeon Flux CD-ROM commercial, and a French Honda Coupe commercial that features a secret agent on a mission... to the grocery store. Finally, you'll find 12 minutes of Liquid Television shorts. They're pretty bizarre, but it's nice to see some of the other material from the series that spawned Aeon Flux.
Overall, this is about the best set of bonus material I can imagine. There isn't a lot in terms of sheer volume, but every bit is worth watching.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsA challenging, intelligent, and esoteric animated series, Aeon Flux is a true work of art, and the series has been given top-shelf treatment in this stellar three-disc collector's edition.
Joel Cunningham 2005-11-20