Review by Gordon Justesen
Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Audio: DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: December 7, 2010
“I am Jesus...Gris.”
It's a real treat to see where certain filmmakers got their start, especially in the case of Guillermo del Toro. One of the most visually imaginative storytellers of our generation, del Toro has applied an amazing visual style all his own in films such as Blade II, Hellboy and the Oscar-nominated Pan's Labyrinth. This is also certainly present in Cronos, his 1993 debut feature.
And it is del Toro's visceral filmmaking gift that is truly the saving grace of this film, which under the direction of anyone else would've probably turned up as a corny, straight to video release. The fact is, by simple description, the plot of Cronos sounds like something you'd expect from the likes of Full Moon Entertainment. But del Toro's visual mastery and establishing of a remarkably dark atmosphere (which has become a trademark of his ever since) elevate it to a more credible cinematic level.
The story opens with the history surrounding a mystery and horrific invention known as the cronos device. Created by a 14th century Spanish alchemist, the device looks like a Faberge egg crossed with a beetle. It's claws open and inject a substance into human flesh that will result in eternal life.
We then switch over to the present, where we meet Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), an antiques dealer who has come into possession of the cronos device. Not so long after he comes to discover the power this device possesses, Jesus is confronted by De la Guardia (Claudio Brook). He's a power-hungry industrial figure, who simply wants the cronos device simply because he feels he deserves it over anyone else.
A good majority of the story involves Jesus being pursued by De la Guarida's nephew, Angel (Ron Perlman), who's been dispatched to capture the device. During the course of this pursuit, things take a turn for the bizarre and ultimately strange. I must say that I was caught by surprise a number of times by the directions the story took.
This, of course, is a testament to Guillermo del Toro's inventive genius. He avoids numerous cliches that are normally associated with Mexican horror, like that of vampires and Aztec mummies, and uses atmosphere, cinematography and one of a kind special effects to accompany this not-so-typical horror piece.
His unique crafting of horror stories would find itself in all of del Toro's later work. This would include his much neglected American follow up release, Mimic, which was definitely one of the more original horror stories involving mutated insects. And del Toro's amazing craftsmanship has only gotten stronger with Pan's Labyrinth and the immortal classic, Blade II (why hasn't this hit Blu-ray yet????)
To sum up, Cronos is a superb directorial debut from a man with a pure filmmaking gift. Fans of Ron Perlman (who I should point out is young-looking while entirely recognizable) are certainly not going to be disappointed as he delivers what you'd expect from him in the villainous role. Most importantly, it illustrates how a low budget can produce astonishing results when in the right hands, and del Toro has worked wonders with limited money, as all he ever needs is his imagination!
This Criterion Blu-ray release marks my very first viewing of the film, which I had no clue had been available on DVD for several years. But I'm glad I ended up holding off until now to see it because, in pure Criterion fashion, it looks nothing short of astonishing. When you think about it, it's quite the perfect blending since a visual feast from Guillermo del Toro delivered in HD courtesy of the best Blu-ray producing studio around is of course going to add up to something phenomenally grand. As expected, the atmosphere that del Toro establishes is the main attraction here, as various set pieces along with the lighting and inventive special effects play off magnificently well in the 1080p. Image detail is also most remarkable, and the many darkly lit sequences look just as amazing as those filmed in daylight. Bravo all the way!
The DTS HD 2.0 mix is surprisingly quite effective, since Criterion seems to equip most of their Blu-rays with the usual 5.1 HD mix. The dialogue delivery is super crisp and clear, in both it's English and Mexican portions. The music score courtesy of Javier Alvarez is a major highlight of the presentation as it is delivered through the channels in a haunting form. The balance between the dialogue, music and fright sequences is indeed well handled throughout!
It's not as fantastically loaded as previous Criterion releases, but what that essentially means is that you still get a knockout batch of extras. To start with, we have two commentary tracks; the first one with Guillermo del Toro and the second one with producers Arthur H. Gorson and Bertha Navarro and co-producer Alejandro Springall. Next up are a collection of individual video interview segments featuring del Toro, Ron Perlman, Federico Luppi and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. There's also a neat video tour of del Toro's production office titled “Welcome to Bleak House”. But the biggest highlight of the supplements is that of a short film directed by del Toro titled Geometria, which he filmed initially in 1987 but officially completed in 2010. It is presented with a six minute introduction by del Toro. Rounding out the extras is a Theatrical Trailer and, like every great Criterion release, an insert booklet featuring an essay from film critic Maitland McDonagh and a collection of notes del Toro himself wrote as the film was being shot.
If you've come to love the films of Guillermo del Toro and have long been curious where all this amazing craftsmanship began, and have not yet seen Cronos, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's the perfect case of a gifted filmmaker in his warming up period, displaying hints of the greatness that is yet to come. And for all its outlandish qualities, the movie itself is very much one of the more impressive horror flicks you are likely to ever see!