Written by Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
In his review of The Grandmaster, Josh Spiegel notes that the American cut of Wong Kar-Wai’s new film “never stops letting its audience know that a fuller cut exists.” The blame for those missing 20 minutes appears to rest squarely on the shoulders of Harvey Weinstein, studio executive and co-founder of The Weinstein Company. While behind-the-scenes details of The Grandmaster aren’t entirely clear, Mr. Weinstein has already established an extensive history of providing his editorial input on films, even when the directors don’t necessarily want it.
Earlier this year, Weinstein was met with criticism at the possibility of his shortening Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer as well. Weinstein’s meddling goes well beyond 2013, however, but back to his tenure at Miramax, which, in 1997, released Mimic, a monster film from a still green Guillermo Del Toro. When a child-killing virus spreads throughout New York City, scientists genetically modify an insect to kill off the virus’ cockroach hosts. Years later, the director is best recognized for his intricate creature design and practical effects, and Mimic’s Universal movie monster influences seem like the trappings of a Del Toro film. Except Mimic wasn’t Del Toro’s vision — at least, it wasn’t the version theater audiences would see.
As he would later do to Gangs of New York and The King’s Speech, Harvey Weinstein cut 6 minutes from the version presented by Del Toro, far too fresh to earn “final cut rights” in the mid-1990s. The details of the fallout that ensued between Del Toro and Harvey Weinstein have never been made publicly clear, but Del Toro has stated the experience left him so cold he never thought he would “go back and do an American movie” again. For what it’s worth, Del Toro never released another film through the Weinsteins, but the director did partner up with Miramax in 2011 for the release of a “Director’s Cut” Blu-ray. (By this point, the Weinsteins no longer were affiliated with Miramax, it’s worth noting.) This version may have restored Del Toro’s original cut of Mimic, but how much did those extra minutes really fix?
In either version, Mimic begins rather abruptly, in the midst of an outbreak of “Strickler’s Disease” claiming hundreds of children’s lives. When scientists discover New York City’s roaches to be the culprits, Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) genetically engineers a termite/mantis hybrid with the help of her colleague Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam). Six months later, Susan and Peter are engaged, their “Judas breed” insects having long exterminated the roaches before the sterile hybrids die off themselves. Well, theoretically at least.
In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm brilliantly stutters the line “Life finds a way,” and sure enough, Steven Spielberg’s dinosaurs can’t resist bucking their theme park confines and being, well, dinosaurs. Susan’s mentor, played by F. Murray Abraham, regurgitates a similar sentiment in Mimic, so it’s little surprise when a bigger, meaner, and deadlier version of the “Judas” bug begins offing the city’s children in abandoned sewers.
At times, the film feels like an overwhelming product of the 90s — take its hiring of Kyle Cooper to recreate his brilliant opening titles in Se7en — and one can feel those influences strain against Del Toro’s tendencies. Giancarlo Giannini’s subway shoe shiner is a vestigial predecessor to “old country” fare like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, but when placed against cumbersome cell phones and “Rachel from Friends” haircuts, Giannini’s suspenders and thick Italian accent ring more like rustic artifact and less Ellis Island immigrant. Giannini’s son, ridiculous spoons-playing, shoe-spotting savant Chuy, provides the director an avenue for a now wholly expected childhood lens, but the boy’s ability to call out passers-by’s shoes and mimic (get it?) the Judas bug’s calls with his dinner ware feels like an afterthought in Del Toro and Matthew Robbins’ script. Mercifully, the “Weinstein cut” trims down on both extraneous characters, sublimating its core focus to Susan, Peter, and Charles S. Dutton’s cranky cop, Leonard.
Weinstein’s theatrical cut often feels like it’s bucking against the director’s excessive digressions, curtailing the creature design porn and the giant bugs’ xenobiology in favor of driving characters to an inevitable showdown in the Big Apple’s abandoned gullet. Susan, Peter, Leonard, and yes, Giannini’s “Geppetto” cipher find themselves trapped in an abandoned subway car, the attacking bugs thrusting their deadly-sharp mandibles in and out of the car’s hull in waves. Weinstein’s cut arrives at this moment more quickly, but the scene still fails from Del Toro’s nascent grasp of atmosphere. The bugs’ threat to our intrepid protagonists, and throughout much of the film, rarely feels impending, with Del Toro cranking up the tension knob to ‘10’ only when required.
Fourteen years and two cuts later, and Harvey Weinstein’s version seems to have been the better version all along, but neither iteration ultimately saves Mimic from itself. With such a small cast, the grand threat of a widespread outbreak beyond Staten Island isn’t realized, and while Weinstein curbs Del Toro’s obsessions, he can’t remove them entirely. The bugs’ rapid evolution is a blunt antithesis to Susan and Peter’s own child-bearing woes, and the “Judas” moniker pairs nicely with Del Toro’s trademark Catholic elements. But what is piercing one’s own palm with a crucifix meant to signify? The answer’s never clear. The end product feels a lot like Del Toro’s recent Pacific Rim, a passion project designed for himself rather than a wide audience. While Harvey Weinstein’s cuts may have hurt Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, it seems as if Mimic may have been doomed from the start.
— David Klein