A number of years ago, a few friends and I online got into a debate about Syfy (formerly known as the SciFi Channel). We were heatedly arguing the merits of the usual Saturday Night Movies that populate the network, and my bone of contention was that since Syfy clearly didn’t appear all that interested in putting up enough scratch (aka ‘money’) to produce some truly inventive and inspired two-hour flicks then maybe – just maybe – they ought to go completely in the other direction. Put up nothing except whatever it costs to buy the rights to air films made by fans of science fiction.
See, from my perspective, there’s no legitimate downside. Fan films – so long as they didn’t violate any copyright issues – tend to be made with as much care (and/or logic) than were the Syfy films at the time. If they were bad flicks, then Syfy could be credited for re-introducing the era of Roger Corman (interesting that Corman is currently producing much of Syfy’s Saturday night content, no?). But, if they were genuinely good flicks, then Syfy could be credited for bringing a whole, new wave of bargain basement filmmakers into the fold. What better way to seek out new worlds and new civilizations?
Steven Kostanski and the knuckleheads of Astron-6 are EXACTLY what I was hoping for!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
I won’t trouble anyone by detailing all the lunacy of this ham-handed production (and, yes, it’s ham-handed, but it’s deliberate ham-handed, and it’s very good and gracious about it). But, suffice it to say, life as we know it has kinda/sorta come to an end. There’s a big war going on, and the evil Count Draculon is winning. A young (human) soldier is killed, but he awakens in the future as … MANBORG! Part man, part machine, all hero! In order to uncover the secret of his origins – as well as learning the definition of ‘family’ – Manborg will join forces with a master of kung fu, an Aussie with an attitude, and a purple-haired vixen in the increasingly bloody battle to take back the Earth!
I’ve seen plenty of B movies. I love ‘em (mostly) as much as the next geek. B movies have a particular brand of storytelling that commonly sacrifices logic in favor of things like action or character development. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the end result is that the humor gets amped up – deliberately or unintentionally – but it’s all done in hopes to produce a more entertaining experience … and that’s the devil in the details behind MANBORG. It’s the kind of film where ‘thinking to hard’ isn’t required because, if you did, you’d realize how much of it made little sense.
But MANBORG – for all of those foibles – is decidedly zany, and it isn’t ashamed to say so. It embraces its lunacy in order to deliver even more entertainment, and that it does. The film – a lean, mean, fighting machine at just over 70 minutes – backs more love into its frame than do most summer blockbusters. This is schlock made by folks who clearly love schlock. It’s an unending assault on the senses of its audience, and – in one of those rare occasions where all cylinders fire perfectly – the film exceeded my wildest expectations. I have no problem admitting that it took a bit getting used to the visual style – some cuts are deliberately rough, and the entire productions intends to mirror all of the low budget productions it takes bold swipes at (hello, TROMA) – but, once I did, I sat back and enjoyed the ride perfectly.
There’s so much in here that I won’t go on. I’d end up spoiling it for you, but watch for references to, literally, hundreds of other films, as well as nods to anime, video games, and much, much more. And, yes, do as instructed in the opening, and hang around for the preview after your feature: who wouldn’t want to see a big screen BIO-COP?
Well, if you wouldn’t, then you missed the joke completely.
MANBORG is produced by Astron-6. DVD distribution is being handled by Dark Sky Films. As for the technical specifications … well, look here: I don’t want to belabor that point out. I’ve no doubt MANBORG looks and sounds exactly as it was intended. On the downside, it’s only English 2.0 audio, so there are some lines that are a bit difficult to hear. I turned on the subtitles at one point, but that’s only because I didn’t want to miss any of the delicious insanity. To their credit, Kostanski and his team of merry men and women have loaded up this disc with an impressive assortment of special features, including a feature length commentary, deleted scenes, alternate scenes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes segments, stop motion montages, VFX montages, the premiere’s Q&A short, the theatrical trailer, talent interviews, and even a short film by Kostanski himself. It’s a delight – packaged and presented by a band who clearly love what they’ve done – and I encourage film fans to pick this one up today. You’ll be glad you did.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Let me be frank: will MANBORG be for everyone? Absolutely not. Such is the nature of B movies. Is MANBORG an effort worth such praise? Absolutely. MANBORG – with all of its humility – clearly is the end result of more love, more affection, more fascination, more dedication, and more thought than most mainstream motion pictures ever get. It’s a sci-fi junkie’s dream – at least, it’s THIS sci-fi junkie’s dream – complete with enough good and bad storytelling – with enough good and bad laughs – that it deserves (yes, I said “deserves”) to be seen by a wide, growing audience. It’s the perfect length. It’s the perfect Friday night diversion at the end of a long week at work. Give the disc a spin, and remember what it was like to be a kid watching something entirely inventive for the first time.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Sky Films provided me with a DVD copy of MANBORG by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.