Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Spaceman On Earth" Review

At this rate, I may end up giving away the whole SHOCKFEST 2009 selection list before it's been posted. Not to worry, though. With only two days until the selections go live, there's only so much damage I can humanly accomplish. But before that happens, here's a little more mayhem: Congratulations, "Spaceman On Earth." You are an official selection for SHOCKFEST Film Festival of Hollywood!

This film I knew of by reputation long before I saw it. Film writer/producer/director, Shant Hamassian, has taken both "Spaceman On Earth" and his previous film, "The Slowww Zombie," to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and "Spaceman On Earth" was also a winner at Action On Film earlier this year. The film was pretty well hyped, so I expected it to be good. But as good press tends to snowball (people who wouldn't risk creating a trend are often happy as little clams to follow one), I also expected it to be at least a little bit over hyped.

I was wrong.

The fun mix of retro humor with a contemporary edge somehow kept a film built entirely on cliches super fresh. Hamassian skillfully created a world that was so easy to buy into that the illusion was never broken, not even when he'd suddenly change the rules with anachronistic bits of comedy and laughably archaic special effects.

But perhaps Hamassian is on to something. While recently at the movies, I made an unpleasant discovery. Every scene in the film looked like it was happening, I mean almost exactly like it was really occurring... and I just didn't buy it. It was too perfect. The movie magic flickered. It was worse than seeing strings tied to an airplane. There was something cheap about shots that were so expensive. I almost felt like, 'So, that's it? You imagine this stuff then you just go out and do it? Is that all? Where's the artistry, the struggle, the stretch? Where's the mystery, that moment that makes us hold our breath in anticipation wondering if you're going to pull it off? Where's the damn story telling? Why don't you just shove my head in your ear so I can see what you're thinking?' Filmmakers who can do anything will soon begin to find themselves facing audiences who are impressed by nothing.

Hamassian may have found the cure to the CG blues. He employs puppets, stop-motion animation, and miniatures, none of it convincing. But audiences don't want to be convinced. They want to be entertained. "Spaceman On Earth," far from hiding it's effects, embraces the campiness of its genre, the 1950's superhero spy comedy. (What? You've never heard of it?) The effects are even used as punchlines, changing the timing of movement and dialogue, keeping the film unexpected.

Just to be clear to many would-be filmmakers, I said many of the film's effects were archaic, not crappy. The director's background as an illustrator came through in his eye for detail. And not all the effects were archaic either, but all were appropriate and all well done. This is not a case of something being so bad it's good. So there.

Finally, I could talk about how the film gives an old fashioned slant to current issues like American over-involvement in world issues and immigration, making a social statement that's far more accessible and so perhaps more convincing than all the shouting pundits one could cram into a burlap sack, but that would be boring. Instead, I'll end with this:

Longer is seldom better where indie film is concerned. Plots can begin to lag, good ideas become either convoluted or redundant, and longer films mean more time for filmmakers to muck around and be self indulgent. With "Spaceman On Earth," however, I kind of wished it was a little longer. What? It made me laugh! I can't help what I feel.

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