Monday 30 December 2013

White Room: 02B3 (2012)

Director: Greg Aranowitz
Stars: Breckin Meyer, Tamlyn Tomita, Rachel True, David Blue, Tony Janning, Milynn Sarley and Doug Jones
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I wasn't surprised when the cryptically titled White Room: 02B3 was awarded Best Science Fiction Short at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. After all, it checked off every possible box. The story by Tory Mell was intelligent, thoughtful and resonating, even though he hasn't written any of the enviable list of films that he's worked on. There are cool special effects everywhere, from the gorgeous auto-retractable seats to, well, let's just say that Doug Jones is in the movie and he's about as visually recognisable as usual. The set is so shiny that it could easily be an iSet with an Apple logo somewhere prominent. The cast are strong, established actors, most recognisable to a genre audience through TV shows or webseries: Breckin Meyer is a Robot Chicken stalwart, Tony Janning was Neil in The Legend of Neil, Milynn Sarley was on Team Unicorn and The Guild, Tamlyn Tomita was perhaps most obvious on Eureka and David Blue was a regular on a couple of the Stargate shows. Only Rachel True is new to the genre. Oh, and it's made by Roddenberry Entertainment, produced by Rod Roddenberry, Gene's son.

What surprised me was that it was only after enjoying the film at the Harkins CineCapri that I learned I hadn't seen it as it was designed to be seen. No, it's not one of those modern 3D movies that serve only to inflate the ticket price; it's a little bit more unique than that. It was shot using a camera system that shoots 360° footage, with the camera in the middle of the set catching everything that goes on, even if characters aren't directly engaged in what's happening. To watch it in a true immersive environment, I can't go to a Harkins, an AMC or any other multiplex, let alone any of my favourite indie theatres; none of them have the required technology. Instead I'd have to go to a dome theatre, where I can effectively sit in the set and watch the action unfold all around me. There are only three compatible venues within 120 miles of my house: a science centre, a community college and a charter school. Of the mere six in Arizona, one is the Lowell Observatory in Tucson. That would be a serious movie night!
Fortunately, the film doesn't require such rare technology to be enjoyed; on a regular movie screen, it plays like a regular movie, albeit one that swaps explosions for tension. It grabs us immediately, with a strange beginning that sets up a mystery and prompts us to ask questions. Six people wake up around a table in what must be a spaceship, given that it's built out of the same moulded white plastic that we know from the movies that spaceships are built from. The colour here comes from the people, dressed in uniform black outfits. They're suitably varied as to race, sex and age; one is even pregnant. They're as confused as we are about what's going on and there's little to help them; merely a gun on the table and numbers over their hearts. One is even missing his glasses. He's the first to pick up the gun and wave it around in a hope for answers. He's number 6 and number 6 is always the first to go, some say. And so he does. It all fades to white, then starts again with the five remaining players. And so on...

For all the the technological hoopla and recognisable faces (or recognisable voice, in the case of Doug Jones), it's the script by Tory Mell that makes this work so well. It feels rather like something we might have seen on a black and white episode of The Twilight Zone, an overtly science fiction exploration of human nature. The initial mystery is ramped up a few times with fresh revelations and we learn much before we're gifted with the why of it all at the finalé, only to realise the true scope of events and how this means that the end is merely another beginning. It's quality writing and it keeps proceedings very tight indeed. The actors are as reliable as you might expect and I wonder how much more depth we'll get from them in a dome theatre where all are on screen simultaneously. If there's a flaw, it's that the theme is a little closer to what Gene Roddenberry aimed to achieve with Star Trek than his son should probably play if he wants to stand on his own two feet. Of course, many might see that as an asset.

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