As you would expect from Criterion, the transfer for Cronos is superb. The degree of restoration is detailed in the accompanying booklet, as usual, with the equipment and processes incorporated listed and, very pleasingly, we find that both Guillermo Del Toro and his DOP Guillermo Navarro have supervised and approved the AVC transfer.
The film is presented with its original 1.78:1 frame aspect and it is markedly free from much in the way of print damage, or wear and tear. Detail is appreciably better resolved than in previous home video incarnations, from facial texture to background elements. There is a new level of depth brought to the image that had been lacking in the past. Jesus wandering through the factory, the dimensionality to the antique shop, the depth that we see now in the artefact-lined secure chamber of De La Guardia, and the great image of Jesus wandering up the street as he shelters from the rain.
The film looks both earthy and colourful. This was a deliberate design aesthetic on Del Toro's behalf. Now, you have to remember that this was a low budget production and no matter what style and flair its director, DOP Navarro and the film's production designers wanted to create, it will still look slightly grubby and a little muddily saturated when it comes to the more flamboyant scenes. Primaries are strong and vivid, especially those all-important reds. But there is a tendency towards browns and yellows that denies the image the sort of gloss and incredible fidelity afforded both Hellboy outings. Skin tones can, at times, appear very warm and orange – and this is not down to the Mexican tans – but I didn't have a problem with this. Especially when the opposite can also be very apparent, such as the image of the dead alchemist with his skin “the colour of marble in the moonlight.” I loved the green glow of Aurora's cyalume glow-stick, which was well pronounced amidst the shadows and the little sparkling lights on the Christmas tree in the hall below her, and didn't smear. In fact, this element actually made me pine for Stuart Gordan's awesome Re-Animator to make the jump to Blu-ray. Fans of the film will know what I mean.
Although I noted a couple of instances when whites tended to bloom a touch too brightly, contrast is fairly well established. For example, there are lots of occasions when shafts of white light penetrate dark or merely gloomy environments – the attic, or De La Guardia's chamber – and the contrast during these moments is extremely well-handled. Black levels are very good indeed. There are lots of darkened scenes and the image retains detail and integrity due to the strength of the blacks. I will say, however, that shadow definition is not particularly acute. It is good, to be sure, but it is not finite and sharp. Detail is clearly improved throughout. It may not be up to the standards of the newest films when transferred to high definition, but this is marked upgrade in every sense. But we certainly have new levels of visual information catered-for. Now you can clearly the tufts of thick curly hair on Angel, and the tiny threads of material sticking up on the edges of his suit. There is more definition on the rows of sheeted archangel statues and the paraphernalia in the attic. We can even see all the little shards of broken glass that skitter across the road surface after the car plunges down the side of the cliff. The Cronos, itself, with its golden leg-clamps and that wicked little spike has scrubbed-up well. Edges, I should add, are smooth and unsharpened, which certainly helps with shots concerning the diabolical contraption going about its business.
With no overt noise reduction, no trace of banding and only the faintest hint of aliasing, this represents a very solid and pleasing transfer from Criterion. Finally, I cannot comment on how well this transfer stands-up against the UK release from Optimum, but I can heartily state that Cronos looks fabulous and faithful on this Criterion disc.
Cronos receives a DTS-HD MA stereo audio track in its original combination of Spanish and English … and it gives a good, vivid and detailed account of itself.
Dialogue is mixed well and there is never an occasion when it is not perfectly clean and clear. The original score from Javier Alvarez has keen warmth and a great sense of balance, especially to be found within the high strings and the jangling notes from the piano.
The intricate whirrings and clickings of the Cronos device are wonderful. There is width and detail to them. And, best of all, listen to the clarity and sharpness of that spike as it springs out.
We get some elements of depth to the bass, though this is not all that aggressive a track when it comes to impacts, such as the car crash or the meaty blows that Angel brings into play. That said, there are two cool examples of a cane being used to smack into someone's head – with the first actually occurring off-screen and just heard on the soundtrack. Oh, and there is the crunching of neck being broken underfoot that is wonderfully detailed but a tad overblown on the effects-track. During Jesus' rebirth and return home through the streets, there is a rainstorm taking place, and this actually provides some fine separation across the stereo image. Plus, there is some rumbling thunder that possesses a genuine presence in its low and ominous vigour.
So Cronos actually sounds very good. The range is varied, the image wide and the lossless track comes alive with activity. Don't be put off by the lack of surround, this still provides an enjoyable experience that is surely as clean and crisp and vivid as it was when the film played at the cinema
Criterion's nicely packaged edition comes with its complimentary booklet of transfer details, an essay on the film from film critic Maitland McDonagh and, better yet, pages of pre-production notes from Guillermo Del Toro, himself, that contain considerable detail as to his themes, his stylised look, the influences that he wants to embrace, and the visual aesthetics for his characters. Del Toro's notes and annotations are always worth investigating, and this selection, expanded upon by the filmmaker for this publication, are no exception.
