By Chris Cummins
If you are a frequent Topless Robot reader, you’ve probably noticed the “Impressive Acts of Nerdery” tag pop up on the site from time to time. Without a doubt the most impressive of all nerdtastic acts are fan films. Thanks to the wonders of fan-created projects, you can spend your work day on YouTube watching the Rockafire Explosion Band singing contemporary hits or taking a trip to a parallel universe where Brad Pitt is starring in a Thundercats movie. Since fan films are completely free of studio interference, they don’t have to pander to their audience. This often results in productions that are truer to their source material than Hollywood could ever afford to be, on miniscule budgets no less. There’s also the matter of how these Internet epics allow fanboy fantasies to come true. (We now live in age where watching the Ghostbusters fight Freddy Krueger and seeing Batman pummel an Alien are just a few mouse clicks away). Thanks to the easy accessibility of digital video cameras and editing/computer animation programs these days, every dork with imagination can get in on the act. Recent fan films such as The Hunt for Gollum are surprisingly identical to flicks playing at the multiplexes, and the bar for aspiring auteurs is constantly being raised. While you plot your own fan masterpiece, here’s a look at nine of the best.
9) Hardware Wars
As someone who has wasted hours of his life trying to track down the Obi-Wan Kenobi-related country song that plays in the Hardware Wars equivalent of the cantina (i.e. a redneck bar), I can tell you firsthand that being a nerd can be detrimental to your sanity/social life. Then again, making Cookie Monster into the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon is also nerdy and still kind of awesome. The lesson to be learned here kids is that geekiness is best in moderation. As for the film itself, this is the first fan production to get mainstream attention. Legend has it that it was so popular that copies of it were sent to schools throughout the country for classroom viewing. (Someone please verify this in the comments, as it sounds like the coolest thing ever). Classic moments include the Ham Salad gag, the aforementioned Wookie Monster bit, the Reddy Kilowatt cameo and that damn Kenobi song that still haunts my dreams.
8) The Green Goblin’s Last Stand
Maximum Overdrive managed to get the Green Goblin’s look right but the first Spider-Man film appears to have based the character’s appearance on the lead in Star Kid. This is inexcusable, incomprehensible and a whole lot of other words that begin with “in.” Goofy though it may be, this 1992 effort from writer/director/producer/actor/probable caterer Dan Poole features the most faithful cinematic portrayal of the Green Goblin thus far. Seriously. The plot faithfully covers the “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline, with the webslinger preparing for his final battle with Norman Osborn’s murderous alter ego. Viewing the film nowadays tends to draw attention to the various budgetary and acting problems that plague the production. But if you’re willing to overlook such gripes you’ll find a genuinely entertaining short film that does Spidey right. At the very least, you won’t have to worry about Macy Gray showing up.
7) Batman: Ashes to Ashes
Although it would be awesome to see Batman teaming up with Gene Hunt to fight crime in 1980s London, this Ashes to Ashes is instead Bats’ bleakest adventure yet…and the most French too! Clearly inspired by Sin City, filmmakers Julien Mokrani and Samuel Bodin have crafted a nihilistic tale in which the murder of Alfred finally sends Batman over the edge. Bloodshed ensues. Lots of it. Harley Quinn, The Penguin and an especially disturbed Joker all make an appearance, and there’s a bit of confounding violence towards the end that makes The Dark Knight look like The Smurfs. An exploration of Batman at his most psychotic, the film often approaches perfection.
6) The Odd Star Wars Couple
Who would have guessed that Chewbacca keeps coasters in his bandolier? That’s just one of the revelations in Kurt Ramschissel mash-up of Star Wars and The Odd Couple that recasts Darth Vader as the snobbish Oscar Madison and Chewbacca as neat freak Felix Unger. Are any of you readers affiliated with Lucasfilm? If so, please try to convince his Georgeness into making this show instead of that live -action series malarkey he has been planning.
If you prefer your Star Wars fan films to be set in a galaxy far, far away, you’ll probably enjoy Kevin Rubio’s mash-up of Stormtroopers and Cops. With journalistic prowess that would make Woodward and Bernstein cheer, Troops manages to finally get to the bottom of what really happened to Owen and Beru (Hint: It rhymes with showmestic shilence). This one gets bonus points for the unexpected appearance of Tom Servo and the trooper who sounds like William H. Macy in Fargo.
4) Batman: Dead End
Batman fights Boner from Growing Pains, as well as an Alien and a Predator. What’s not to love? Director Sandy Collora’s short is atmospheric, a bit cheesy and packed with fanboy thrills. Like most creators of fan films, Collora directed Batman: Dead End with hopes of showing off his talent to Hollywood. In this case, his mission was a successful one. His debut feature, the seemingly clone trooper-inspired Hunter Prey, will be released later this year.
3) The Hunt for Gollum
Now that Peter Jackson is off losing weight and trying to figure out how to wake up audiences still snoozing from his King Kong remake, The Hobbit films are (mostly) in the equally cherubic hands of Guillermo del Toro. Should he decide to leave the project, Chris Bouchard should step in. His 40-minute prequel to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed for less than $6,000, making it the first film in history whose budget was less than its target audience’s average credit card debt from toy buying.
2) Batman: New Times
Students at Florida’s Digital Animation & Visual Effects School created this CGI Batman adventure based on the Caped Crusader’s Minimates and C3 Construction toy lines. Giving voices to the DAVE School production are Adam West as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, Dick Van Dyke as Commissioner Gordon and Courtney Thorne-Smith as Catwoman. Harley Quinn and Robin also make appearances, as does the requisite plot point about a supervillian crashing a party. Because this was a school project, the PR department at the DAVE School should travel across the country and teach kids that if they go to class they can one day graduate and work on amazingly geeky yet oh-so-wonderful projects. That would have a bigger impact on pupils than a visit from McGruff ever could.
1) Gremlins 2: The New Batch Alternate DVD Sequence
Remember how the VHS version of Gremlins 2 featured a specially shot sequence that adapted the movie’s broken film scene for home video? Sacha Feiner sure does. Bothered that no such special footage was created for the film’s DVD release, he set out to make some of his own. Two months and $3,000 later he had finished his alternate scene and had visual proof that he was something of a mad genius. Sculpting his own puppets based on those that were featured in the original Gremlins flicks, he then shot his creations against a blue screen and edited them into such classics as The Exorcist, Batman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, best of all, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In the making of feature (as seen here), Feiner discusses why he decided not to utilize CGI for his gremlins. His insistence on using puppets as well as his sharing of Joe Dante’s comedic sensibilities make him the perfect choice to helm the inevitable Gremlins prequel/sequel/reboot. Hollywood take note.