Rob and N recently caught the Gears of War fan film “Stranded”, produced on a shoestring $1600 budget provided by a Kickstarter campaign. For a film based on a franchise that doesn’t take itself seriously very often, it’s an admirable effort. Both writers submit their reviews after the break!
I’m all for the indie film spirit. That notion of just getting a camera, pulling some friends together, and just shooting something cool. We did this a few years ago with our E3 documentary, Infinite Lives and it’s the greatest feeling to pull something like that off. Unfortunately, when you don’t have a budget, you need to compensate for it in ways that make the film good. They didn’t do this here.
The story begins as a pair of COG soldiers, the armed workhorses of the human army of Gears of War, drag a wounded man to a small settlement for some medical assistance. The settlers there, having been cut off and obviously jaded at the COG’s sinking of Jacinto in Gears of War 2, don’t want anything to do with them. It’s not long before these outliers become the newest target of the Locust horde.
The cast was imported from across a tri-state area, per the Kickstarter campaign, to act in the film, but they would’ve done much better to seek a local troupe of actors instead. The performances here range from terrible to disinterested. There was some effort put into the film’s small amount count of special effects. The film was shot in and around a converted warehouse called ‘The Dude Locker” in Columbus, Ohio and they did an okay job converting it to a shanty town, although the obvious ‘office building’ trappings distract.
The direction also suffers by lack of coverage, dramatic angles, and an indie-trademark lack of wide shots, making everything feel smaller. The workman framing and slack pacing turns it into a soap opera at times, making awkward performances even more awkward. A big pan to reveal “the mayor” is so dramatic that you think it’s a baby with a revolver on a stool, but it’s just a woman. Big deal. The Locusts make a lot of noise, but are never seen and the aforementioned special effects are cheesy. Highlight? The custom armor made specifically for the film.
It’s an interesting idea, but at twenty minutes, it’s probably ten minutes too long. The film does little to mimic the game’s cinematics, intensity, or downright tongue-in-cheek self-seriousness.
I’m going to leave a lot of what Nick said untouched because I think he covered the vast majority of the production aspects of it and he knows a lot more about that stuff than I do…
What I do have to say is that the story was a bit slow for my tastes. I understand that they were going for the dramatic aspect of the story arc but I would have liked to see more meat and less potatoes.
That being said, it’s clear that they took a lot of time building props and costuming. The COG soldiers were wearing passable COG armor and while I was super unimpressed at first glance, a little pause to have a look at the sawed-off double barrel revealed it to be a decent accomplishment as well.
I think they would have done well to spend a LOT more time on the sets. While they served their purpose, they did little for suspension of disbelief and immersion into the story. The painted brown door with the number 8 on it stood out like a sore thumb when they could have easily found a cheap door at a shop for $20 and done it dirty to make it look passable, then hung it and re-hung the original door when it was over. They could have spent more time on the pressboard walls in the garage, as well. A little bit of styrofoam and some texturing would have gone a very long way.
Small mistakes like this hurt the film because of the lack of immersion, mentioned earlier. The immersion they could have provided with better sets and props would have helped make up for the acting which was, in a word, sub-par. Nick hit the nail right on the head. It ranged from terrible to disinterested. As one would expect, the 2 main characters were the better actors in the production but some of the other actors were so bad it detracted from their performances, not the least of those being the mayor.
I really hate saying this short film was bad because it was just a few glaring problems away from being something really cool. If they re-did the whole thing with a little more attention to detail it could be an impressive indy-short but, as it stands, it just falls short of the mark.
It was WAY better than “Death of a Ghosthunter” though.