I’m not exactly sure what it is that audiences expected when Splice hit the box offices in June. I will have to admit that the trailers were not all that impressive. But I guess that most people didn’t see what I saw when I looked at the early promotion for the film. I was fascinated by the appearance of the “creature”, and the overall Frankenstein overtones were too much for me to resist. The movie compelled me from the first images and descriptions. Apparently, that wasn’t the case in general. Splice tanked at the box office. It barely made $17 million. That’s bad news, because the film cost $30 million to make. That figure is actually quite impressive. This was a small movie for one so ambitious. It looks like something that cost twice that to make. It didn’t matter, in the end. You stayed away in droves. Back in June, you just might not have known any better. Lucky for you, my gentle reader, you have me to help to guide your home video purchases to get the most bang for your hard-earned buck. In this case, to also correct a serious miscarriage of justice. Splice is the best film you never saw.
Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are a husband-and-wife super-science team in the field of genetics. They work for a small pharmaceutical company where they develop designer life-forms in the hope of generating new drugs and compounds for the company to market. They are driven by William Barlow (Hewlett) to produce. When they do finally create a creature with drug potential, the company scraps any future gene-splicing. They want the couple to now focus on synthesizing the important compounds they can generate with the life they’ve already created. But the couple, particularly Elsa, wants to take their process to the next level. They want to incorporate human DNA in their experiments. Even though the company has closed them down, they continue in secret. The result of their undercover work is Dren. The specimen grows at an incredible rate, allowing the couple to study an entire life cycle in compressed time. But, the experiment gets complicated as Dren matures and evolves, making it harder to keep the creature a secret. They move her to a farm that was once part of Elsa’s family home. There the couple begins to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Everything about this film feels like an independent venture. For the most part it is. The settings are quite simple, and the number of setups is very limited. The movie is almost claustrophobic at times. There are a few scenes leading toward the climax that occur in the isolated woods around Elsa’s farm. Still, there is an enclosed feeling about this movie. The trick is that it works completely to the advantage of the film. Your attention never has much to compete for its focus. There is a minimalist approach that gives you exactly what you need to keep you firmly planted in this universe. That might well have been a limitation of budget rather than an artistic design, but it works on a level that makes this one of the more compelling films I’ve seen in a while.
The cast is not outstanding. Both Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley do very straightforward characters. There aren’t a lot of phenomenal performances here. But again, it is that minimalism that makes the film so realistic. David Hewlett plays a character not unlike his Atlantis Rodney character, only with much less intensity. Imagine Rodney on downers. The actors merely inhabit the parts and leave the fluff out of their performance. The result is an almost documentary approach to the characters. There is a notable exception. Delphine Chaneac is outstanding in the role of the adult Dren. Again, it’s not that she adds a lot of flourish to her performance. That’s the single most common mistake when trying to bring a creature character like this to life. She manages to display incredible emotion and wonder through a performance that is necessarily layered with makeup and computer effects. It would have been easy to lose the performance within the wonder of creature development. Much credit to the combination of actress, director and f/x team for collaborating on such a real and compelling creature character. It’s the star of the film, and it never has to hit you over the head or play “look at me” games to get your attention. But try looking away. I dare you.
Splice is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec at an average of about 20 mbps. The picture here is extremely soft. At first I thought it was the result of HD video photography, but the movie was shot on traditional film. The image must be the result of extreme processing. I saw it in the movies and don’t remember it being quite so soft. Colors are very cold, leading to a pale of blue over nearly everything. There isn’t a tremendous amount of detail here for a high-definition image presentation. Black levels are pretty good, but the cold color temperature isn’t very conducive to a lot of shadow definition. The creature looks good, and here the detail is at its best.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does offer incredible expansive range. Dialog is pretty much perfectly placed, but don’t expect a very expansive audio presentation. This is not a slight. The audio is entirely appropriate to that enclosed feeling I talked about earlier. There isn’t any ear candy to speak of. Dren’s squeaks and whines are about the most subtly dynamic aspect of the sound. There isn’t much of an intrusive score, and subs only come alive for very brief exercises.
I was hoping for a little more here. I guess the disappointing box office numbers limited the resources the studio was willing to pump into the release. What is here is in standard definition.
A Director’s Playground: (35:21) The real piece begins after an almost 3-minute music montage of footage. The rest is very informal raw behind-the-scenes stuff. You’ll get a lot more here than those traditional hype pieces. There are very few interview clips. It’s mostly fly-on-the-wall stuff.
DVD and Digital Cop
I said at the outset that I was drawn by the Frankenstein aspect of the film. That’s exactly what this movie is. I don’t necessarily mean the Boris Karloff Universal creature, although Karloff brought this kind of emotion to the creation. I mean more the product of a young Mary Shelley’s impressionable imagination. There are incredible overtones of mankind messing with nature and playing God. There are the ultimate consequences of such action. But more importantly, Shelley wrote about a creature that was really a child who wanted somewhat of a relationship with his creator father. Splice takes this a step further and really examines parenthood from a very distorted perspective. The film examines not only the morality of creating the creature, but what is one’s responsibility once the deed is done. Clive and Elsa become terrible “parents”, and we have to ask ourselves how many of Dren’s ultimate actions are the result of her artificial nature or the lack of proper guidance, which is exactly what Dr. Frankenstein’s creation longed to have. It’s been a long time since a film infused this kind of conflicted emotion into a creature who is more misunderstood than anything evil. The movie was a brave choice that ultimately didn’t pay off. But there’s still time. We have to consider rewarding these types of efforts or risk a world of “no more monsters”.