Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, Cronos is the story of an antique dealer who finds a mysterious object as he becomes its owner as he’s targeted by an American businessman. The film is the feature-film debut of Guillermo del Toro as it marks the start of a glorious career who brings something new to the fantasy genre with a bit of horror in the mix. Starring Federico Luppi, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, and Ron Perlman. Cronos is an entrancing yet spellbinding debut film from Guillermo del Toro.
Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) is an antiques dealer who has just discovered something from the base of an old angelic statue. Inside the base is a device that looks like an insect as he and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) look into it as it pierces Jesus’ hand. Injured by that device, he remains entranced by it as he uses it again where it made him feel young. When he later finds his store vandalized, Jesus finds a card left by a man he had met a day earlier named Angel (Ron Perlman). Jesus meets Angel who needs the device because his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook) needs it though Angel has no idea what the device does.
After meeting Dieter, Jesus learns that the device has powers revolves around eternal life as it was invented by an alchemist (Mario Ivan Martinez) back in the 16th Century. Jesus refuses to give the device to Dieter as he goes out to a New Year’s Eve party with his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) and Aurora where Jesus encounters a man bleeding. With a taste for blood, Jesus tries to go after the man only to be assaulted by Angel who learns what his uncle wants. With Jesus managing to outwit Angel, he realizes that the device is more trouble than he thought as Angel turns out to be a real threat. With help from Aurora, the two decide to confront Angel and Dieter over the device that has caused a whole lot of trouble.
The film is about a strange, insect-like device with a mysterious creature inside that brings eternal life to whoever uses the device as a kind antiques dealer becomes the new owner. Yet, he would encounter all sorts of trouble as he starts to feel younger and more agile while dealing with an American businessman and his nephew wanting this device. While the idea of eternal life is tempting, it only causes trouble due to the differing motives for the user and the two men that want it.
Guillermo del Toro’s approach to the film isn’t just creating this idea of dark fantasy that revolves around youth. It’s really about the exploration of a man who is tempted with power only to realize that it doesn’t guarantee peace or happiness. While the film opens with a prologue about the alchemist who creates the thing where he lives for about four centuries only to die by an accident leaving behind his book about the device that later gets into Dieter’s hands. That prologue sets up what is to come where men of power and temptation would want this device for selfish reasons. In the hands of Jesus Gris, it’s more about his curiosity as a good man is seduced by its power while eventually realizing that it’s not worth all of the trouble due to the men that wants it.
The direction of del Toro is truly mesmerizing as he creates dazzling compositions and shots that is all shot on location in his home of Guadalajara, Mexico. The direction has del Toro create shots that are inspired by his love for Italian horror as well as his own sensibilities where it’s not about big scares or chills but rather have the camera follow this man on the journey he takes. There’s also some amazing shots inside the device where the shots of gears and a bug inside show the kind of ambition del Toro has while not be hampered by the small budget he has. There are a lot of intimate and grand shots that del Toro goes for while keeping it very stylish without over-indulging as he creates what is truly a solid feature-film debut.
Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job with the film‘s photography from the use of stylish colorful lights for some of the nighttime scenes with blue and bits of green to emphasize the eerie tone of the film. For a lot of the daytime scenes, the camera work is mostly straightforward with its emphasis on a sunny yet yellowish look that is a standard of Navarro’s work with del Toro. Editor Raul Davalos does an excellent job with the editing to help create a wonderful rhythm to the suspense while maintaining a mostly straightforward approach to the editing and its leisured pacing.
Production designer Tolita Figueroa and art director Brigitte Boch do an amazing job with the set pieces created such as Jesus‘ antique shop and the factory that Angel and his uncle run including the uncle‘s strange yet cold room that he lives in. Costume designer Genoveva Petitpierre does a good job with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual while the dresses that Mercedes and Aurora wear at the New Year‘s party are lovely. Makeup effects artist Rigo Mora does a great job with the make-up effects made for the film‘s second half where Jesus is given a look that makes him realize what he‘s headed for.
