“Every insect lives for just one purpose: Survival of its own kind.”
In 1997 Guillermo del Toro made his first English-language film. Mimic was based on a rather creepy short story by Donald A. Wollheim. Unfortunately, for del Toro and film fans everywhere, the director had more than his fair share of struggles with the studio powers that be, and he never really had the chance to make the movie he really hoped to make. The result is certainly an atmospheric and interesting film, but one wonders what the movie might have been like if del Toro had had his chance to make his own movie. A few years ago we were given at least a glimpse into what that would be like with the home video release of a Director’s Cut of the film. While it doesn’t allow the fanciful director to include those shots he never got to shoot, he describes this version as the closest to his vision now possible. No question this version of the film is the anchor for the new Mimic 3-film collection just out from Lionsgate on high-definition Blu-ray release along with the two direct-to-video sequels, which del Toro had nothing at all to do with.
The film had a lot of things going against it in 1997. There were the struggles of the direction of the film. But there was much more to it than that. Earlier that year saw Paramount release a film called The Relic that appeared to be almost the same film. It wasn’t, of course, but that’s what a lot of the critics said at the time. And, it’s not like The Relic really pulled them in at the box office. The result was that relic never made back its $30 million budget and has become more of a cult film over the years. The truth is that Mimic is actually a pretty good film even in its theatrical cut. It’s filled with some incredibly effective set pieces. del Toro has a knack for delivering a fantastic look and feel to even everyday places and locations. Here he turned the underground tunnels and sewers of New York City into something rather out-worldly, yet still familiar enough for us to know and understand where we are. His creatures are detailed, and the experience is far more visceral than horror movies tend to be. Of course, since that time del Toro has established himself for just those abilities. Anyone who has seen Pan’s Labyrinth understands exactly what I mean. Mimic is absolutely worth a second watch, and even if the sequels don’t exactly measure up, this is a solid enough collection to be worth your while.
The children of New York City have been stricken with a new and puzzling disease. It attacks their immune system and leaves them weak and usually dead in a short amount of time. Strickler’s Disease, as it is called has been traced to the common cockroach. With no vaccine or cure for the disease there is only one way to fight it, to eliminate the carrier.
Dr. Susan Tyler (Sorvino) is an entomologist whose husband Dr. Peter Mann (Northam) works for the Center for Disease Control. They develop a new type of cockroach using DNA from other species. It’s called the Judas Breed, and it secretes a substance that kills the common cockroach. The insects were created sterile, so that once their job was finished they would merely die out themselves. Problem solved. If you’ve read Jurassic Park, you know that life always finds a way, and the bugs not only survive, but they begin to evolve. They grow to man-size and even develop a face-plate that resembles a human face. In the darkness they can move about humans unnoticed. That’s important, because they’ve developed a taste for human beings.
I mentioned Jurassic Park, and there is more than one similarity. The story is really very much a Michael Crichton hybrid story. Think Andromeda Strain meets Jurassic Park, and you get the idea.
Del Toro infuses the story with tons of atmosphere from his underground Judas Breed kingdom to the characters and the actors he chooses to play them. While Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam do fine in the staring roles, they are actually not as important characters as some of the supporting cast. Alexander Goodwin plays Chuy, a young son of a shoeshine man. The kid is autistic and doesn’t really communicate very well. But he has a sharp mind. He can identify the make, size and color of shoes just by the sound they make in their steps. He also uses two spoons to reproduce other sounds he hears quite accurately. When he runs up against the Judas Breed he calls them Mr. Funny Shoes and reproduces their insect clicks with his spoons. The kid is an emotional character, of course, but he really sees the problem better than the leads do. I found myself viewing the film more from his perspective than theirs. Famous Italian actor/director Giancarlo Giannini plays the boy’s father. F. Murray Abraham has a too-small part as the knowing professor. A young Josh Brolin is Josh, Peter’s partner at the CDC, and Charles S. Dutton has played quite a few cops. Here’s he provides the soft comic relief as Leonard, the officer who takes Peter into the world of the underground.
Mimic 2 (2001)
It’s been a few years since the events of Mimic. Remi (Koromzay) was a partner and friend of Dr. Susan Tyler in the first film. Now she works as a middle school science teacher. Her specialty, of course is bugs. The men in her life are starting to turn up dead with their faces ripped off. That makes Remi the prime suspect, particularly since her relationships usually aren’t very healthy ones. Detective Klaski (Campos) is the lead investigator. He has to look into Remi, but his instincts tell him something else is going on. You guessed it. The Judas Breed is back, and they look on Remi as some kind of future queen to the colony. That means eliminating the competition.
The only real connection to the original film beyond the creatures is the very minor character of Remi. No one from the previous film returns. This time the director is Jean de Segonzac. He’s basically a television director, and it shows here. There is no scope to the image. Everything is focused on the center of the screen, and the characters could have easily walked out of one of his Law & Order episodes. The creatures have lost most of their detail and texture. Blame a lot of that on a reduced budget, but we get nothing more than a made-for-television look and feel. The film has another kid, but there is none of the layers that we got with Chuy. He’s merely cute factor here, and that’s all. The film is predictable and most importantly….forgettable.
Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003)
It has been many more years since the events of the first film. Marvin (Geary) is a survivor of Strickler’s Disease. He’s in his early 20’s now but has had to live in a somewhat sterile environment. He’s not exactly The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, but he spends his time in his room where he observes his tenement house neighbors through a camera and telephoto lens. He papers his walls with the pictures he takes, giving the subjects descriptive names like garbage man (Henriksen) because of his activities with garbage bags. His young sister Rosy (Dziena) is an overly-cheerful young pothead who gets Marvin’s film developed for him and tries to bring some variety and entertainment. One of these entertainments is a Carmen (Mader), a young woman who Marvin has included in his collection. She’s not at all freaked out when she sees herself on his wall. She begins to fall for Marvin to the point of giving up smoking and perfume because of his allergies. The three become engaged in mystery when they believe they’ve witnessed a murder. At first they suspect garbage man when Rosy’s dealer is killed, but Marvin has been obsessed with the Judas Breed because of his connection to the insect. Now he thinks that is what is killing people in the hood. Of course, Mom (Plummer) and her newly conquered detective lover Detective Dumars (Kapelos) don’t exactly take the suspicions very seriously.
This is a better than average direct-to-video sequel. While it still doesn’t come anywhere near the images and atmosphere of the first film, it is a more interesting diversion. J.T. Petty directs this horror version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. It does have more in common with that suspense film than it does the original Mimic. The images Marvin watches from his window echoes those in Hitch’s masterpiece. There’s even a scene where he watches as the girls investigate the home of garbage man. Almost all of the action takes place either in Marvin’s room or from the vantage point of said room. That means the computer-generated Judas Breed bugs aren’t very detailed and almost never viewed close up.
The cast is really the best part of the film. Karl Geary is actually quite good as Marvin. The character is in his 20’s, but his mental state is more like 12. Geary shows the subtle symptoms of that quite effectively. Lance Henriksen gets to do a surprise turn but isn’t very prominent until the end. It’s always a joy to see Forever Knight’s John Kapelos in a film. This one makes the collection worth having rather than just buying the first film.
Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. The original film is a high-definition treat here. There is wonderful detail and most importantly texture to del Toro’s images here. Black levels allow for the all-important contrast moments and the ability to see the care that went into these creature designs when up close. There is a wonderful contrast of cold blue hues and bright saturated yellows in the underground scenes. You’ll absolutely see this film for the first time no matter what other versions you might have seen or owned.
The other films are brighter but not so filled with detail and texture.
The first film contains an immersive The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, while the other two are 5.1 mixes. They all sound fine, but again the real power is found in the first film. The score is absolutely wonderful and more dynamic than you’ll remember. del Toro continues to create atmosphere by the subtle surrounds of the underground world. It’s the simple drips or far-off echoes that build tension. Then there are the clicks and squeaks of the creatures themselves. It’s all perfectly reproduced here. The newer films don’t have quite the same immersive quality but all service the dialog just fine.
This is a two-disc set. The first contains the original film and the following extras:
There is an Audio Commentary with del Toro. He’s candid about the struggles and talks about what he learned from the experience. He’s never bitter here, and I’m very pleased with the positive attitude.
Video Intro: (1:05) HD del Toro offers up a few opening comments.
Reclaiming Mimic: (14:31) HD del Toro drives this feature. He talks more about the film he wanted to make and his honest about what he thinks of the film he actually did make. He talks about battles lost and describes his theories on “fairytale logic”.
A Leap In Evolution: (9:35) SD A look at the creatures and the care that was given to the small details.
Back In The Tunnels: (5:22) SD Vintage look behind the scenes. Cast and crew offer sound bites from the set.
Deleted Scenes: (5:11) SD There are three including an alternate ending with a play-all option.
Gag Reel: (2:20)
The second disc contains both the video films and the following extras:
5 Days On Mimic 2: (17:20) SD 5 random days of production are chronicled. You can watch each individually or use the play-all. They are basically production diaries.
Behind The Sound On Mimic 2: (5:37) SD The sound engineer shows you how the various tracks are mixed down.
Deleted Scenes (Mimic 2): (5:03) There are five with play-all option.
Behind The Scenes (Mimic 3): (14:54) SD Mostly a conversation with J.T. Petty.
Mimic didn’t do very well at the box office and could have spelled disaster for the young del Toro from Mexico. Fortunately for us, he’s moved on to bigger and brighter things both in his native Mexico and also here in the states. Mimic is a better film than it ever got credit for. Lionsgate gives us a chance to enjoy the entire “story” in high definition. I think the film will continue to make an impact as it is discovered by del Toro fans from more recent years. It’s the little film that just won’t die. “I don’t have to tell you how resilient the common cockroach is.”