Tuesday, 25 October 2016

This Giant Papier Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy (2016) - Movie Review

Sci-fi is a genre with a long and proud history of being enjoyed by losers stuck in their parents’ basements. As such, it has also garnered a certain mockable reputation that, in recent years, has begun to recede into just being another aspect of human life. For all the hate I have for The Big Bang Theory, it is regrettably part of that assimilation process so I have one thing to be thankful to it for. While my brain tries to process me giving that piece of crap any credit, I will conceit that all of this acceptance doesn’t change one simple fact: Sci-fi is also incredibly goofy, even on a good day. As a result, riffing on films within that spectrum is probably the easiest of any genre; hell, the entire idea of riffing came about thanks to the kitschier titles of the 50’s and 60’s. Now, making fun of silly science fiction is all well and good, but then we get into feature-length spoof movies… and now the fear has set in. I say that because the spoof movie died a rather loud and obnoxious death a while back thanks to chuckleheads like Friedberg & Seltzer; people rarely make them anymore, and the few we do see are outright garbage. So, will this micro-budgeted New Zealand effort break the chain?

The plot: Tom (Christian Nicolson), Gavin (Lewis Roscoe) and Jeffrey (Daniel Pujol), while at a sci-fi convention, sit down to watch the film Space Warriors In Space. However, they find themselves in a weird situation when they are suddenly in the movie, flying a spaceship and fighting off the evil regime of Lord Froth (Joseph Wycoff). With the help of space ambassador Emmanor (Sez Niederer) and a space scientist (Jarred Tito), they plan to a) stop the plans of Froth and b) escape from this cheapily-made and nonsensical universe and back to their own.

It’s indie cast time again, and the results are actually a lot more even than I would’ve expected. Nicolson was brought in as a replacement actor early on, after the original pick for the lead left the project, and he does an okay job as the sardonic and occasionally lecherous lead. Roscoe mostly goes for the cynical route as well, save for one scene that is kind of glorious to watch as a sci-fi fanboy myself, and he makes a good fit next to Nicolson. Pujol might be overplaying the zealous fanboy for most of the film, but credit to him in that he switches between his on-screen personas quite well once the film-in-the-film starts affecting him. Wycoff, for as surprisingly little screen time that he gets, chews through the economical sets with remarkable ease. Niederer is alright as the romantic interest, in all the various modes she ends up being used in, Tito is very funny as the rather pitiful scientist (and equally pitiful camp stereotype later on), and Tansy Hayden as Lord Froth’s henchwoman Fralligay does well considering the massive teeth she’s been saddled with.

This transcends being simply a small-budgeted film and actually kind of embodies the reason for why these kind of production values exist: Because some people literally can’t do any better, same mentality behind the same old-school B-movies that this film spends so much time making fun of. As a result, the premise ends up rationalising the visuals, not the other way around as is usually the case, which can feel a tad cynical even for a film built on modern-age cynicism. However, credit where it’s certainly due in that not only does it actually reach the point of being a stylistic aesthetic but also how there’s some odd creativity put into said stylistic choices.

This is once again something that the better sci-fi franchises are known best for, like how a plunger and kitchen whisk could be turned into weapons for armoured space Nazis with the Daleks on Doctor Who, and something that this film has wholly embraced. From vibra-knives that look like marital aids to water lizards and rabbits projected at giant sizes to make do for giant monsters, right down to the string-held galaxy of planets, it has that level of consistency and dedication where, for as cheaply-made as this universe is, it actually is a universe onto itself. For those playing the home game, that means that this film’s reality has more internal consistency and logic than a lot of those found in mainstream films, up to and including the Divergent series.

Since we’re talking about what is essentially a spoof movie, might as well get into the ugly business that is this film’s sense of humour… well, possibly ugly, at least. I say that it is a very unrelenting kind of humour where there is room for pretty much nothing else but the laughs. This can end rather badly, namely because it could induce a feeling of burnout from the audience. And make no mistake, this is a gag film in its purest form, where the plot doesn’t so much take the back seat as it does ride in the open car boot while the driver is going Warp 9. And for once, I don’t really have much to complain about. I mean, for a film all about the gags, it actually has a very high success rate with its jokes. Not only that, this covers the spectrum for jokes as well, right down to blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sight gags that I always love seeing in movies. Hell, considering the director’s admitted approach to said sight gags, the DVD version could very well have even more of them than the version I saw.

The reason why I lump this film in together with the spoof movie sub-genre, as opposed to something like Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, is because of how it approaches the notion of riffing on sci-fi tropes. Namely, with an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach similar to Ed Glaser’s Press Start; actually, given the utensils used in the making of the various props, I think the kitchen sink actually was used at some point. Now, that all-out assault angle does at times result in the fanboys getting caught in the crossfire, where they themselves are part of the joke. I’ve made my case about audience shaming before, but in all honesty, the realms of sci-fi fandom are where a lot of this ends up happening. I mean, for every person who likes Neon Genesis Evangelion, there’s about a dozen others willing to call that person a retard for having the audacity to have a taste that differs from their own. In fairness to this film, though, none of the hazing that the more sci-fi obsessed characters get feels too mean-spirited. Hell, Gavin’s definitive scene shows better than anything else that this film has nothing but love for the genre. A very cynical, humourous and near-encyclopedic love, given the slew of sci-fi classics both old and new that get name-dropped and lampooned in the process, but love nonetheless.

All in all, a firmly tongue-in-cheek send-up of the golden era of science fiction where the laughs are good and plentiful. It’s very much a labour of love from all concerned, and that kind of dedication shines through with its approach to tacky detail and wide breadth of painted targets within both the fandom and the subject material. Honestly, this feels like the kind of film I would make if I had the wherewithal to do so. Once the DVD is officially released, I’m putting the link right here because this is a film that sci-fi geeks will definitely get into one way or another. That, and something this genuinely entertaining deserves to have its filmmaker make the budget back which, believe it or not, Nicolson hasn’t managed yet.

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