Based on the successful MTV computer animated series of the same name, 'Aeon Flux' is another one of those big-screen adaptations of a cult phenomenon that failed to ignite with mass audiences. Like the recent 'V for Vendetta,' 'A Scanner Darkly,' 'Hellboy' and 'Serenity,' it disappointed at the box office, proving that just because the fan boys flock to a property on the small screen or in a comic book doesn't mean they'll pay to see it on the big screen. Or maybe, like so many of its ilk, 'Aeon Flux' just didn't get it quite right. While the original MTV series was, in its own way, edgy and pioneering, 'Aeon Flux' on the big screen is glossy and sanitized, its rough edges sanded down (intentionally or not) by an A-list cast and a squeaky-clean visual look that fails to capture the spirit of the source material.
Which is too bad, since 'Aeon Flux' actually has a somewhat intriguing premise. The year is 2415. It has been over 400 years since 99 percent of the human race was wiped out by a deadly virus. Earth's remaining survivors have retreated to Bregna, a walled-in, Zen-like paradise. But as the centuries wore on, Bregna began to slip under the control of a government led by the Goodchild clan, including patriarch Trevor (Marton Csokas) and son Oren (Jonny Lee Miller), who are growing increasingly dictatorial. Soon an outlaw group of rebels, the Monicans, forms to overthrow the theocracy. Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the Monican's top infiltrator, who with her genetically-enhanced extra-sensory powers, is assigned to assassinate the the Goodchilds. But Aeon soon discovers that the government's deception and treachery runs far deeper than even the Monicans could have imagined.
Granted, the above plot synopsis could have been cobbled together from a dozen other, better sci-fi movies. It pulls freely, both thematically and visually, from classics like '1984,' 'Blade Runner,' 'Equilibrium' and even last year's underrated mega-flop 'The Island' (a film I persist in admiring, even though I hate everything else Michael Bay has ever done). Maybe that's the problem with 'Aeon Flux,' and why audiences avoided the flick in droves -- after such genre-bending hits like 'The Matrix' and 'Sin City,' and even more pedestrian videogame "reimaginings" like 'Tomb Raider' and 'Resident Evil,' 'Aeon Flux' just seemed like too little, too late. There is nothing particularly wrong with the film, its story or admittedly flashy visual panache, yet somehow it just doesn't come together to form a cohesive whole that really resonates.
I know it is a tired old cliche to say, but 'Aeon Flux' also suffers because it places style far above substance. Theron is of course a great actress -- she did win a much-deserved Oscar for her transformative performance in 'Monster' -- but Aeon is a poorly-developed character, and given so much plot twists to uncover and action setpieces to complete, that Theron isn't allowed to bring her inner emotional world to life. The supporting players are also all lost amid the fantastical production design. Yes, 'Aeon Flux' is a fabulous-looking movie, and it is a sheer joy just to look at it. But the old adage still holds true -- all the gorgeous production design and cool action scenes mean squat if you don't care about the characters.
Still, 'Aeon Flux' might be worth seeing if you are a diehard sci-fi or videogame fan -- it certainly delivers when it comes to wildly imaginative visuals and suspenseful action scenes. And it does touch upon some universal themes that a lesser film wouldn't even have bothered to suggest at all. Paradise may be nice, but is it worth the cost of losing our shared humanity? Where must government draw the line between the autonomy of its citizens and the good of the greater community? Is rebellion sometimes the only solution, no matter what the cost? Perhaps, had 'Aeon Flux' tackled these intriguing themes in more than PG-13 way, it might have had more of a lasting impact. And certainly, this is hardly a "dumb" movie. So if you can lower your expectations and have a great home theater rig, 'Aeon Flux' is still a fun, perfectly harmless way to kill 92 minutes.
Wow! 'Aeon Flux' looks nothing less than fantastic. It also gets my vote as Paramount's finest HD DVD effort to date. Really, it's pretty fabulous.
It is hard to imagine a consumer-grade video transfer looking any better than this -- just about every aspect of this presentation is reference-quality. Though there is no "source print" to speak of, as this is a digital-to-digital transfer, wherever it came from it looks pristine. Blacks are dead-on, and both sharpness and contrast superb. Resulting detail is luxurious, with a sense of depth and three-dimensionality to the image that rivals the best high-def I've seen. Colors are also incredibly vivid and vibrant, yet smooth and free of noise -- they are so good, in fact, that they look unreal. I was also impressed with the consistency of the transfer -- scene after scene just looked great, both daylight exteriors (er, at least of the CGI variety) as well as dark interiors. Pretty fantastic stuff.
