Guillermo del Toro made an auspicious and audacious feature debut with Cronos, a highly unorthodox tale about the seductiveness of the idea of immortality. Kindly antiques dealer Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) happens upon an ancient golden device in the shape of a scarab, and soon finds himself the possessor and victim of its sinister, addictive powers, as well as the target of a mysterious American named Angel (a delightfully crude and deranged Ron Perlman). Featuring marvelous special makeup effects and the haunting imagery for which del Toro has become world-renowned, Cronos is a dark, visually rich, and emotionally captivating fantasy.
Guillermo del Toro’s feature debut, Cronos, comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in the director’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer has been presented in 1080p/24hz.
It’s a decent looking picture, nothing spectacular sadly, but I’m sure it’s a limitations of the materials. The digital transfer itself is stable and looks natural, with no visible artifacts, but the picture is generally murky and soft, particularly during the darker scenes, though with some very sharp moments in between. But colours do look to be perfectly saturated, and do come off quite vibrant during some moments. The print has a few minor marks but overall it’s very clean.
The general murkiness and softer look to the image probably has more to do with the source materials and the conditions of the shoot (it was, in the end, a very low budget independent film) but largely I was still fairly satisfied with the look of the film.
Criterion includes two DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks which are generally the same with only one difference: one track presents and English narration during the opening while the other presents a subtitles Spanish opening. The remaining dialogue found in the tracks remain the same between the two and also sound to be of the same quality, which is good if not great.
Similarly to the image transfer I feel the nature of the production (again, a Mexican independent film with a very small budget) may hamper this aspect as well. Music has a hollow, sometimes tinny sound, but this may be from the equipment being used during post-production. Dialogue, on the other hand, does sound more natural and clear. Surrounds pick up some sound effects and music, but this sometimes felt a little overdone (the music could drown out some things here and there.)
It has its issues but they are minor in the end. Overall the surround track is clear and decent enough.
Criterion delivers a fairly decent little special edition, that looks to port most of the special features from the Lionsgate special edition DVD (Lionsgate receives a credit in the booklet for providing the features that have been ported.)
Included first (and mentioned in the audio portion of this review) is the alternate opening Spanish narration. I’m not sure which is del Toro’s preferred narration but they’re both here. (Since the English narration is the default track and del Toro overlooked this release I’m guessing he prefers the English opening but I don’t know for sure.)
We then get two audio commentaries, the first by director Guillermo del Toro, carried over from the Lionsgate DVD (and funny enough it opens with a sampling of the old Lionsgate logo theme.) Of the two (the other presenting the film’s producers) this is the stronger one. I’ve actually never listened to a del Toro commentary before but may have to listen to more after listening to this one. He has a lot to talk about and never misses a beat, and I can’t recall a dead spot in the track. He of course talks a lot about the production, getting the money together, the casting, the effects, and every technical detail one can think of, but he gets into great detail about his research, including his extensive knowledge on alchemy and the supernatural. He mentions many books that inspired the script, points out film references (including an Eyes Without a Face one I completely missed,) and brings up his religious upbringing and how that made its way into the film. In all del Toro is incredibly energetic and the track just flies by. Probably one of the more enjoyable director commentaries I’ve heard. (As a note, del Toro at one point mentions the book that appears in the film, saying that “this DVD” contains photos of the entire book. He is of course referring to the Lionsgate DVD but Criterion did carry those photos over.)
The second track is not as good, but it’s not without its value. This one features producers Arthur H. Gorson, Alejandro Springall, and Bertha Navarro. Springall and Navarro have been recorded together and speak in Spanish (with English subtitles) and Gorson has been recorded on his own and speaks English. This one isn’t nearly as rich as del Toro’s and it sticks more to the technical and financial details of the production. Between them they talk about the cast, raising money, working with del Toro, and the script. It’s decent but not as interesting and it’s also filled with plenty of dead spots despite the two conversations being edited together. If you were to only listen to one track I would suggest del Toro’s.
