Monday 19 October 2009

Bohemibot (2009)

Director: Brendan Bellomo
Star: Davis Hall

Films submitted to film festivals come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. This one came to the International Horror and SciFi Film Festival with a pedigree, with wins and nominations from what seems like every other festival it's been submitted to, up to and including a bronze medal at the Student Academy Awards. The film itself is a daring piece, full of optimistic sets (mostly virtual), excellent special effects and intriguing designs, and told in an invented alien language, without subtitles. All we get is the introductory passage in English before it morphs back into alien glyphs.

It does provide us with some of the background we need to understand what's going on, not that it's really necessary. Planet Zednok is suffering through an apparently endless war between two races who survive centuries of industrial devastation through cybernetic modification. And here on Zednok we watch our tale of Bohemibot unfold. He's a cyborg, intriguingly both a pilot and harpist, two very different vocations, and his story survives to be told to us through his dreampods, memories and dreams saved into what look like futuristic vacuum tubes.

The biggest success of the film is its visuals, which are truly stunning, every bit as good as what you might expect to see in a major studio release costing many millions of dollars. Brendan Bellomo from New York University, whose student short this is, wrote and directed and is no doubt also responsible for most of the technical achievements. Reading through his website, it's pretty obvious that he's a very talented man indeed. The visuals look awesome from moment one, with Bohemibot playing his strange harp in a Roman looking ruin under the light of two moons. It obviously feels good too, because it's an idyllic scene, but not for long as suddenly his hands start burning while he plays and the enemy arrive to massacre them all with their stormtroopers and fast flying ships. It all looks very Starship Troopers as Bohemibot's hands burn.

But our hero wakes up without them because it's all a dream in one of his dreampods. He's a prisoner in some sort of futuristic concentration camp where the Monolythian enemy march their victims with their helmets of blue light into huge ovens. He lives only to sort refuse on conveyor belts heading into the fires of the Recycling Center. And there eventually, as he watches a child burn, he finds a pair of hands which he can attach to his stumps in his cell and break out, along with another child called Zeptro, who he's rescued. It's all very dramatic and overblown, but it looks awesome.

The actor playing Bohemibot is Davis Hall, who seems to morph between other actors as the film progresses. One minute he looks like William H Macy crossed with Henry Gibson, at other Malcolm McDowell crossed with Anthony Hopkins. He's good at what he does and beyond the impeccable visuals (one Terminator-esque make up job being the sole exception), he's by far the best thing in the film. He has only a short list of credits to his name, mostly in long short films, which is very surprising and something that could easily change, given his talent.

The story is a sweeping epic thing but at heart it's a 25 minute blockbuster. It's what George Lucas would have made if he was a film student with access to all the CGI he has at his fingers now and that could easily be read either as a compliment or an insult given your own particular perspective. In particular there's a pointless chase within a dense asteroid belt that exudes George Lucas because there's no excuse for it, beyond it looking awesome enough to be a graphics demo, and a film that attempts to tell a real story can only be distracted by such a scene. The sad thing is that Bohemibot is better than the Star Wars prequels, though it steals from them shamelessly along with everything from Pinocchio to Battlestar Galactica.

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