On the disc, we find two commentary tracks. The first, from Guillermo Del Toro, is customarily superb. I believe there is an addictive quality to Del Toro's voice – aye, it could well be the accent – and the fact that he is never stuck for words about his subject matter means that this is an excellent track from someone whose dedication, knowledge and honesty does him credit. Technical, personal, frank about the things he would do differently, and the things that he would improve, this is a top tier commentary that adds immeasurably to the film that we are watching and acts as a real incision into the mind that created it. By contrast, the second chat-track which yields the memories of the producers is far less engrossing. Still interesting, this commentary, which is in Spanish (subtitled) and in English, lacks the personality and the immediacy of Del Toro's, but there is much of worth for fans to absorb.
A great new addition to the selection of extras is Del Toro's 1987 short horror film, Geometria. This audacious project has been unreleased until now due to fact that it had never been completed. Well, Del Toro completed this little labour of love in 2010 and we can now see the results. Surprisingly gory, this is the beautifully amusing story detailing the lengths a school kid goes to in order to avoid his geometry test. As it transpires, he really should have paid just that little bit more attention in class. As well as watching this fascinating presentation we can also enjoy a comprehensive interview with Del Toro as he sits and discusses the production, the things that influenced it – Bava, Argento and Fulci (you just can't beat 'em, can you!) - and what it means to him. Excellent stuff.
In Welcome To Bleak House, we are permitted to go on a guided personalised tour of the office-cum-second-home of Guillermo Del Toro, a place that is a virtual labyrinth of his own mind. Acting as the production headquarters for his films, this is the place where he and his creative team can thrash out ideas, screenplays, FX-treatments and whatnot in what amounts to a luxurious catalyst for the imagination. Divided into various libraries and galleries, this is a huge and highly cluttered building that is devoted to Del Toro's love of the macabre, the weird and the unusual. Props from his own and other films abound. Fabulous models, paintings, books, figures and bizarre bric-a-brac fill every room. There are places to sit and write, places to create and places to relax whilst taking in a movie. Apparently, this is what happened when his wife decided that the family home was not the place to house all of this wacky stuff. One day, I hugely suspect that my wife will insist upon a similar move for all of my “things” … and me, too, I suppose. Del Toro is our host throughout all of this and he describes the various areas of what he has affectionately named Bleak House with pride, flair and joviality. This is an excellent piece, folks.
There are also a trio of new video interviews with Del Toro, Perlman and producer Navarro that add some more opinions about the project. Perlman, in particular, is able to tell us about how he was surprised to be offered the part in a Mexican film in the first place, and how he attempted to overcome the language barrier. Del Toro apparently never worried about such things – he just wanted to eat! All good stuff again. These are accompanied by an old video interview with Frederico Luppi about his character and the film.
A Stills Gallery with captions from Del Toro and the film's theatrical trailer supply yet more value to this fan-pleasing set.
Cronos is a small film, but bolstered by big ideas and hearty ambition. It is a unique experience and possibly one that could be unsatisfying for some genre-buffs who prefer there to be a lot more claret splashed around and a more conventional narrative. For many, though, this is Guillermo Del Toro through and through. It may be a little undercooked as far as his subsequent achievements go, but this is still inspired and fresh and individual film-making that is unafraid to break with tradition and mesh symbolism with the imagination. There was plenty of raw talent on display here and it is always great to see Ron Perlman. Wonderful performances from Frederico Luppi and Tamara Shanath add layers of poignancy to the affair, and that Cronos device, with its gloopy little inhabitant, is a terrific creation.
The new hi-def transfer from Criterion is superb, too. The video is fine and film-like and unmolested by overt tinkering. The audio is clean and clear and nicely rendered without any showboating extra channels having been added. Guillermo Del Toro graces the release with another excellent commentary track and a couple of personal insights into the film that kick-started his career. The tour around his production house of dream (and nightmares) is wonderful and part and parcel of his personalised approach to his projects and their fans. The inclusion of his short film is a rare treasure, and shows a considerably more horror-fixated Del Toro at work. There may not be a lot of supplements, but what there is strong and rewarding.
Cronos remains a remarkable film. It is intimate and heartfelt and yet it still embraces the major themes that would go on make Del Toro's later films so popular and critically lauded. It actually works well as a companion-piece to Let The Right One In. I have watched the two back to back and found that the skewed angle on such a familiar genre that both films take really do supply some fresh blood to the old routine. Guillermo Del Toro's offering may not be quite as ferocious, but it is no less considered or original.
This release from Criterion does the film proud.
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