Of course, nothing is absolutely perfect, so I did notice the occasional flaw. For example, there is a close-up shot of a ring about halfway through the film, and I could detect a slight bit of what looked like video noise buzzing across the gold-plated veneer. There is also the sporadic moment or two when some of the computer-generated effects reveal a slight wavering in brightness, but it is very slight. Of course, these are very minor nitpicks -- 'Aeon Flux' looks about as good as it gets.
Just a notch below the video transfer, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track included here still sounds terrific. 'Aeon Flux' boasts the kind of sonic zip you expect for a big-budget, modern sci-fi extravaganza -- aggressive, enveloping and quite creative.
What I enjoyed most about listening to 'Aeon Flux' is that the uniqueness of the sound design nicely compliments the weird visuals. Effects often whiz by, but not just as simple pans from front to back from right to left, but often from speaker to speaker in a zig-zag pattern. There are also some instances of dialogue and atmospheric noises placed in the rears, which adds ambiance. However, I did wish the mix was a bit less sporadic -- while most scenes feature at least some sense of envelopment, curiously at times a whole sequence will go by which is entirely front-directed. Weird. Otherwise, all technical aspects of this soundtrack are class-A, including great dynamic range with a sense of depth and presence across the entire spectrum and powerful low bass. Aside from a caveat or two, 'Aeon Flux' sounds almost as good as it looks.
Paramount has ported over all of the extras from the standard DVD release of 'Aeon Flux' for this HD DVD. And though nothing here reinvents the wheel, it is a fairly decent package of supplements that doesn't lack for sheer volume of information.
Not one but two audio commentaries are included, the first with producer Gale Anne Hurd and star Charlize Theron, and the second with screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Unfortunately, both tracks were recorded before the movie debuted and subsequently bombed in theaters. Not that you would know it by Gale and Theron, who are almost rhapsodic in their gushing praise of every aspect of the movie -- in their eyes, 'Aeon Flux' appears to be nothing less than the greatest sci-fi masterpiece of all time. To be fair, the two do share a wealth (almost to a fault) of production stories, from shooting in Berlin to the film's rigorous stunts to Theron's much-publicized injury halfway through filming when she nearly broke her foot. By contrast, Hay and Manfredi at least attempt to dissect the film's themes and characters. But again, a look underneath 'Aeon Flux's admittedly beautiful hood reveals little of substance is actually going on. Two hours of Hurd and Theron was enough of a struggle to get through -- another two hours of overly-fawning, pretentious gobbledygook was clearly too much.
Up next is a series of five featurettes that really is one 45-minute documentary, just broken up into a bunch of little parts: "Creating a World" (aka "This ain't your big brother's cartoon"), "The Locations" (aka "It's cheap to shoot in Berlin"), "The Stunts" (aka "Charlize kicks ass"), "The Costume Design Workshop" (aka "Charlize is really pretty, too") and "The Craft of the Set Photographer" (aka "We're really desperate for some filler"). On the plus side, none of these featurettes makes the mistake of focusing on silly things like "character" and "story" and "meaning" (save perhaps for "Creating a World," which does give a little face time to the screenwriters to talk about their "standalone" concept for the film); instead, the majority of this material is all about the visuals and the action. Yes, it is overly technical, but after seeing all the work that went into creating what everyone hoped would be a multi-million dollar blockbuster, it actually becomes a bit poignant after awhile -- it's easy to forget in this day and age of weekend box office number bean-counting that real careers are at stake when a movie this expensive flops. Ouch.
Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer presented in full 1080p video.
'Aeon Flux' is one of the more interesting anime/TV big-screen updates. Though I can't say I loved the film, or even that it made much sense, it's beautiful to look at (and so is Charlize). Better yet, Paramount has delivered what is likely their best transfer yet on HD DVD (the soundtrack and extras ain't too shabby, either). If you are at all a fan of the film, it is certainly hard to imagine getting better quality for your money than this.