Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Firebase - Oats Studio - Volume One

Today's short film is called FIREBASE.

FIREBASE is the second short film in a new series, all of which are written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, in conjunction with Oats Studio, which is Blomkamp's attempt at an independent production house. You know who Neil Blomkamp, I'm sure. I know I've talked about him before. He's not one of my favorites. Every film he has made so far has been a step down in quality from the previous one, with each successive one having the cumulative effect of making his much-lauded debut, DISTRICT 9, seem like more and more of a fluke, the farther we get away from it.

But... I'm going to do this with an open mind...

This new series--which, as far as I can tell, doesn't have an official name beyond "Oats Studio"--is Blomkamp's attempt to subvert the studio system. After his terrible idea to reboot the ALIENS franchise with a new third film thankfully crashed, and the deservedly reviled CHAPPIE was shit on by everyone with taste, the luster is finally gone from this formerly Oscar nominated Director. As a result, he has decided strike out on his own, rather than labor to reclaim his name in gun-for-hire studio film hell, and besides, he didn't want all those kids at his birthday anyway. In fact, he doesn't even like birthday parties! He's not crying, YOU'RE crying!

A big part of this new plan is to make all of these films available on Steam. This seems like a dead-end idea to me, much in the same way Playstation's attempt at original TV shows was, but what do I know, I'm a bear, I bite the heads off fish. From what I can gather, the general distribution model they're exploring is somewhat akin to street dealing: The first couple of these short films are intended to be free, to get you hooked, and then they'll start charging.

Unfortunately for Blomkamp, so far, his cinematic crack is wanting...

The first short film in this series was called RAKKA. It was complete nonsense, despite having Sigourney Weaver in it, who is awesome. More of an overly-extended trailer for a film that's never going to happen than an actual narrative--not to mention one that most of us have seen already--I found it to be less than impressive. Fanboys, on the other hand, with their predictably low standards, seemed to love it.

And now here we are with the next short film in the series, one that might be connected to the last one, but maybe not. They're both referred to as "Volume 1", so at the very least they're different branches, but are they rooted in the same story? I don't know. The monster designs look like they could have some similarities, but that could also be because, when it comes to story and design, Blomkamp only has a few cards in his hand, and he returns to them over and over.

Here's the synopsis for FIREBASE: While fighting the Vietnam war, both sides face a new kind of threat that neither of them were prepared for.

Well, that's completely vague and uninformative. That's a big red flag, folks. If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen time, when it comes to genre short films, a short and really vague synopsis like this often means there's no real plot to be summarized. That's not a rule that's always true, of course, just one I've found to usually be true.

Only one way to find out, I guess...

Okay, since the official synopsis was so bad, here's how I think it should've read...

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, some butthole American troops have Batman-ed the fuck out of a Vietnamese farmer, which turns him into Apocalypse from the X-Men (the bad movie version, not the somewhat less bad comic book one). This man is now called the RiverGod, possibly because he sticks close to the river, but no one really says for sure. Meanwhile, LoneWolf McStubble is a man on the edge, a lone American soldier hunting monsters in the deep bush with nothing but a sharp stick and a steely-eyed grimace. A CIA guy recruits him to... hang out and glare? I think. Then a somewhat burnt soldier tells them about a time vortex where he experiences a Russian Robot attack in a past that never happened? Or will happen? That also wasn't clear. Finally, Lone Wolf McStubble gets a brand-new outfit. Roll credits.

What we have here is another incomplete film, more of a bloated prologue to a larger story than an actual stand-alone one. This is an all too common issue in the genre short film world.

Granted, this film is part of a series, a possibly inter-connected series too, but what's the point of separate pieces, if they aren't separate stories? The question of "What's this about?" shouldn't be a vague rehash of story moments, there should be a small arc within each short film, and that small arc should then be used to help create whatever stupid larger arc they're chasing. Shit... at the very least, there should be characters, but there's none of that here. This film spins in circles for a while, throwing out overly-familiar Vietnam-era cliches, and then ends right before the good part, which retroactively makes this whole thing a frustrating waste of time.

Not only that, but FIREBASE looks cheap, doesn't it? If I saw this one blind, I would be surprised to discover it was Blomkamp. His usual flair for cool shots was noticeably missing here. The whole thing seemed like a sloppy fanfilm of a crappy show.  I mean, at one point, they call the burnt soldier "Sergeant" and then two lines later, they called him "Corporal". I want to hope that slip has meaning, like it's the result of a change in reality that it will pay off somehow later, but... I sincerely doubt it.

Plus, honestly, I kind of hate the LoneWolf McStubble character, him and his nebulous superpower. He's a complete cartoon cliche. That mother fucker is so grim, I bet he growls while brushing his teeth. And he's not just an annoying cliche, he's also a favorite well that Blomkamp likes to dip into. This film, and RAKKA, both feature an "infected" human becoming a disfigured, super-powered god/savior, just like in DISTRICT 9, just like in ELYSIUM, and even in CHAPPIE too, kind of. Over and over again. The same tricks. The same beats. Every time. It isn't just that Blomkamp's work lacks cohesive characters and narratives, it's that it's the same terrible and worn-out things each time.

And then there's the whole RiverGod back story...

Grief gave him superpowers?

Really? That's what they're going with? Do you think that's the real-deal, face-value story? Because I'm not sure. I mean, it's so dumb, who would go with that, right? But on the other hand... It's Blomkamp, so it could be true. OR... is this the first hint that the FIREBASE story, in fact this whole series, is actually part of a computer simulation story? Is something like the MATRIX going on? Is the RiverGod going to turn out to be a broken program? Who knows, but I hope so, because otherwise that shit is dumb.

But hey, at least the RiverGod looked cool, right? I liked the way he gathered flesh to himself, and how he would turn invisible. That looked cool. I also liked the timeslip idea, the whole alternate past bleeding into the present type of thing. That's a kind of interesting idea, even though nothing was really done with it here, except for the fact that it exists.

That last sentence is this film in a nutshell, basically.

The next short film in this series is reportedly going to be called ZYGOTE, and it is supposedly going to be released in the next couple of weeks. Additionally, it's said they're going to try charging for the next one, to test out the model, which is another way of saying "I won't be watching that film."


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