Why did the feature film version of MTV's cult animated series fail? Let's count the ways.
1) It's not an animated movie.
The fate of the big-screen Aeon Flux was more or less sealed when Paramount opted for live action over animation. But from its beginnings as a two-minute short on MTV's 1991 late-night cartoon anthology "Liquid Television," the popularity of Aeon Flux was primarily due to its memorable look. Creator Peter Chung drew heavily on anime (which at that point was still relatively unknown on these shores) in depicting the bloody adventures of the title character, a skimpily clad warrior woman who fought-and frequently died-in a futuristic universe. The animated Aeon was distinguished by her impossibly long limbs and superhuman sense of balance, which allowed her to perform gymnastic feats that would leave a real person with severe leg cramps. There's no way a real actress could satisfactorily replicate the character's movements, but the filmmakers try anyway with some unconvincing CGI enhancements. These scenes, along with the movie's bland visual style, drive home how crucial Chung's animation was to the success of the show. The artist himself has said in interviews that he was always skeptical of a live-action Aeon Flux, instead wanting to revive the character in an animated feature. Too bad the producers didn't listen to him.
2) The theatrical version clearly isn't the director's cut.
You can always tell when a studio has taken a film away from the director; the storytelling seems choppier and the pacing is noticeably rushed, with hastily written voiceovers plugged in to fill the narrative gaps. Aeon Flux actually opens with two introductions, a pre-credits scroll followed by an expository montage narrated by Aeon (Charlize Theron). The latter feels like the result of an 11th-hour re-edit, as it throws out a wealth of information in sentences that are so pointed, you can almost hear the italics. Director Karyn Kusama made her filmmaking debut with the well-received indie Girlfight and traces of that film's stripped-down realism can still be glimpsed in Aeon Flux's quieter moments. But Paramount wanted a blockbuster and this cut reflects that, making the wait between action sequences as short as possible. Unfortunately...
3) The action sequences are terrible.
It's hard to tell whether Kusama's inexperience or studio meddling is primarily at fault here, but either way Aeon Flux features some of the year's most poorly choreographed set-pieces. While the hand-to-hand combat is filmed effectively enough, the more elaborate scenes (like Aeon's attempt to infiltrate a heavily guarded building called The Citadel) are marred by confusing spatial geography and shoddy blue-screen work. The climactic battle, which features our heroine single-handedly taking out legions of soldiers, is so poorly cut together, it's difficult to follow what's going on.
4) The plot is silly.
Granted the Aeon Flux shorts aren't exactly textbook examples of conventional narrative structure, but they do follow their own strange logic. For the film, screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have concocted a story that is both poorly conceived and badly told. In this version, Aeon is an assassin for an underground organization enlisted with the task of killing Trevor Goodchild (Martin Csokas), the leader of Earth's last human city. Before she can complete her mission, she learns that she and Goodchild share a mysterious connection that is linked to the city's own dark secret. But when said secret is finally revealed (hint: cloning is involved), it's so unimaginative you wonder why anyone bothered to keep it under wraps in the first place.
5) Charlize Theron isn't a convincing action heroine.
With Monster and North Country, Theron has proven herself a capable dramatic actress, but she doesn't have the attitude to carry an action film. While she certainly looks great in that skintight outfit, her Aeon is a blank slate, with none of the fire of the animated character. Theron clearly wants to humanize the assassin, but in doing she turns Aeon into something Chung never intended her to be: a victim of circumstance.
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