‘The Empire of Corpses’ Blu-ray Review
Historical Fiction? Check.
Reanimated corpses brought about to fuel the animalistic machine known as society? Checkity-check-check!
The Empire of Corpses is based on the works of Japanese science fiction writer Satoshi Ito, under the name of Project Ito. Sadly Ito passed away in 2009, and only until recently his works are being turned into films. A small fraction of The Empire of Corpses was completed by Ito, and the remainder of the story was completed by Toh EnJoe–another Japanese science-fiction writer. The Empire of Corpses is the first film of three that will bring Ito’s works to life (heh heh…). The first and second film are currently done, with the third film wrapping up later in 2016.
The Empire of Corpses takes place in an alternate version of the world where Victor Frankenstein succeeded in creating “The One,” a reanimate with a soul. Initially hesitant to this leap in science, society took hold of this after it quickly realized it could capitalize on this success. Now a modern and normal part of life, the most basic and mundane jobs are carried out by the reanimated; shipyard work, telegraphs, anything and all that was once done by man is now carried out by the reanimated. The military and the government was next to latch on the reanimate, now using the former dead as fodder for wars and militaristic campaigns.
The film opens in London in the late 1870s with a young medical student John Watson (name sounds familiar, right?) reanimating the corpse of his friend (with whom he worked closely) to try and understand what happens to the human soul upon death. Watson argues that, as the body dies, it becomes lighter by 21 grams. This is thought to be the exiting of the soul. His reanimated friend, whom we come to know and love, is named Friday. Quickly thereafter, Watson is apprehended by the authorities for performing illegal reanimations, and rather than thrown into jail to rot he is recruited by the crown to intercept a Russian corpse engineer Karamazov who recently fled to Afghanistan.
Karamazov is thought to possess Victor’s Notes on The One, which holds the answers sought by Watson on true corpse reanimation and how to bring back one’s soul. Alongside Watson and Friday (who in essence acts as Watson’s servant/scribe/butler) we encounter another companion on the way–a British Secret Service agent named Captain Burnaby. Providing the world knowledge and acting as Watson’s muscle enforcer, they spend the majority of a year traveling to Afghanistan, India, Japan, and ultimately ending up in San Francisco in search of Victor’s Notes and come to grips with what it means to be human.
Right from the beginning, from the graphic and gruesome intro, I was hooked into the film. Play on the concept of the soul and what it means to be human was ever present in the film; it’s something I think I and many others will find extremely interesting. Another thing I really enjoyed about this film was the historical background and the historical fiction; we have that turn-of-the-century environment and that industrial revolution boom where everything is new and exciting. The film gives off that Indiana Jones adventure-like feel, or perhaps more along the lines of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Tying in steampunk aesthetic and creation, the film will draw you in and make you want more.
Aesthetically, the film is phenomenally well drawn–a major plus. Attention is given to the slightest detail, whether that be environment or small details; with the steampunk/turn of the century environment, the small mechanics of gears and cogs are drawn to the finest detail. In addition, the film does a wonderful job subtly combining CGI with hand animation. It was difficult at times to quickly see which was which.
Coupled with the animation, the score and music fits nicely with the era and the style. We see grandiose organ pieces with the final scene of the film, and we hear the energizing adventure score as Watson and the gang traverse through big action moments in the film.
Despite all these great and wondrous things, there were some low points. The first half of the film is tight and cohesive–even enjoyable; however, the second half of the film is just left of center. The second half feels strung together and although still exciting, it just didn’t feel right. Coupled with this sense of confusion, the characters did not feel relatable in any way; I did not feel as if I could connect with any of the characters. The only character with which I did connect had considerable screen time in the first half but was almost nonexistent until the very end of the film.
The audio presentation for this release is a very good one, as we get the original Japanese 5.1 theatrical mix and an English language adaptation in the same format. Both are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec that works to give this some pretty good life.
The Empire of Corpses comes in at 1080p HD at 16:9 ratio aspect. The film does a fantastic job with the visuals; the color scheme and design work well with the time era for the film and gives it that dark, industrial feel. Overall, it is a beautiful visual experience.
The Empire of Corpses has your somewhat “now” standards for extra-feature content. The English voice actors give their thoughts on the film and what it took from them to make the film, as well as a bit on their character. We also get the chance to hear their thoughts on some of the deeper themes in the film, e.g. the ethical/moral dilemma of corpse reanimation, free will, and the concept of the soul and what it means to be human.
Along with these, we have:
- 2 promo videos
- The original trailer
- Additional film trailers
The backdrop of the film is interesting–you have the Indiana Jones-like feel of rough-and-round ‘em up adventuring across the world, and it’s visually and conceptually beautiful. However, The Empire of Corpses is a film that grabs you and puts you in the front seat of the coaster ride; I say coaster ride because sometimes, the film feels haphazardly strung together and can be confusing at times. Despite this, I found The Empire of Corpses an extremely enjoyable film and would encourage everyone to check it out!