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Blu-ray Review: Chronicle (2012)

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Chronicle is a found-footage-meets-superhero movie that tells the tale of what happens to three high school boys who suddenly acquire superpowers. The footage is not so much “found” as it is just shown as it’s happening through lens of video cameras, cell phones, and security cams. In this respect the film is kind of a cheat, because there is no real relevance to the “reality” look of the film. The story is interesting enough, but it is limited by its own concept. Because everything is shown from the point of view of the on-screen camera operators, it never digs any deeper than the limited viewpoints of the main characters.

Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is a shy loner who one day decides to buy a video camera so he can start filming everything that happens in his life. It’s unclear why he decides to do this. Andrew’s life is a mess. His dad (Michael Kelly) is an alcoholic who abuses him. His mom (Bo Petersen) is slowly dying of some kind of respiratory ailment. He’s constantly bullied and picked on by his classmates at school. Andrew’s only friend is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), an easygoing guy who isn’t particularly popular but not unpopular either. Matt persuades Andrew to accompany him to a party. Andrew reluctantly agrees, but hides behind his camera lens instead of talking to anyone. Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), a popular overachiever, tells Andrew he needs his camera because he’s found something supposedly very cool. It turns out Steve and Matt have found a mysterious hole in the ground. They want to take the camera and see what’s at the bottom of it.

It seems obvious that it’s a bad idea, but these are careless teenage boys who can’t resist the temptation. What they find is undefinable–a big, glowing, noisy crystal type thing that doesn’t look of this earth. Andrew conveniently loses his camera so we don’t get to see any more than that. Next thing we know, Andrew has a new camera and the boys have suddenly developed telekinesis. For a while they’re satisfied with batting a ball around the backyard with their minds, eating Pringles without touching the chips, and flipping up girls’ skirts. However, their abilities seem to be strengthening every day, and with it their desire to do a little more with their powers. Each boy reacts to the power differently, causing friction within the group.

What’s most interesting is how each of them deals with their situation. The troubled Andrew is the most fascinated with figuring out how he can manipulate others, especially his dad, with his power. Steve seems to just want to have a little fun. Matt is pretty much indifferent to the whole thing and spends more time wooing Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), a video blogger who also films everything in her life. Casey could have been used as an interesting counterpoint to Andrew, maybe filming some of the unusual happenings going on and blogging about them, but her main purpose is simply to add another camera to the mix. What’s frustrating about Chronicle is that not much happens for the first half of the movie. No one seems to notice anything strange happening, even when Andrew demonstrates some of his powers during the school talent show, or when a student gets his teeth pulled right out of his head.

Those are the limitations of the “found-footage” genre. In this case it feels like an excuse for incomplete story-telling. The film is a series of events more than anything else. There is never a chance for anyone to really ponder anything. We only get to know the characters from the point of view of them talking into the camera. It actually does a pretty good job of establishing what type of people they are, but it feels like the film only scratched the surface of its own potential. That being said, the last act of the film is pretty intense, as ever-bullied Andrew becomes obsessed with his newfound ability to control and dominate. Revealing too much of what happens would only ruin it, but it does make the movie worth watching. Overall this movie is not great, but it is interesting, and I liked the naturalistic performances of the three leads.

The Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p/AVC encoded transfer. The visual quality of the movie is greater than Andrew’s video camera would probably be capable of. Andrew’s first camera is a few years old, but he upgrades to a new digital video camera fairly early in the film. There’s a noticeable difference in the look of the footage, which stays true to the concept of the film. The detail is good–almost too good, because aside from the framing it’s easy to forget this is supposed to be a found-footage movie. The colors are also very sharp and vibrant. The Pacific Northwest scenery is lush, with the deep greens and earth tones well represented.

The audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD 5.1 surround that makes full use of all the speakers. It’s not really the simpler audio that we would expect from a consumer-quality video camera, it has obviously been enhanced a great deal for the film’s benefit. The scenes with explosions, car crashes, and general mayhem are encompassing. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the quiet moments have a realistic ambiance.

The special features are relatively minimal. There’s a single deleted scene that’s not all that interesting, the theatrical trailer, and a featurette about the visual effects. The best feature is the “Camera Test,” which shows a short sequence of scenes performed by different actors. Overall the special features are paltry. It seems like they could have had some cast and crew interviews or a making of piece to round things out. Overall it’s not a great package, but the movie itself is well presented in both the original theatrical cut and a director’s cut that includes a few longer scenes, expanding the running time by about five minutes.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.