Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Spanish/English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: December 7, 2010
Review Date: December 1, 2010
Though Guillermo Del Toro is well known now as the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy (and had been signed to direct The Hobbit until production delays took him out of the project), his edgy thrillers with their unique perspectives have made him a cult movie lover’s dream. His first feature film was Cronos, once again an unusual take on a vampire saga filmed on a low budget but with such imagination that it looks far more expensive than it actually was and replaces rampant gore with thoughtful perusals on the price and potential risks of immortality. More unsettling than scary, Cronos made an indelible debut into the ranks of international filmmaking for its young director.
Antique dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) comes into the possession of a cronos, a 16th century alchemist’s creation which has the power to give immortal life but at a heavy cost. Dying business tycoon Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) has the alchemist’s notebook which details the powers of the cronos, and he sends his thuggish nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to get the artifact, but Jesus has already used it inadvertently and is beginning his transformation. Unknown that Jesus already has immortality, Angel goes through a series of attempts on Jesus’ life while Jesus is only concerned with keeping his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) and granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) safe from harm.
Guillermo Del Toro’s script for the film leaves behind almost all of the vampire lore of the past century or so (in fact, one isn’t even aware he’s watching a vampire film until more than halfway through the movie), and he focuses instead on the slow deterioration of the human spirit as his blood is continually recycled through the cronos device. Though there is a momentary thrill with his wife as they enjoy his early rejuvenation, the ultimate tone is one of forlorn emptiness and misery, and Del Toro doesn’t shy away from illustrating it through almost all of his characters. He’s also captured the desperation of the dying tycoon who’ll do anything for immortality even though the quality of life he will get as a result is pitiable. The tycoon’s germ-free living quarters are eerily sterile but rather intoxicating to examine, and the director uses close-ups to perfection not only with his settings and on the faces of the desperate but also on the device itself with its intricacies of gold-plated design and the icky spider-like appendages that are a part of its inner-workings. A climactic fight on a rooftop could have been better staged and isn’t milked nearly enough for the suspense it could have generated, but overall, it’s a valiant first directing effort and most interesting to see in light of his later, more well known movies.
Federico Luppi must undergo the greatest amount of alterations during the movie, and he copes very well with the elaborate make-up and intense emotions his character undergoes with great, admirable control. Ron Perlman’s sheer physicality works beautifully for his part, and he’s also quite funny chomping incessantly on gum while he imagines new noses for himself to supplant his often broken one. Tamara Shanath doesn’t have many lines as the innocent granddaughter, but she’s a haunting presence nonetheless. Claudio Brook’s anxiety over his imminent death is superbly portrayed. Daniel Cacho has some humorous moments as a distracted cremation technician.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. With a clean image and one that mixes sterile colors with many natural ones, the transfer is mostly exemplary. Sharpness is excellent with many details in the decomposing make-up readily apparent. Black levels are also quite wonderful. The few soft shots that crop up here and there are the only spoilers to an otherwise superb pictorial representation. Criterion seems to be using a brighter shade of white for the subtitles, and it’s most appreciated making them easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo lossless track is clear and clean. There are no audio artifacts like hiss or crackling to spoil the audio presentation. Javier Alvarez’s music and the sparse but effective sound effects make their presences known distinctly in the mix while dialogue is well recorded and easily understandable throughout.
There are two audio commentaries. Director Guillermo Del Toro has one track to himself describing in detail the joys and problems of his first production (much of what he says here is also repeated in the bonus features so expect a lot of repetition). The second track features three of the film’s producers: English speaking Arthur Gorson and Spanish speaking (with English subtitles) Bertha Navarro and Alejandro Springall edited together into one track which isn’t as much fun as hearing the director speak but is essential to get different perspectives on the making of the film.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are presented in 1080p.
Geometria is a 6 ½-minute horror film made when Del Toro was quite young for less than $2,000. There is also a Guillermo Del Toro interview about making this little student film which runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“Welcome to Bleak House” is a too-brief 10 ¼-minute tour of Guillermo Del Toro’s office/sanctuary/production team house which is filled with books, prints, toys, movie props, and memorabilia about his love of the arts.
Four interviews with individuals directly connected to the making of the movie are offered:
- Guillermo Del Toro talks for 17 ½ minutes about how he got the idea for the movie and why it’s such an important film in his filmography.
- Guillermo Navarro, the film’s Oscar-winning cinematographer, discusses this and other collaborations with Guillermo Del Toro focusing especially on Del Toro’s work process. It runs for 12 ½ minutes.
- Ron Perlman talks for 7 ½ minutes about how he landed the job, the first of four films he’s made for the director.
- Federico Luppi speaks for 5 ½ minutes in a television interview (in 1080i) about his role in the film.
A stills gallery allows the viewer to step through a series of photographs of Guillermo Del Toro’s career from his earliest short films through his notes, illustrations, and behind-the-scenes pictures for Cronos.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 1 ½ minutes in 1080i.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentaries that go along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 41-page booklet contains the chapter listings, cast and crew lists, some illustrations and stills from the movie, a reflective essay on Cronos’ success by film writer Maitland McDonagh, and some fascinating excerpts from the director’s notebook on the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
An unusual feature film to begin one’s career with, Guillermo Del Toro’s Cronos makes superb use of its limited physical resources resulting in a moody and expressive piece of fantasy filmmaking. Excellent bonus features and a superb audio and video presentation make this another Criterion winner. Recommended!