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From the DVD Shelf: Mimic (The Director’s Cut)

I had previously seen Mimic once, back when it was originally released to theatres in 1997.  I think I went to see it because the trailers looked interestingly creepy, and because I had so enjoyed Charles S. Dutton in Alien 3.  (I still think that Mr. Dutton is one of the best aspects of that sadly misguided Alien sequel.)  I remember thinking Mimic was OK, but it wasn’t a film I was ever drawn to re-watch.

Years later, when I began to discover the films of Guillermo del Toro, and I realized that he had directed Mimic, I began to think it might be interesting to go back and re-watch the film.  That desire to rediscover an early del Toro film was counteracted by what I’d periodically read or hear, in interviews with Mr. del Toro, about how difficult an experience making Mimic was for him, and how many of the decisions represented in the finished film did not at all represent his intentions.

I started hearing rumors, a few years ago, about a possible director’s cut of Mimic, and so I was thrilled when this was finally released to DVD and blu-ray this past summer!  It’s rare — and so always a cause for celebration — to see a filmmaker given an opportunity to go back and try to restore a film that was taken away from them (I’m thinking of the Richard Donner version of Superman II as one example — click here for my review).  As Mr. del Toro describes in the DVD’s special features, there were many things that he had wanted to film but was unable to, so many aspects of his original plans for the film are not represented in this new director’s cut.  What he has done is to go back and trim out much of the second-unit footage that was included in the original edit, footage which he did not direct.  He was also able to re-incorporate into the film many scenes and plot-threads that had been excised from the theatrical cut.  The result, Mr. del Toro describes, is a film that is as close to “his” as we’re ever going to get.

Mimic is, at its heart, a B-movie.  (The plot does involve bugs that grow to mimic humans!)  Mr. del Toro readily admits that in his commentary, and he discusses how his filmmaking strategy has always been to elevate B-movie ideas by taking them 100% seriously and applying as much care as he possibly can in the telling of those stories.  It’s a technique that has served Mr. del Toro very well.  Mimic, though, even in this new director’s cut, never really breaks out of it’s B-movie essence.  Nevertheless, I did still find a lot to enjoy in the movie.

There are some great scares in the film, and the sense of creepiness and dread that pervades the film (right from the hauntingly beautiful shot of the makeshift children’s ward in New York City — a gorgeous image that Mr. del Toro specifically notes, frustratedly, that some people from the studio hated) is effective.  For the most part, the effects of the Mimics (the giant bugs) are very well done.  Mr. del Toro was wise to keep the creatures hidden for a lengthy chunk of the film’s run-time, and when we do see them, the mixture of practical effects and CGI is effective.  The early CGI seen in this 1997 film holds up (for the most part, at least), because Mr. del Toro used the CGI effects very sparingly, and those shots are mixed well with some really dynamite creature effects.

Some of what holds the film back from greatness is the cast.  I’ve never been one to criticize the work of Mira Sorvino, but I think it’s fair to say she’s adequate but not overly compelling in the lead role of Dr. Susan Tyler.  Dr. Tyler is an idealistic scientist whose genetic-engineering efforts, though they successfully stop a child-killing plague, also lead to the creation of the Mimics.  I like Ms. Sorvino, and I like that she plays the material totally straight, avoiding any temptation to wink at the camera.  I just feel she’s a bit flat, and we don’t get too much of a sense of the character’s inner life.  It’s not a bad performance at all, just not a home run.  Same goes for the male lead, Jeremy Northam’s Dr. Peter Mann.  Mr. Northam is adequate in the role, and he certainly does everything he needs to do.  But I never really felt I got into his head either — I never felt the character came to life as someone I should be rooting for.  Perhaps one can criticize the script (written by Mr. del Toro, as well as several other credited writers) for this, but personally I think in this case the fault lies more with the actors.

I did love seeing Charles S. Dutton, though I wish he had a bit more to do in the film.  Mr. Dutton brings enormous presence to the role, and I felt the film truly came to life when he was on-screen.  Same goes for the great Giancarlo Giannini as the subway shoe-shiner Manny, though I never quite got past the feeling that his character, as well as that of his somewhat-autistic son Chuy (pronounced like Han Solo’s Wookiee co-pilot) were sort-of random, never quite fully integrated into the story being told.  (I understood and enjoyed the idea of the parallel between the bugs who can mimic human form and the young boy who can mimic any sound, but it’s an idea that I suspect read better on the page than it actually played on the screen.  I think Chuy’s abilities wound up being one piece of out-of-the-ordinary business too many, in a film stuffed with out-of-the-ordinary occurrences.)

I think del Toro afficionados will find a lot to enjoy in this director’s cut of Mimic. I certainly found it fascinating to get to examine this early film from a director whose work I so respect.  For everyone else, your mileage may vary based on whether the bugs-as-people idea strikes you as creepy or silly.

Check out my reviews of other films by Guillermo del Toro: Cronos (1993); The Devil’s Backbone (2001); Hellboy II (2008).

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