Prelude to Summer Shorts 2010

13-May-10 12:04 PM by
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The recent release of Iron Man 2 heralds the beginning of the summer blockbuster season. With the likes of Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, and Predators still to come, it will prove to be an expensive season for the avid moviegoer.

Last summer, I offered an alternative: Summer Shorts, a series of free, independent films. Every day for a week, Showbits presented a different video you could watch at home right here on this blog. Although lacking the budget and length of major film productions, these shorts offer a refreshing creativity that is seldom found in sequel-ridden Hollywood.

This summer, Showbits will again present Summer Shorts, but in a new format. Instead of one post every day for a week, we'll offer one film every Friday for the entire summer. If the blockbuster season can last that long, then so can we! This schedule will also allow us the opportunity to continue publishing on diverse topics between shorts.

The series begins this Friday — so sit back, relax, and kick off your summer shorts!

Summer Shorts: The Hunt for Gollum

06-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Hot on the heels of yesterday's Dungeons & Dragons short is another fantasy epic, the length and quality of which is in sharp contrast to Choices. The Hunt for Gollum, released on May 3rd, is a prequel set just before the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. At 40 minutes, it stands at the long end of "short", such that it exceeds the constraints of a single YouTube video. The entire film is available as a single high-definition viewing on the official Web site, but here it is divided into four separate videos, compiled into a single playlist:

This film most impressed me in its ability to echo Peter Jackson's trilogy in look, which required not only casting talented look-alikes as Aragorn and Gandalf, but applying high-value costumes and makeup. This could not have been cheap, but the end product benefits from the investment. I speak from experience what a difference such dedication can make. I once appeared in an independent fantasy film called Tomorrow's Night. Whether or not that movie was ever released, I don't know; it may be best if it was shelved, as unlike the low-budget films featured this week, Tomorrow's Night was no-budget.

The no-budget <em>Tomorrow's Night</em> features Ken Gagne as the guy in the potato sack.

The no-budget Tomorrow's Night features Ken Gagne as the guy in the potato sack.

What impressed me less was the script itself. As a prequel, The Hunt for Gollum neither fills necessary gaps nor leaves room for surprises. It can end only so many ways without disrupting what's to follow in J.R.R. Tolkien's well-known trilogy and Peter Jackson's popular adaptation of same. What we get instead is a lot of running around and fighting. Fortunately, that's what Hunt does best, as the choreographer and characters obviously know what they're doing. This film may lack the heavy-handed morality of Choices, but I far prefer it for its ambition and subtlety.

If the idea of an untold tale of LotR doesn't sit well with you, there is some relief to be found in the pending live-action adaptation of The Hobbit, which Peter Jackson is writing as two films. It was originally believed that the second of these films would be an original story filling in the sixty years between the conclusion of The Hobbit and the commencement of Fellowship. Fortunately, Mr. Jackson recently clarified: "We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie… [This] allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LotR] trilogy."

In part, Independent Online Cinema has done with The Hunt for Gollum what even Peter Jackson would not. Thank goodness to online media for giving us a place to be bold and experimental.

Summer Shorts: Choices

05-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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All the shorts posted thus far, even those inspired by existing properties, have been standalone films, requiring no background knowledge to appreciate. Choices deviates from that path, being based on one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons, Dungeons & Dragons, the complete series DVD box set of which included this short:

As you might imagine, I did not choose this film for its pedigree of actors. It's instead an example of a cartoon come to life, which is always a risky proposition (especially when the source material, a pencil-and-paper RPG, is yet another medium removed). In its limited television run, the D&D cartoon never saw a satisfying conclusion, opening the door for films such as Choices that posit the protagonists — kids from our own world trapped in a fantasy realm — never made it back home. What situations would they face, and what decisions would they make, in the face of such despair?

Unfortunately, this is a flawed premise for such a vignette, as the same topic was already addressed by the original cartoon. Episode 20 of 27, "The Dragon's Graveyard", had the heroes' salvation sabotaged once again by the evil Venger. After too many such defeats, the kids go on the offense and take the battle to the wicked warlord. The episode culminates in them capturing Venger, and as Hank pulls back his magical bow, the audience asks, will he really do it? Of course not — this is a Saturday morning cartoon! Hank instead shoots Venger's bindings and sets him free, but with a warning.

Hank's decision was as much about a moral lesson for the show's youthful audience as it was about complying with television standards. Whereas Japanese anime has generally been more realistic in showing the consequences of violence, animation intended for an American audience has historically been limited to a safer setting. The ABC cartoon ReBoot often made the most of the situation by parodying its censors, BSnP. In one scene, the hero was to make a hasty entrance by crashing through a window, but instead deployed a protective bubble called a "BSnP" that safely transported him through the barrier with no damage to either.

As an online production, Choices is not restricted by these censors. But without that boundary to work within, it doesn't demonstrate the creativity of either Dungeons & Dragons or ReBoot. Though it's entertaining to see one director's vision of popular series come to life, this adaptation doesn't offer much beyond that.

Prelude to Summer Shorts

31-May-09 12:22 PM by
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Summer blockbuster season is here, with many theatergoers flocking to the cinema to catch such big-budget films as Star Trek and Terminator. But, as the latter has demonstrated, financial backing is no substitute for a good script and a good cast.

Technology has progressed such that now anyone can make a quality film, and the Internet has provided these budding directors with the tools to get their films seen by the masses. Showbits has already featured many independent films worth watching, such as Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, The Blacksmith and the Carpenter, and variations on the superhero Batman.

To commemorate and promote these independent films, each day for the next week, I will be posting one such movie to the site. You'll see a variety of short films, ranging in length from ten to forty minutes and in topic from fantasy to science fiction to romance. Regardless of the theme, each film has elements in common: clever scripts, ambitious design, impressive production values, and free distribution.

So sit back, relax, and kick off your summer shorts!

Pink Five FX

05-Sep-07 4:38 PM by
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Over on Chris Hanel's blog is a nifty video showing before, during, after shots of one of the Star Wars fan films known as Pink Five. The montage shows what a difference a green screen and some hard work can make on independent films, and how much talent went into this particular one.



There Can Be Only One

17-Jun-07 10:04 AM by
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The only question Weird Al ever thought was hard was "Do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?" Now Star Trek fans have an opportunity to answer that question for themselves and garner some neat toys in the process.

"Kirk vs. Picard" is a fanfic contest, hosted by fan site FanLib.com and sponsored by CBS and StarTrek.com. In it, George Takei and Wil Wheaton host video segments that describe four scripts (by Star Trek writer Andre Bormanis) that bring Picard and Kirk against each other. All four involve some sort of temporal travel, be it the Guardian of Forever, cryonic suspension, or even the return of Khan (but no Temporal Cold War). Once fans select script, a scene will be presented, with fans invited to write how the scene will play out. Voting will then be held to determine the best scene to adopt into the story's canon before moving on to another round. Authors of the winning scripts will be eligible to win grand prizes.

Too much effort? Simply signing up for the contest and casting your vote will enter you in a drawing to win prizes, which may include MacBooks, iPhones, and more.

Despite posting about it here, I'm not excited by this contest. The videos by Takei and Wheaton are stilted — why can't they look at the camera? — and the scripts seem forced. Besides, does anyone really care which captain would win in a fight? Certainly it isn't as important as the great Mike vs. Joel debate. Can't we already tell that the story will end with both captains cooperating to a common goal, in true Starfleet fashion, and then a giant "reset" button being pushed, returning them to their respective eras?

But just because the contest isn't for me doesn't mean it isn't for everyone. May the best geek win — and may the Schwartz be with you.