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Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Warner Brothers
Release Date:
Special Features:

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"The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature". - An excerpt from {The Island of Dr. Moreau} by H.G. Wells The problem is, lovers and genetic scientists Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) don't know this. At least, they don't know this at first. Just like Dr. Moreau, it's all in the name of scientific progress and the belief that it will somehow benefit humanity. Their methods are, initially, totally objective; by splicing together the DNA of various animals, they create entirely new hybrid species, hoping to extract a gene that would provide protein and other necessary components for the sick and dying. They succeed, although they would like to go one step further and experiment with human DNA. Their company, while successful, will not provide any more funding, for Clive and Elsa's other hybrids are developing quickly enough to be marketed as visionary products of scientific research.***

Not content with being held back, Elsa secretly introduces some human DNA into an assortment of other genes. Clive is wary; not only are they breaking the rules of the company, they're also toying with a host of ethical issues. Elsa remains confident. After all, she doesn't want to bring the new species to term. She just wants to see if it can be done. The thing is, the new life form grows at an advanced rate and emerges before it can be terminated. It's a strange although not altogether unlikeable creature, a female with a bulbous head and spindly legs and a tail. Elsa takes a liking to her immediately and names her Dren, which is the reverse of "nerd," in this case not a putdown but an acronym for the name of their genetic corporation. Clive thinks it was a gigantic mistake. Regardless, they have essentially become parents, and they do whatever they can to keep Dren safe from prying eyes.***

The greatest achievement of "Splice" is that, up until the ending, director Vincenzo Natali was ambitious enough to make it be more than a mere thriller. It's an absorbing blend of science fiction and philosophy, forcing both the characters and the audience into a number of thought provoking moral quandaries. Like Wells' "Dr. Moreau," it intelligently raises concern over the pursuit of scientific progress while at the same time begging the question of what distinguishes animals from humans, if indeed there is anything to distinguish. In a matter of months, Dren evolves from a child (Abigail Chu) into full maturity (Delphine Chaneac); although she becomes progressively more humanoid in appearance, she has very clear animalistic tendencies, some of which are quite dangerous. And yet, her emotional development is much the same as that of a human girl - curious about what her "parents" forbid, mindful of her changing appearance, and, most interestingly, becoming aware of her sexuality.***

The film also presents us with a look at Clive and Elsa, who seem caught in that unendurable gray zone between cold analysis and emotional attachment. Elsa is especially fascinating, drawn to the methodical and objective nature of science but also harboring deep-seeded maternal instincts, in large part because her own mother didn't seem to possess any. Did she grow to love what started out as a cloning experiment, or did she deliberately create Dren for reasons other than scientific advancement? If it's the former, did she honestly believe anything different would happen? If it's the latter, what did she hope to get out of it emotionally and how did she think it would work? As for Clive, his reluctance belies a curious connection with Dren, one that may seem reprehensible but, given his relationship with Elsa, is also somehow justifiable.***

Considering how compelling most of the movie is, it's a shame Natali opted for such a generic climax, the morally challenging aspects disregarded in favor of a routine monster-movie showdown. I can't help but wonder if there's an alternate ending strewn amongst the scraps on the cutting room floor, for it's hard to believe that a conclusion this manufactured was what the filmmakers had in mind. Up until then, we were actually being tested. We were actively engaging in a stimulating cinematic debate. I will admit that there's a satisfying air of mystery in the final shot, one that proves Wells' point: The study of Nature makes a man (or a woman) at last as remorseless as Nature. Still, the scene is hardly worthy of the events leading up to it, which are so well done that I simply can't look past them.

Special Features:

A Director's Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice/Digital Copy (Blu-ray only)

Final Words:

In spite of the disappointing final act, "Splice" is an above average science fiction film, strong in character and tone, gripping in plot, and stimulating as a study of ethics.***


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