Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Splice": Science Fiction Takes On Science

Tonight I attended a screening of Splice at the American Cinematheque at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with the director in attendance. The film was one of the midnight hits at this year's Sundance festival, attracting the attention of producer Joel Silver, who picked it up for his company, Dark Castle Entertainment.

Warner Bros. is opening it Friday, June 4th, in wide release, and I'm kind of surprised. This is the type of film that needs gradual exposure and nurturing, like 2008's The Hurt Locker, to reach its maximum audience.

The horror fans will turn out, of course, but the double-whammy of Get Him to the Greek and Shrek Forever After will surely stomp Splice. On a more optimistic note, I think it has a good chance to beat the second weeks of Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2.

Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley play Clive and Elsa, a hotshot pair of genetic engineers who work for one of those imposing "big pharma"-type corporations. They've created some entirely new life forms by combining the DNA of various fauna, resulting in big, sluglike creatures whose cells can be harvested to benefit mankind, which pleases their employers...and their stockholders.

Elsa is much more ambitious than Clive, however. She wants to move their experiments—and their careers—along faster by introducing human DNA into the equation. Clive warns her not to do it, but strong-willed Elsa forges ahead, and the result is "Dren," a vaguely humanoid creature with a split-top head, faunlike legs, a stinger in its tail and a penchant for maturing quickly.

Since Elsa has used some of her own DNA in the formula (a fact Clive doesn't realize until later), Dren soon develops feminine characteristics that both scientists recognize and find themselves strangely attracted to for different reasons. With a set-up like this, you just know it isn't going to end well.

Splice is getting some pretty strong pre-release buzz, and it'll probably have an okay opening weekend, but I'm sorry that the humor in the tale is being so underplayed.

The lead characters are Clive and Elsa in a more-than-obvious nod to Bride of Frankenstein. All of the scenes with the lab equipment and procedures are hilarious and indecipherable, entering David Cronenberg's "biological horror" territory but with their own unique spin (a comparison that director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) had no problem with during the post-film Q&A, by the way), and events escalate into an "Oh, my God! Is this really going to happen?" scenario.

The negative reviews are coming from those who don't appreciate the outrageousness. The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle slammed it without question, but Variety's Justin Chang seemed to get the humor in his January review during the film's original Sundance screening. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis also got it right, and even echoed my sentiments about the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Still, it's one of those films I have to think about and certainly see again before I pass a final judgment.

My question to Natali was about the casting of David Hewlett in the role of Clive and Elsa's opportunistic boss. Hewlett's a cult figure in my book, for Pin (1988), Scanners II: The New Order (1991) and Stargate: Atlantis. Natali explained that they were high school classmates and that he casts Hewlett in all of his films.

Here's a crappy photo I took with my phone of Natali speaking to the audience. I really have to get a better phone.

Natali plans to adapt a James Ballard novel as one of his next projects, and that goes back into Cronenberg territory. I love Crash (not the film that beat Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars). It'll be interesting to see what Natali does with the quirky material.


I'm already feeling better about the ending. When you take the film as a jet-black comedy (which I certainly did), the conclusion can be viewed as an over-the-top spoof of mainstream genre films that require much frantic action in the last fifteen minutes.

Splice shows that he has the same twisted mindset that Cronenberg possesses, and Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's Crash is the wildest of black comedies. I look forward to Natali's adaptation. Last month he talked to Fearnet about Splice and the upcoming projects.

Boy, the trailer is practically one scene from the entire movie...

1 comment:

Russell Adams said...

Director and co-author Natali said that it took him fifteen years to get this film made, and if it had been produced back when the screenplay was first written, "Splice" would not have been as good a film. This was due to the development in the meantime of CGI, which is key to the effects. Wendy Finerman, the force behind "Forrest Gump", said the same of her picture, as it also took fifteen years to reach fruition, and many of the effects would not be as effective - and some not possible at all.


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