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Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

DVD Released: 1/20/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/21/2009

Frequent visitors to this site will know that I often complain about the lack of originality in movies. Maybe I've seen far too many movies, but with nearly every film that I see, I can name the movies which it resembles. I fully understand that it's very difficult to come up with a truly original idea, but far too many movies look alike these days. Based on this, I should welcome Repo! The Genetic Opera with open arms. Despite the fact that the movie certainly has roots in other projects, it plays like few things that you've seen before. The movie itself is supposed to be a cautionary tale, but the true lesson lies with the overall film -- be careful what you wish for.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is set in the future which an epidemic of organ failures has decimated the population. A company called GeneCo steps forward with a revolutionary organ replacement process, which allows many to live. However, these same patients often can't pay for their organs, so GeneCo will send the Repo Man to retrieve the organs...which often kills the patient. Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head) is a doctor who leads a double life as the Repo Man. He spends the rest of his time caring for his daughter, Shilo (Alexa Vega), who is supposed to be house-bound due to a blood disease. However, unbeknownst to her father, Shilo sneaks out to explore the city and visit the grave of her late mother. We then meet the family which runs GeneCo. Patriarch Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) attempts to keep his insane children, Luigi (Bill Moseley), Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), and Pavi (Ogre) in line. Due to the fact that GeneCo has saved so many lives, Rotti is like a de facto ruler, and he doesn't like anything which threatens his business. As the story progresses, we learn the secrets which lie behind the Largo family and how they are linked to Nathan and Shilo.

Something which I've failed to mention up to this point is that Repo! The Genetic Opera is a musical. And by that, I mean a real musical -- there is very little dialogue here and most everything happens in song. The film is based on a stage production which was created by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, both of whom appear in the film, with Zdunich playing Graverobber, who serves as a sort of narrator for the story. The stage production began on a small scale, but when a full-length form was staged, Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw II - IV, was at the helm, and he's directed this film version as well.

I hinted above that Repo! The Genetic Opera isn't completely original and that's true. Based simply on the fact that this is a musical treading into territory where most musicals fear to go, one will immediately be reminded of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film's dystopian futuristic setting will remind you of Blade Runner. The music has an overall industrial-rock feel, but at times, it made me think of Rent, the musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (and not just because of the presence of Anthony Stewart Head), and Queensyche's Operation: Mindcrime album.

However, these comparisons aside, Repo! The Genetic Opera still comes across as something original and unique. When was the last time that you saw a musical where someone is disemboweled? (On second thought, don't answer that.) The mixture of musical numbers with violence, high camp, and hysterical characters is definitely something new, and because of this, the movie is spell-binding at times. But, the movie goes one better by actually having a very detailed plot. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about the characters, and we see how their lives are intertwined.

On the DVD extra features, Smith and Zdunich tell us that the original forms of Repo! The Genetic Opera were ten-minute segments. This probably worked very well, because the 97-minute movie eventually wears out its welcome. By the middle of the second act, the effect of the film's unique nature has worn off. All of the songs begin to run together, and while one must admire the fact that the movie has such a complex plot, one can help but think that it's bitten off more than it can chew, as there are more and more plot twists and character reveals. Ironically, we learn next to nothing about the Largo children, other than the fact that they are all crazy. The ending drags on for far too long.

My initial reaction to Repo! The Genetic Opera was that it is the kind of movie which people either love or hate, and I can see audiences going in either direction. But, ultimately, I think that most viewers will be like me. They will admire the movie's audacity at trying something new with the musical and they will wonder how they were able to do all of that for $8.5 million. The songs are catchy and the performances are appropriately energetic, but experiencing Repo! The Genetic Opera once will be more than enough for most.

Repo! The Genetic Opera serenades us on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 (and as the movie was shot on HD, this may be it's OAR) and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is somewhat murky, especially given the fact that it was shot on HD, which usually delivers a very sharp, crisp image. The picture here is somewhat dark and lacks in great detail. While some shots are clearer than others, they all share an odd second-generation look. On the plus side, there is no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, most notably reds and blues. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Obviously, we came here for the music, and this track doesn't disappoint. The music sounds very good and we can clearly hear every voice and instrument. The music comes from the front and rear speakers, and some of the songs deliver a nice thump from the subwoofer. Other sound effects are good as well, showing nice stereo separation and use of surround sound.

The DVD contains a few extras. We begin with two AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features Director Darren Lynn Bousman and actors Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Ogre. This is a fun commentary, as the group talks about the atmosphere on the set and their work on the film. Bousman gives details about the challenge of making the film on small budget and he also reveals certain points which were cut from the film. The actors discuss their vocal duties and how they approached their characters. The second COMMENTARY offers Bousman with Co-creators Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich and Music Producer Joseph Bushara. They talk much more about the creation of the film and the transition from stage to screen. They discuss the placement of certain songs in the film and how the story went through changes to meet the sort of pacing needed for a movie. "From Stage to Screen" (11 minutes) features comments from co-creators Darren Smith and Terrence Zdunich who discuss the origins of the stage show. We also see some video footage of the early stage show. We also see concept art from Zdunich which inspired the costumes for the film. From there, the piece looks at many facets of the movie, including costumes, special-effects makeup, the music, and choreography. This is certainly an interesting look at the film, but I wanted to learn more about the stage show. "Legal Assassin: A Repo Man on the Edge" (4 minutes) is an electronic press-kit type short where the cast and filmmakers give an overview of the film, and then explore Nathan's theme song. We do get to see footage of Anthony Stewart Head's audition and his performance in the studio. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long