Short Film Review - Metroid: The Sky Calls
With all the movie reviews you have piling up behind the desk, you’re going to take the time to review a YouTube video?
Yes, invisible internet reader, I am.
Before I talk about the fantastic short film ‘Metroid: The Sky Calls’, [Click on the film title for a link to the movie itself. - Ed.] let’s delve into a little backstory. [Yes, because readers love nothing more than your long and winding tales of days long past…and you wonder why there’s like maybe…what…3 people that read the site. – Ed.] Back when my family first got the old NES, each of my siblings and I were allowed to pick out a game for it. Now, lest you think this tale contradicts my many mentions of humble beginnings, rest assured that this fell at the start of a lengthy layaway at K-Mart. Back on topic, being ever the sports fan my brother chose Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, my late sister opted for the self-explanatory Kung Fu…which, to this day, has always mystified me…and I chose Metroid. And it blew my mind. After an early childhood of Atari 2600 games, where repetition was the order of the day and the only noticeable “levels” was that enemies would speed up, a game like Metroid with a sprawling world, collectible suit upgrades and bosses literally proved to be overwhelming. I’m not kidding, by the time I actually got to fight the titular metroids, I was so worked up that after freezing them I had to have my older brother man the select button on our NES Advantage joystick so that I could actually kill the things! And that glazes over the fact that as my cousin and I progressed through the game, we constantly consulted the map of the world provided in Nintendo’s official guidebook…so much so that if you dropped that book on the ground, it would always open to that map, guaranteed.
Since then, the decision of whether or not I bought a Nintendo system depended completely on whether or not a Metroid game had either been released or was in the works to be released very soon. And, fortunately for the rapidly dwindling connection options to my TV and my bank account but unfortunately for my love of the series, Samus Aran has proven to be the red-headed step-child of Nintendo’s franchises. You can guarantee that Mario and Link will ALWAYS have AT LEAST one (often more…many more) game per system, but Samus…well, she might show up in the recent Smash Bros. game, but other than that, who knows?
And that’s why I’ve opted to do a review for this short film. Director Sam Balcomb and Rainfall Films have filled their short film with the love that Metroid fans feel the franchise deserves but failed to receive from their parent company, Nintendo. [Enough with the damning of Nintendo, how about you talk about the movie, eh? – Ed.]
The film, as you can tell from the onset, owes a great deal to both Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. That second film should surprise no one that’s followed the franchise, as Metroid’s original creators have flat out stated how influential ‘Alien’ was to their franchise, so much so that one of the major villains of the series is named for that film’s director…the alien dragon Ridley [Or Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film. – Ed.]. The opening in particular is almost straight lifted from Kubrick…and that’s not a bad thing. As the old saying goes: good artists copy, great artists steal…and that’s very much in play here. Between how the orchestra warming up spills directly into the score that very gently but VERY noticeably brings in the familiar Metroid theme and the title cards, this is simply an amazing steal…and it INSTANTLY introduces you to the tone and atmosphere of the piece. If that’s not enough to draw you in, then the camera slowly creeping through the empty ship with Samus’ recorded narration does, as now you’re reminded of the opening to ‘Alien’.
Let’s talk Samus for a bit, shall we? When first introduced as a silent bounty hunter sporting awesome looking armor in the first game (okay, so we had to rely on illustrations to show us how awesome the armor looked…but still…) gamers were given a shock to find out that it was really a woman under the armor…yet another nod to ‘Alien’…an action heroine. But she remained silent until 2010’s Metroid: Other M…then fanboys, as they do, got their knickers in a twist. While her personality in that game didn’t really reflect what had been portrayed in previous games, the game itself was perfectly fun and fit in with the series well…so it didn’t bother me that much. My point here is that it seems like whenever Samus talks, people point back to Other M and then start the inexorable march toward nerd-rage. With her being the only character in the film, yes, we need her to speak so that we, as an audience, know what the hell is going on. The actress chosen to fill this role, Jessica Chobot, known to gamers either through her time on G4 or on IGN, definitely gets points for the gamer cred…but her performance does show that she’s got a way to go yet if she’s considering acting as a career. That probably comes off harsher than I mean it to. In her opening exposition, her tone is even and flat…kind of what you’d expect for a log entry…especially if she were going to be submitting it to the Galactic Federation. When she goes into the Chozo, however, you can tell she tries to infuse some emotion into what she’s saying…but it just doesn’t really come off well, particularly if you compare it to later scenes in the film such as when her suit is forcibly shut down and she’s waiting for it to re-power or when her gunship saves her in the nick of time. In those instances, Chobot pulls off the impatience and relief those scenes demand. Physically, she makes a pretty convincing Samus (although she shares the role with another actress, America Young, who did the motion-capture work used to portray Samus in her power suit) and while much has been made of the hair, be it wig or otherwise [Likely a wig. – Ed.], honestly if you’re letting something like that distract you from this film…well…[Don’t say it! – Ed.] ahem, let’s just say you have a rich and fulfilling career in a boutique waiting for you. Like, a pink and frilly sort of boutique. With My Little Ponies. Just sayin’. [Sigh. You know, maybe it’s a GOOD thing no one reads this. – Ed.]