The more fun feature to be found here would have to be an early short film by del Toro called Geometria, made in 1987 but has been touched up a bit for this edition. Apparently based on a short story by Frederic Brown it’s the rather witty story of the great lengths a teenager goes to to avoid retaking a geometry test. Running only 6-minutes it’s an impressive feature by the young director, borrowing a colour scheme reminiscent of Dario Argento, and the “twist” gave me a good laugh (the whole thing is building up to a punch line.) It’s accompanied by a 7-minute interview with del Toro with the director talking about the short film, how he touched it up for this release, and points out the influences, mentioning Argento and Bava, and the film Inferno in particular. Fun supplement overall and I’m rather happy del Toro saw fit to include it.
Another intriguing supplement (though maybe guilty of a little navel-gazing) is Welcome to Bleak House, an 11-minute feature devoted to del Toro’s vast collection of stuff. It’s interesting but kind of scary, and I think if it wasn’t for the fact he was a well-regarded director with a vast imagination there’s a good chance we’d see him on one of those awful hoarding shows. The scary part is that this stuff isn’t kept and displayed in his house. Oh, no. He bought a whole other house to keep this stuff in. His collection varies between various pop material, old toys, alchemist tools, books, action figures (he had a rather cool looking one from They Live) and various models and sculptures. We also get a brief look at his screening room which holds over 7000 DVDs and hundreds of laserdiscs (and to my surprise we only get a glimpse of these items, no money shots.) And, I’m sure by coincidence, he has Criterion’s copy of Europa on the screen (just the menu, though) when we enter the screening room. I think my jaw was on the floor most of the time, I just could never have imagined such a thing. Del Toro of course gives us the tour, talking about the items, and how they help his inspiration. Though it may seem a little pointless it does give a great look into the man’s imagination, inspirations, and creative process.
Criterion next includes some exclusive interviews. First is an 18-minute interview with del Toro about Cronos. He expands on the commentary a little bit, getting into more detail about the familial themes in all of his films, how he presents monsters, and also shares his opinions on what he calls “eye candy” and “eye protein”. Some material is repeated here from the commentary (how he chose to present the American villains in the film comes to mind) but again he’s an engaging speaker and keeps it interesting.
The next interview is with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro who talks about first meeting del Toro and then the work they’ve done together, as well as his and del Toro’s visual sense and way of storytelling through the visuals. Running 13-minutes it’s a little on the dry side but interesting enough.
The final exclusive interview is with actor Ron Perlman. This one is disappointingly short, a little over 7-minutes, and may be the funniest one as Perlman recalls the letter he received from del Toro to star in the film, and then how it came about that his character (and I assume Claudio Brook’s) would speak English. He has an obvious admiration for del Toro, and pretty much attributes his career success as of late to him. His del Toro impersonation is also one of the funnier things I’ve seen. It’s a shame Perlman was unable to participate more in the release somehow, though I’m more than happy he shared his thoughts and feelings here.
Carried over from the Lionsgate DVD is a quasi-interview with actor Federico Luppi, which isn’t too deep, the actor basically talking about the director and what he likes about the film. The nice aspect here, though, is that we get some behind-the-scenes segments scattered throughout. I suspect this is part of a making-of Lionsgate included on their DVD (I haven’t seen that DVD, in fact, this is the first time I’ve seen the film) and I’m surprised everything didn’t make it over, but something tells me it would have been repetitive anyways. I’m happy Criterion at least grabbed this portion.
The disc then contains a rather large stills gallery that you navigate through using your remote. It includes well over 60 photos with notes for most of them. The photos included are ones of the scarab device, which includes the large one used for close-ups, del Toro’s family photos, photos from the shoot of Cronos along with photos from the shoot of Geometria. And then we also get photos of the book/instruction manual that appears in the film. Closing off the photos are sketches by del Toro, and a storyboard of an excised sequence.
The supplements then conclude with a “theatrical trailer” that looks more like a straight-to-video trailer you’d find on VHS.
The booklet then includes an essay by Maitland McDonagh on the film and del Toro, but the real gem here are the reproductions of notes made by del Toro for the cast and crew. This includes character descriptions, extensive bios on them, and an essay on alchemy and “the gothic”. Another fantastic look into del Toro’s working process and scary attention to detail.
In all, fantastic. The producer commentary is skippable, but I rather enjoyed everything else on here, finding it all entertaining and informative.
This is my first time with the film and it’s great fun, and just stunning for a debut feature. And Criterion’s Blu-ray adds on to it, delivering some fun and rich supplementary material about the film and its director. In all just a rather entertaining release.