August 20, 2004

DVD Review: Imposter

Imposter was released back in 2002 to generally poor reviews and quickly disappeared from theaters. I remember watching the trailer and being rather unimpressed, although I do like Gary Sinise's performances. Still, I passed on seeing it in the theaters, and also passed initially when it was released on DVD, and promptly forgot about it. Recently, I saw it pop up on the budget racks, so I decided to give it a try.

The movie follows Spencer Olham, a weapons designer, who has just created a weapon which may shift the balance of power in their war with the Centauri's. Of course the day of the test arrives and Spencer is greeted by Agent Hathaway, who has evidence that Spencer is not who he claims to be. Rather than a weapons designer, he is a genetic cyborg sent by the Centauri to assassinate a government official. This, of course, can not be true. Spencer escapes and the race begins. Spencer to rediscover the truth about himself, and Hathaway's pursuit.

The story is a tale of loss of identity, and humanity's fight to regain itself. In this film that humanity is portrayed by Gary Sinise's Spencer Olham. Sinise brings a wonderful humanity to Spencer. We sympathize with him in his pursuit of himself. His identity taken from him, a wanted man on the run. Vincent D'Onofrio is Agent Hathaway, a one dimensional character with a single minded pursuit of his prey. He may be rather one dimensional, but D'Onofrio keeps him interesting. Madeleine Stowe plays Maya, Spencer's wife, in a supporting role which helps to flesh out Spencer, grounding the character and giving him something more than himself to fight for. The cast is rounded out with Mekhi Phifer, who plays Cale, a man from outside the city who befriends and helps Spencer on his journey.

The story is a bit lacking on some points. The biggest example of this being the war with the Centauri, we really don't get a feel for why this war is going on, who started it, not even what the Centauri look like. All we really know is that most of the surface has been destroyed, that there are now bubbles enclosing livable area, and that the Centauri are sending in these cyborgs, posing as humans, to take out key people. On the flip side of that, the lack of exposition there allows for more story on our main characters. This keeps the film securely focused on the human element as opposed to the epic saga developing around them. This leads to another problem. Mekhi Phifer's Cale, he is an outsider living at the surface under the bubble trying to survive outside of the protection of the government. Sadly we don't get enough on his situation which doesn't allow his character to elevate into something more meaningful than a padded out plot device to move our hero around with. In any case, there is enough here to hang your hat on so to speak, mostly thanks to Gary Sinise's fine performance.

The film is directed with a steady hand by Gary Fleder. Nothing too flashy, but solid throughout. Preferring to let his actors tell their story than by distracting us with too much action. The action is there, but it does not overpower the story like so many other films of the type tend towards. I liked that it sat back and let the characters carry most of the story, the technology aspect is there, but it is the human aspect which really drives it home, and Fleder delivers to that end. The design of the film itself is good, interesting visuals which look like they could be a natural progression of what exists today.

If the idea of loss of self and identity sounds familiar, it is a theme that runs through a lot of the writing's of Philip K. Dick, upon whose story, "Imposter," this is based. He is also the author responsible for the stories which became the basis for Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, and Minority Report. Taken together you will see many similar themes shared between them, if you haven't seen these movies, I would definitely recommend you seek them out.

Something to remember about this film is that it was originally conceived as 1 part of a 3 part anthology film. The studio liked the footage during the shoot so much that they decided to make it a feature on it's own. Therefore, a lot of it was written while filming was going on. The padding can be felt mostly with the scenes involving Mekhi Phifer. At the same time, this added story helps to flesh out the humanity of our lead, helping us to identify with him that much more. I am not sure if the other two segments were ever filmed or not.

Video. The transfer is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The picture quality is good, it doesn't really jump out as being a great transfer. At the same time, there is no print damage or any blemishes to speak of. Overall it is a pleasing image, given the small size of my screen, someone with a large screen may disagree.

Audio. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and much like the video, it is adequate if unspectacular. It gets the job done without becoming demo material.

Extras. It should be mentioned that this DVD is an R rated Director's Cut, as opposed to the PG-13 version which was in theaters. This runs about 10 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. I have not seen the other version, so I could not say what the differences are, except for a short gore scene early on. As for the actual extra's there aren't many, but it's enough.
-First up is a selection of trailers for other Dimension video releases.
-Next there is the theatrical trailer for this film. And what a bad trailer it is, the voice over is terrible, and it is not terribly flattering to the movie.
-There is a short featurette on the behind the scenes making of the film which is mildly interesting.
-Lastly there is the original short version of the film that was to have been in the anthology. This is interesting to see the differences. It has the advantage of being minus much of the fluff of the longer cut, but it also doesn't have as much of the human quality, there is less development of Spencer.

Bottomline. This is a fine sci-fi adventure film that deserves to do better than it has. I would rank it slightly below, the very underrated, Screamers. This movie is worth checking out by sci-fi fans, and also for the fine performance from Gary Sinise. Definitely underrated, good film, just not a classic.



Anonymous said...

hrm, I dont know what to think of this movie and I am a HUGE sci-fi fan. I watched it all the way through because I love Gary (both as a singer and an actor) but this movie was kinda pointless. I mean his relationship with Cale was useless, it wasn't defined or anything. They made Cale seem like a drug addict which I take highly offensive. Then to make matters worse by the time it got to the end, no one cares about an bombs or anything they just want it to end. I am perplexed as hell about what really happened in the end though...I just finish watching the movie on SPACE and I am still trying to figure it all out.

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