DVD Review #12: Aeon Flux (Special Collector’s Edition) (2005)

February 6, 2010 at 5:29 AM | Posted in Based on a Cartoon, DVD Reviews, Sci-Fi | Leave a comment

In the future, girls replace the worms in tequila pops. I don’t know why.

Movie:
Future movies are rare. Future action movies are even more rare. And modern future action movies, more still. So I take what I can get. And this is a modern future action movie.

(Cont.)

Based on the MTV animated series, Aeon Flux is definately one of the better looking low budget sci-fi flicks of recent years. The foundation for the story is basically the same as Children of Men. Everybody is infertile… and then they’re not. The end. The difference is that where Children of Men is very simple and not distractingly futuristic, Aeon Flux goes overboard with the alienness, and then hits you over the head with that board.

The difficulty in good science fiction is not having a world so different and complex that the audience can’t identify with any of it. And that’s exactly the problem in Flux. The backstory needlessly creates some unspecified virus (the “industrial virus,” which I guess sounds something like Nine Inch Nails), just to isolate all of mankind into one goofy city. The nature of the society is never explained. What jobs do people have, how do they produce materials, etc. There’s no obvious television or entertainment, which I feel is essential for believability. The utopia is an alien concept, even when it’s a fake utopia. This is why films like Blade Runner are more effective. It’s not “different,” it’s just “later.” Aeon Flux never even makes the form of government clear, beyond the stereotypical Big Brother ripoff. Trevor Goodchild has his face plastered in select parts of the city, yet it is never made too obvious whether he is president or what. He doesn’t really act like it. He is seen practing some sort of speech, but it’s unclear how that would have been delivered when there are no TV cameras, and “security” exists as images in drops of water, monitored by no one.

This problem is furthered by the fact that the film is more mystery than action. The entire plot depends on Aeon finding out the truth about their society. When the society is so poorly defined, however, it makes the mystery less effective. This is a world with alternate-reality tentacle harnesses, magically obedient explosive metal spheres that pop up out of flat discs that are dispensed from jewelry. Plants that are machine guns. Killer grass. Rebel terrorists who meet up inside their own minds by rubbing buttons implanted in their backs. Assassins with hands for feet. The whole film world is a mystery, so the main character’s quest for truth has very little sway on an audience.

Too many adaptations are of a concept too weird to understand in two hours, and Aeon Flux is right there at the top. It’s not a bad adaptation per se. Right from the start, they reference the opening title, the tongue-transfer, the hand-feet chick, and the alternate reality harness. None of the weird creatures or weird sex is here. But it’s still weird enough that few audiences would “get it.” The “getting” of the animated series is just that it’s something you’ve never seen in a cartoon before. Here, it’s not merely different, but confusing, and without that far-out, over-the-top appeal.

A testament to this confusion lies in a scene where Aeon is briefed on her mission to kill Trevor. The Handler tells her that the underground tunnels were “designed to be confusing.” It’s an unintentional laugh-out-loud moment. This was written due to the fact that the entire underground tunnel system was exactly one wind tunnel. It wouldn’t even be possible to show Aeon turning right or left through the maze, because there is no maze. So the map she is given is rendered useless as a filmic device, and instead she puts on a guard’s headset that tells her to turn left.

As far as the filmmaking goes, the directing is as good as could be expected. The cinematography is decidedly above average. The acting is a bit sterile, but that’s because nobody could identify with the setting. Customary revenge and romance scenes are all that pass for emotion. The female director is reminiscent of Tank Girl’s Rachel Talalay, in that the large cultish franchises they were given are aberrations in their filmographies. This is certainly the better made of the two, but it defies its source material’s merits. Charlize Theron as Aeon does not have the sexual charm of the original character. Trevor Goodchild, here played by a Kevin Spacey clone, is not the love-to-hate-him controlling deviant of the source material. Frances McDormand is horrifyingly miscast, explained only by the fact that the scenes she was in were probably all shot together in one day.

Despite the anti-Blade Runner production design, the mystery plot still echoes the same agenda, but the idea is hampered by the fact that there are no rules in the world of Bregna, and thus any revelations are incapable of surprising anyone. Surprise is rendered impossible once you settle into the fact that the film is built on lack of sense in favor of trying to replicate the weirdness of the cartoon, but in a trivial way. And surprise is the key element of comedy, horror, and mystery. Surprise can be substituted by sheer difference in genres like action and sci-fi, but it still has to be unpredictable. The unpredictability in Aeon Flux is only in the strangeness of the world’s gadgets, which works somewhat for the action scenes and awe factor, but ultimately not for the mystery structure.

Visually, the movie works as popcorn fare, but it’s not comprehensible enough for any real success. The pacing problems are typical, less so here than in real flops, but pervasive enough that it affects viewing. While the basic pace of the non-action scenes is slow, the flood of weirdness and information is too fast to really get a grip on it. And in the end, it’s hard to care enough about the characters to pay the attention that understanding the plot would require.

Ideally, the only person even capable of making an Aeon Flux movie is David Cronenberg. You’ve got deviant sexuality and weird creatures in both the series and his movies. But nobody here really wanted to make an Aeon Flux movie. They say they did. They have to. But it all comes down to money. And an Aeon Flux movie wouldn’t sell. What sells is a summer hot chick action movie with Charlize Theron in spandex running and shooting guns. And that’s what we got, but in a movie which takes itself too seriously instead of having fun with the ideas they’re allowed.

It’s relevant because there aren’t a lot of hot chick sci-fi/superhero/videogame/cartoon action movies. Tomb Raider, Underworld, Ultraviolet, Tank Girl (?), Elektra, Catwoman, Resident Evil, Fifth Element, Wanted, and this are all I can think of. This is the only one with Charlize Theron, aside from her co-starring role in Hancock. And she’s fairly well cast. She even sounds like Aeon. It’s not the worst of the bunch, but it’s not the best either.

Commentary:
The writers on their commentary are humorous, and talk about the many changes made to the film, obviously aware that it wasn’t all it could have been. They give a little more clarity to the plot and the original intentions of the story, even if their particular approach wasn’t the perfect one. Strangely though, this is virtually a commentary for the director’s cut of the movie, which sadly does not exist. A large chunk of the discussion revolves around either the first cut of the movie, or ideas from the screenplay or early drafts that were never filmed. It makes the track come across as fairly apologetic. However, it’s one I would consider listening to again, as the writers have plenty to say, and plenty of jokes to make.

Charlize Theron and the producer have typical blabbering to offer about how cold it was shooting the movie, and talk about the plot too seriously, as if it’s really very deep and nuanced.

Extras:
A decent, even slightly generous, amount of material is presented here that goes into the production of the film, the locations (shot in Berlin), the costumes, and stunts. There’s quite an unusual feature about the still photographer, whose photographs are nothing short of beautiful. Yet bizarrely, the disc contains no gallery beyond the stills shown in the documentary.

Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the many deleted scenes described are actually included on the disc. But that’s probably for the best, since deleted scenes are often only of value in context, and not as separate entities.

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