Directed By: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu
| Studio: Warner Bros. |
Film Length: 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Release Date: October 5, 2010
The Film ***½In Splice, Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley play Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, a pair of star genetic scientists at the Nucleic Exchange Research & Development (NERD) lab who maintain both a professional and a personal romantic relationship. Their specialty is splicing the genes from various animals to create hybrid life forms that can be used to harvest unique proteins useful for fighting diseases and to gross out movie audences who have to look at them. After a series of breakthrough successes, Clive and Elsa are enthusiastic to move onto the next phase of their research incorporating human genes. The company funding their research is leary of the potential public outcry of such tests and instructs them to redirect their efforts towards perfecting the process of extracting the critical proteins from their existing work. Without telling their superiors or their staff, Clive and Elsa continue their work in secret. Initially planning simply an attempt at creating a hybrid embryo, Elsa's God-complex gets the best of her and she rashly implants the embryo in a gestation chamber. The humanoid creature (special effects as an embryo and infant, Chu while child-sized, and Chaneac when fully grown) develops at an unexpectedly rapid rate, eventually being "born" in the laboratory. Reversing the acronym for their lab, they christen her "Dren". As she continues to rapidly develop physically and mentally, Clive and Elsa find it increasingly difficult to keep her existence a secret. Their efforts are further complicated by confusing emotional connections that begin to develop as Clive and Elsa bond with their creation and unexpected twists and turns in Dren's development.
Director Vincenzo Natali is clearly a fan of fellow Canadian director David Cronenberg and shares his fascination with all things icky and transgressive. Fortunately for viewers, he also shares Cronenberg's penchant for surrounding the icky and transgressive with ideas and an interesting point of view which prevent his films from coming across as exploitation. Splice is at its heart a modern spin on the Frankenstein story (the two lead characters are named after key actors in the Universal Frankenstein films) centered around scientists with God-complexes trying to bend nature to their wills with cutting edge technology and then being overwhelmed by the unconsidered consequences of their actions.
The first half of the film really does feel like an old-fashioned science fiction film spruced up with modern trappings. The set-up with the corporate types squashing the scientists' ambitions, the scientists "going rogue", the initial scenes with the creature getting loose and scurrying unseen around the lab, the "bonding" between Dren and her creators, and even a presentation of the scientists' work in an auditorium that goes gruesomely awry, all feel like familiar elements one has seen before. Somewhere during the course of the film's second act, though, it takes a turn for the "I can't believe they went there" that never lets up. At that point, the almost too obvious metaphorical/allegorical aspects relating to family dysfunction explode into a hyper-Freudian nightmare in which a cigar is most certainly never a cigar. Even though I personally think that writer/director Natali pushes things too far by requiring the characters to do some pretty idiotic and implausible things in order for the conclusion to play out as it does, I have to admit to a certain reluctant admiration for exactly how crazy he is willing to let things get.
Having mentioned similarities between Natali and David Cronenberg earlier in my review, one key difference is that while Cronenberg has a knack for taking his science fiction films in gruesome directions that go beyond what audiences are likely to anticipate, Natali, particularly in this film, envisions and dramatizes scenarios for his characters that are within the outer reaches of the worst case scenario a viewer could be expected to imagine. While some could argue that the bizarre images and plot turns in early Cronenberg films like Scanners and Videodrome are inherently more imaginative, the slightly more grounded approach taken by Natali works in the context of Splice because it aligns more closely with identifiable fears, dreads, and hang-ups that the audience brings to the viewing experience. The question, "What's the worst thing that could happen?", is pointedly posed at two key moments in the film, and Natali aims to treat the viewer to the answer.
The Video ****The VC-1 encoded 1080p video presentation approximates the original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. Most of the key locations in the film consist of clinical laboratory environments, interiors with either no windows or shades drawn, and nighttime exteriors, so the overall appearance is very subdued and cool. This intended and appropriate look is conveyed accurately. As a result, the film on Blu-ray will not necessarily jump off of a viewer's television or projection screen the way eye-popping high-definition demo material would, but if conveys the intended theatrical look accurately, which is the name of the game for home theater enthusiasts. The only shortcoming in the presentation on disc I observed was a few instances of contrast banding during some of the darker scenes that interrupted what was otherwise a very cinematic presentation.
The Audio *****The DTS-HD MA audio track presents the very active and dynamic sound mix with outstanding fidelity and depth. The mix does everything one would want a modern monster movie to do and does everything it does quite well. The surrounds go wild during the scenes where unseen creatures are moving around the various environments, the dialog and score are well balanced and well recorded, and the occasional bit of LFE wallop punctuates the moments intended to make the viewer jump. A Spanish language dub is also available as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
The Extras ***When the disc is first inserted into a player, the viewer is greeted with the following promos. They are presented in high definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound unless indicated otherwise:
- Warner Digital Copy Promo (:53) touts the "fast, easy, and portable" digital copise available with many Warner Blu-ray releases.
- Warner Blu-ray Promo (2:01) emphasizing interactive features available on titles such as The Dark Knight and Watchmen
- Jonah Hex Blu-ray/DVD Trailer (Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio - 2:13)
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Blu-ray/DVD Trailer (Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio - 1:56)
- Lost Boys: The Thirst Blu-ray/DVD Trailer (1:20)
- American Film Institure Promo (1:02) encouraging membership
A Director's Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice (35:21) is the only proper special feature on the disc, but it is a pretty good one. It is presented in VC-1 encoded standard definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. This is a true "behind the scenes" featurette directed by Phillipe H. Bergeron that focuses on the film during its active production period. After a surprisingly long montage of behind the scenes footage accompanying the opening credits and some introductory comments providing basic background information on Canadian filmmaker Natali and the Splice project, the featurette devotes most of its running time to "fly on the wall" production footage of Natali in action directing key sequences set in almost every environment in which the film was shot. It appears to be arranged in shooting order, and includes both the first and last day of principle photography. There are a couple of deviations from the active production rule, inclusive of some footage of actresses Delphine Chaneac and young Abigail Chu working together on movement styles for the Dren character with Natali. Aside from the on-set comments from various cast and crew, there are brief sit-down interview segments with comments from Natali, co-writer Doug Taylor, and Toronto International Film Festival Programmer Colin Geddes.
A separate DVD includes SD DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film as has been the case for all Warner theatrical new release titles in 2010. The bare bones SD DVD is without extras and includes only a 384kbps English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track with available English SDH and Spanish subtiles The digital copy is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media and downloads from the disc directly with a code provided on a physical insert in the disc case.
PackagingThe disc is packaged in a standard sized Blu-ray case with holes in the hard case to reduce plastic use. The interior of the case has a paper insert with information and an access code relating to the digital copy of the film. The hard case is placed inside a cardboard slipcover with identical artwork aside from some added text promoting the DVD and digital copy.
Summary***½Director Vincenzo Natali's Splice is a modern spin on a Frankenstein-style mad scientist story based in the world of genetic engineering with a seriously twisted Freudian bent. The third act arguably undermines the otherwise grounded performances by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley by making their characters do some pretty ridiculous things, but some viewers may respect the filmmakers' willingness to "go there". It is presented on disc with a solid video rendering of its subdued, cool blue filtered cinematography with only minor contrast banding and an outstanding lossless rendering of the film's effective surround sound mix. The only on-disc extra is a "fly-on-the wall" documentary with lots of interesting behind the scenes footage of Natali and the cast and crew at work during principle photography. A bonus disc with an SD DVD and digital copy is included as well.