by Gabe Valdez
1. Let’s be completely honest here: The entire point of this film is Karl Urban’s make-up and hair.
2. I like hearing Judi Dench’s voice from a different room and not being able to tell whether she’s chewing out Pierce Brosnan in Bond or Vin Diesel in Chronicles. Someone needs to get a soundboard of her best castigations together stat.
3. Thandie Newton’s good in this. Really good. She alternates between dramatic delivery and chewing the scenery, but it’s rare we see a film giving a woman the leeway to ham it up so villainously.
4. Alexa Davalos has had a very unlucky career. I remember first taking note of her as a briefly recurring character on Angel. She stole the two episodes in which she appeared. Chronicles failed to take off and her next big break wasn’t until the Clash of the Titans remake. She was the female lead, but the studio stepped in and forced director Louis Letterier to reshoot huge chunks of the film. She was all but cut out, and replaced as the love interest in an expanded role for Gemma Arterton’s character, which is weird since Arterton played the hero’s half-sister. Whatever, Hollywood logic. Davalos later had a lead in Mob City, which shot 6 episodes before cancellation.
5. Chronicles is the definition of fulfilling the first rule of the Bechdel Test and failing the last two – there are multiple female characters, but they don’t speak to each other. The women each exert a certain amount of power over their male counterpart, which makes them read as strong, but in terms of story, they’re really only there as motivators to help the men get to new plot points – Dench as oracle to Colm Feore’s villain, Newton as the Lady Macbeth to Urban, and Davalos as the damsel in distress to Diesel’s heroic machismo. I have a very hard time saying whether they’re strong women – they shoot, kill, and exert political power – or if their roles are wasted – they disappear every time a man makes a new story decision. The truth lies in the middle, I think. You can give the movie credit for some decisions and hold it accountable for others.
6. This has pretty reasonable fight choreography, but it’s edited far too aggressively. I’ve always liked director David Twohy’s brashness when it comes to action. You’re expecting a gritty fight? Maybe the music cuts out and it’s just grunts and dirt and sweat for a few minutes? Not Twohy’s style: let’s drop the sound, pump up the orchestra, and cut it like some sort of ballet. It doesn’t always work – in fact, it doesn’t often work – but damn, if it doesn’t keep you glued to see what crazy scene experiment he’s going to try next.
7. The production design by Holger Goss here is stellar, but I think much of the real input may have come from art director Kevin Ishioka, whose resume in the same position includes Avatar, TRON: Legacy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Oblivion (perhaps the single most overlooked accomplishment in art direction of the past few years). In fact, there are a lot of technical elements that stand out as truly superior. Mark W. Mansbridge has worked with Ishioka often since then and Sandra Tanaka moved on to an art direct on Pacific Rim. Peter Lando was set decorator and he later moved onto the Dark Knight trilogy. The make-up department included a number of luminaries, including Ve Neill (who won Oscars for makeup in Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Wood, in addition to designing the creature makeup in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and appearing as a judge in SyFy’s wonderful makeup design competition Face/Off). No one will remember Chronicles this way because of other failings, but the technical side of this movie boasted a dream team of designers.
8. I wish Linus Roache had appeared like this more often during his stint as an ADA on Law & Order.
9. Back to Karl Urban for a second. Hasn’t the man proven he should be given a franchise of his own? Doom, Riddick, Dredd, Star Trek, Almost Human? They’re not all good…well, the last four are to varying degrees, but he’s very good in all of them. Hell, throw the rest of the baby Star Trek cast out and just follow Urban. Dr. Leonard McCoy’s Adventures in Space. I’d watch that. I’d buy the lunchboxes or whatever. Just do it. I’m really not asking that much. Someone give Karl Urban a job. Feed Karl Urban.
10. That’s a damn good sci-fi climax, both in terms of the logic of the end fight, and in terms of setting up for something truly different for a sequel. It’s a shame then that follow-up Riddick retcons every single plot point in Chronicles in its first few minutes. (Go read Russ Schwartz’s perfect review of Riddick.) They could have made The Cult of Riddick or The Conquests of Riddick or Empire of Riddick, or just ripped off Hercules and gone with Riddick in the Underverse, which would’ve been the most obvious since everyone in Chronicles brings up the Underverse every five minutes and by the time the credits roll, we still have no clue what it is. Instead, we got Riddick Sexually Harasses Katee Sackhoff for Two Hours.