We’ve already touched briefly on Samus in the suit, and yes, it’s all CG here. Thankfully, the motion control makes the movements look natural. Sure, many have mentioned that Samus should be more agile in the film, but all things considered (small budget…after all, more action means more money…and limited screen time) this isn’t much of an issue. This story is more about exploration and atmosphere than it is action…just like the Metroid games themselves. The suit itself looks great. Sure, it’s not as realistic as say the Iron Man armor…but we’re talking a difference of millions of dollars there. What we get onscreen though isn’t too far off and certainly lays some fantastic groundwork for any future live-action projects. Speaking of Iron Man…well, the shots of Samus in the interior of the suit should look familiar. But it works here! Yes, most of the time in the later games, the player would see Samus’ expressions through the green faceplate on her helmet…but again, think of the special effects work that would go into that. Swiping from Iron Man keys in on a shorthand that general audiences are already aware of thanks to Marvel’s cinematic success…and, it’s likely cheaper! The morph ball makes an appearance as well…and the way the director handles the scenes that transitions to and from the ball I thought was done expertly. Not everyone outside of the Metroid fan base is going to buy that all of that armor and the woman inside are going to fold up into a small ball. The film forces you to accept it, but only briefly, making it an easier pill to swallow for the uninitiated.
Branching away from the suit to the art direction in general, well, what do you expect me to say? It’s amazing, like nearly everything else in this picture…and I’m sure you gathered as much from my description of the opening. The high level established in that opening continues throughout the entire run time with the Metroid Prime style doors and, most notably, the very ‘Alien’ inspired Giger-esque Chozo ruins all leading up to the ball-offering Chozo statue that is a staple of the game series. Sure, it’s inclusion should be an obvious decision, but to see it as presented here…man, it gave me those goose-pimply chills that comes with any great piece of cinema. Speaking of great cinema, the film ends as it began, stealing from Kubrick, as Samus’ ship is drawn into uncharted space in a way very similar to how Dave Bowman is drawn into the Monolith at the end of ‘2001’. The way they translate yet another piece of classic cinema into present day filmmaking once again proves to be beautiful, thrilling and engrossing, as all great cinema should be and yet again falls under that saying of “great artists steal”. The one thing many reviews have complained about is the introduction of artificial film grain being added to the picture to give it a 70’s-80’s science fiction film feeling to it. I’m a huge fan of that particular era and know that film grain did play heavily into films of that age. At first, I almost had to agree with the criticisms though, as watching the film on a monitor off of YouTube does make it seem like the grain has a touch of overkill to it. However, getting home I watched the film on my HDTV via Roku…and…wow. No, the grain was TOTALLY a great decision. In fact, I’d argue that the grain actually helps the atmospheric feeling of the piece. Put very simply, YouTube via monitor or smartphone IS NOT the way to view this…put it up on your TV or…oh man…I’d kill to see this up on the big screen. Hell, just A big screen…like, a projector and a bedsheet. Seriously.
In case you hadn’t noticed through this review, I absolutely loved this short film. It captured everything that I love about the Metroid franchise, from its homages to past cinema greats to its atmosphere, exploration and design. To think of how director Sam Balcomb would take on the creatures of the series…from the mini-boses to Mother Brain herself…and of course the titular Metroids, honestly, it just makes my head spin. If approached with the same love and dedication to the series as this short film displays, it would be something amazing indeed. While this certainly serves as a fantastic proof of concept reel to bring Metroid to the big screen, if nothing else, I certainly hope it propels Mr. Balcomb upwards into the film industry. From what I’ve seen in this all-too-short 11 minutes, it’s an eye and an imagination that cinema desperately needs right now. To Nintendo, I’d say find these people and hire them to expand on this. I would certainly live up to the “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” meme if that were to happen. And if they don’t, well, while I’m certain Rainfall Films can’t directly sell DVDs or Blu-Rays of this, if ever a Kickstarter were to emerge…well…see previous “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY”.
Because you need to watch it again, here's another link to the movie:
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