The special effects Laurencio Cordero is great for the look of what is inside the device with a bug inside to emphasize what kind of power it has. The sound work by Fernando Camara is terrific to play up some of the suspense in the film as well as the intimate moments involving Jesus and Aurora. The film’s score by Javier Alvarez is superbly rich for its orchestral flourishes that features enchanting marimba melodies and dramatic string arrangements to play up the drama and suspense of the film. Alvarez also supervises the soundtrack as it’s a mix of classical pieces by Franz Schubert as well as some traditional mariachi music.
The cast for the film is brilliant as it features appearances from Juan Carlos Colombo as a humorous funeral director, music composer Javier Alvarez as the man with a nose bleed that Jesus encounters, Mario Ivan Martinez as the alchemist in the prologue, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho as a very funny embalmer. Margarita Isabel is good as Jesus’ dance-instructor wife Mercedes who is concerned by his behavior while Tamara Shanath is excellent as Jesus’ silent yet observing granddaughter Aurora. Claudio Brook is superb as Dieter, an aging man who seeks to have the device to gain eternal life while being abusive to those around him including his nephew. Ron Perlman is great as Angel, Dieter’s thuggish nephew who tries to bully Jesus into getting what is wanted while dealing with his uncle as it’s a dark yet humorous performance from the actor.
Finally, there’s Federico Luppi in an outstanding performance as Jesus Gris. Luppi brings a very innocent yet warm approach to a man that is good at heart as he comes across this strange device that gives him power that he couldn’t believe. Luppi also brings a real sense of the everyman as he deals with his foes as he and Perlman have some great scenes together to emphasize the world of good and evil as it’s a real treasure of a performance from the Argentinean actor.
***Additional DVD Content Written from 3/31/12-4/5/12***
The Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film with a newly high-definition transfer that is supervised by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Presented in a 1:78:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio for 16x9 televisions with Dolby Digital Surround Sound for both Spanish and English with English subtitles. Among the many special features for this release includes an optional voice-over introduction both English and Spanish preceding the film.
Two commentary tracks appear from the original 2002 DVD release. The first is from its writer/director Guillermo del Toro who discusses a lot of the themes in the film as well as some of his own biographical elements he injected into the story. Notably the relationship between Jesus and his granddaughter Aurora that del Toro sort of based on his own relationship with his very religious grandmother whom he dedicated the film to. He also states that his grandmother makes Piper Laurie’s character from Carrie look like a girl scout while he also delves into a lot of the mythology about vampires, alchemy, and all sorts of things that were inspired by comics and horror novels that he grew up reading. The performances of Ron Perlman and Federico Luppi are also discussed with great delight by del Toro as he also reveals the various cinematic influences he was inspired by for the film as it’s a truly engrossing commentary track.
The second commentary track from producers Arthur H. Gorson, Bertha Navarro, and Alejandro Springall has them discussing about the production of the film. With Gorson speaking on one track in English while Navarro and Springall talk in Spanish in another track. Gorson reveals the difficulty of producing films in Mexico as he revealed why it became a co-production between himself, the American producer, and the duo of Navarro and Springall so that there wouldn’t be a lot of interference from studio or government that is often the case with a lot of Mexican films during the early 1990s. Navarro and Springall reveal the film’s importance for the Mexican film industry while revealing what it took to ensure del Toro’s vision. Notably as the film would be a turning point for various Mexican crew members like art director Brigitte Broch who would go on to bigger things. The overall commentary is enjoyable in revealing a lot about del Toro’s passion as well as the film itself.
The six-and-a-half minute short film Geometria is an old 1987 unreleased short film by del Toro that he completed in 2010 specifically for this release. Loosely based on a short story by Fredric Brown, the film is about a kid who refuses to study for an upcoming geometry test where his fascination with the occult has him dealing with a demon who brings back his dead father with very dark results. It’s a very comical short that features intentionally-cheesy dubbing by del Toro while the woman who plays the kid’s mother is in fact Guillermo del Toro’s mother Guadalupe. The short also includes a seven-minute interview about the short film where del Toro discusses his influences and some tidbits about the short. He also revealed the changes he made which were mostly for its sound and sound dubbing where he did some re-mixing to get the better sound quality he wanted for the release.
