Blu-Ray Review: CRONOS

Guillermo del Toro's name seems to pop in relation to a new project every week, but he hasn't actually directed that many movies. Instead of picking up whatever comes along, he has generally chosen projects that appeal to his very specific interests. del Toro's first film Cronos (1993) -- which is now available on Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection -- lays out the stylistic and thematic approach that del Toro still follows to this day. Cronos is a good movie -- not a great one -- that paved the way for superior works like The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth.

An antiques dealer named Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) lives with his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) and young granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath). One fateful day, he comes across a mechanical gold scarab. The ancient device, which yields mysterious powers, slowly transforms Gris into a new being with strange uncontrollable passions. Gris' possession of the scarab makes him the target of a dying man only known as de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) who is determined to possess the scarab that he sends his thuggish nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) on a mission to acquire it.

Cronos is a clever spin on the classic vampire story. Vampirism i
s never explicitly mentioned; the nature of Jesús Gris' affliction is implied through the cinematic and literary references. Ultimately, Cronos uses the Dracula legend as a way to to explore broader themes of familial bonds, disease, and death. Guillermo del Toro turns Gris, who is initially portrayed as a kind caring grandfather, into a sympathetic monster. The chracter is forced to make stark choices between his new urges and true nature as a committed husband and grandfather. It is a simple but classic conflict that gives the film a real emotional gravitas in spite of its fantastical scenario. This knack for creating emotionally engaging monsters, which is evident even in big fluffy movies like Hellboy, is a big part of what separates del Toro from his peers.

Guillermo del Toro's other great asset is his visual style, which mines the veins of fine art, pulp, and classic cinematic horror. Here, del Toro's vision is limited by finances-- the locations are constrained and some of the practical effects are kind of crude. Cronos works around these limitations by using an intricate framework of unique color schemes, sounds, and environmental details to represent the worlds of various groups of characters.
 
The Criterion Collection has done a quality job on the Blu-Ray. Running time is 93 minutes and the aspect ratio is Guillermo del Toro's preferred 1.78:1. The new restored high-def transfer is excellent with zero scratches, blemishes, or defects.The bitrate for the MPEG-4 AVC video stream is an ultra-high 35 mbps. 

Audio options are plentiful. The Spanish language audio track is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio. There is also an option for the original Spanish-language voice-over introduction. Newly translated English subtitles are provided for the Spanish-language impaired.

Two audio commentaries are provided; one features the director while the other features producers Arthur H. Gorson and Bertha Navarro, and co-producer Alejandro Springall. There are numerous interviews on this disc, including new ones with del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, and actor Ron Perlman as well as an older discussion with Federico Luppi. 

del Toro's unreleased 1987 horror short Geometria, which was actually finished in 2010, is included. This comical homage to Italian horror -- it's dubbed in Italian with Bava/Argento style lighting and Lufci-inspired gore -- is crudely funny.

One of the coolest extras on the Blu-Ray is a tour of del Toro's house/workspace, which he refers to as Bleak House. This video is a "must see" because the house is amazing. A theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills round out the package.

The booklet consists of an essay by Maitland McDonagh and detailed script notes by Guillermo del Toro. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola provides new illustrations for both the cover and the booklet.
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