The 10-minute segment Welcome to the Bleak House is a tour of del Toro’s home office. An avid collector of memorabilia, novels, art work, and such, del Toro gives a tour of his collection that is essentially his man-cave that is two stories high filled with lot of things. Models, toys, old books from 17th-18th Century, comics, and props from his own films while showcasing a room where has a fascinating library of films. It’s a truly enjoyable piece that will make anyone geek out.
The 18-minute interview with del Toro has him discussing the film and how it relates to everything he would do later on. Notably in finding the human soul in a monster as he’s always interested in the monster that is often seen as the antagonists in horror films. He also discusses about the things he loves about Cronos as well as things he’s irked by but won’t change. His collaboration with Ron Perlman is also discussed about how loyal Perlman is to him while del Toro also delves about the fact that every filmmaker needs limitations. Notably because he feels that too much freedom will only destroy everything a filmmaker stood for.
The 13-minute interview with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro has the cinematographer discuss his relationship with del Toro that spans back to the early 80s when they did films for other filmmakers where he was the camera man and del Toro was an effects makeup artist. Navarro discuss their visual style as well as their look for Cronos that would evolve into the films he would make with del Toro and other filmmakers. It’s a wonderful piece that explores the art of cinematography and what Navarro doesn’t use to maintain his visual style.
The seven-minute and twenty-five second interview with actor Ron Perlman has him talking about his friendship/collaboration with del Toro. Perlman talks about how he got involved with del Toro for the film as he was fascinated by the script and del Toro’s love for Perlman’s work prior to this film. Perlman recalls about his confusion about the language of the film where he had to learn some Spanish. Perlman said that this film was a career turning point where it broke out of playing character acting parts and into a new level of films that would have him work internationally with other filmmakers.
The five-minute and twenty-five second video interview with actor Federico Luppi about the making of the film comes from the film‘s original 2002 DVD release. Luppi talks about working with del Toro as it features footage of the film being made. Notably as Luppi discusses the enthusiasm of working with someone as young like del Toro as well as the scale of a production as unique as this film. The stills gallery section includes many pictures about the production of the film including rare photos of the production of del Toro‘s early shorts along with the design and making of the Cronos device in grand detail. The highlight of the stills gallery is a look inside the book about the Cronos device. Another special feature of the film includes the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Accompanying the DVD release is a book that features two different text material relating to the film. The first is an essay by film historian Maitland McDonagh entitled Beautiful Dark Things. McDonagh revels on the film’s importance for Mexican cinema and how the film managed to find its way with American audiences despite the market at the time where it would be a few film critics who would help champion the film. Notably as it would springboard the career of a filmmaker who would help re-define the monster movie by adding a soul to the monster for audiences to care for. McDonagh likens del Toro to a filmmaker like David Cronenberg for the fact that both men were able to put more care and thought into a genre that is often dismissed by elitists.
The second piece of text in the booklet are production notes from Guillermo del Toro that dates back to 1991. The notes unveil a lot of detail into the look of the film as well as stories behind the characters in the film. Some of which features biographies with hand-written note by del Toro for the changes he wanted to make for the film. The details about del Toro’s insistence in adding Gothic themes to the film is unveiled along with the notes about alchemy. It’s truly an insightful read to see how much del Toro was willing to put in his first film. The overall DVD itself is a must-have for fans of del Toro as well as fans of horror/suspense films.
***End of DVD Tidbits***
Cronos is an imaginative yet exhilarating film from Guillermo del Toro featuring two great performances from future del Toro regulars in Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. Fans of suspense and horror films will be taken aback by its lack of gore and big chills though they will be engaged by its story and del Toro’s stylish direction. For the fans of del Toro, this film is truly something they should see in where he gets some of his visual ideas for later films as well as how inventive he was early on. In the end, Cronos is a spectacular debut film from Guillermo del Toro.
Guillermo del Toro: Mimic/Mimic (Director's Cut) - Blade II - The Devil's Backbone - Hellboy - Pan’s Labyrinth - Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Pacific Rim - The Auteurs #10: Guillermo del Toro
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