Full disclosure, I’ve talked about some of Pappa’s work before now, over on my own blog. It was a short film called “Frankie”, and I liked it, and not just because it involved a pocket watch that controls time, thus hitting on my well-documented love of the TV show Voyagers. I watched this particular short film, partially because I watch a lot of genre short films. Maybe too many. I also watched it because I’m kind of connected to Pappa. We’ve never met, but we have friends in common. Those friends have told me that the two of us have similar interests, and from looking at Pappa’s work, they don’t seem to be wrong, and because of this, I supported the Kickstarter for “The Crimson Man.” As a result, just a few weeks ago, I got a chance to see the film early.
So, keep all of that in mind.
According to IMDB, the synopsis of “A Crimson Man” is: “In a war-torn land of man vs. machine, a young runaway slave in search of his father must ally with a troubled war-robot or be hunted down by his brutal overseers.” While over at the Kickstarter there’s more: “A Phillip K. Dick inspired adventure seen through the gaze of a young boy, touching upon childlike wonder and curiosity, while exploring such themes as fathers & sons, and PTSD — the invisible wounds of war.”
“A Crimson Man” takes place in the middle of a larger story, like a single chapter in a book, and this particular chapter is in the middle of young Wei and robot Red’s escape from what we can assume is probably some kind of oppressive work camp situation. There’s a war going on between human and robot, so this unlikely pair are being hunted by human soldiers, and a really cool flying fortress type of thing, as they make their way up the coast, hoping to find a boat they can use to get off the island… nation? Maybe it’s just an island. And where exactly are they trying to get to? I’m not sure, maybe I missed it, but “away” is probably good enough. Unfortunately, once Wei and Red do find a boat, they also find there’s a small outpost of soldiers standing between them and it, and that’s where Wei witnesses the kind of violence his friend Red is capable of, and catches a glimpse of the tormented soul that resides within the robot’s dented metal shell.
It’s been my experience, when it comes to short films, that trying to pull off the whole “single chapter in a larger story” thing isn’t very easy. Sometimes the smaller moment of the larger story the creators have decided to focus on doesn’t have enough context to give the characters any depth, or the events of the film any narrative weight. Sometimes the creators aim too high, and they are simply incapable of conveying this larger story they’re aiming at, which muddles the events of the short film. Even worse is when the creators are obviously more interested in telling the larger story but can’t afford it, so the smaller one ends up feeling too much like an afterthought. Other times, the short film turns out to actually be a kind of extended trailer/show reel without any story at all, made in the (mostly) vain hope that someone out there will see it and finance the larger story. What I’m saying is… It’s a tricky thing to pull off, and fortunately, “A Crimson Man” mostly does it.
The Kickstarter talks a lot about “fathers and sons” and Wei’s hunt for his father, but that pretty much gets lost in the film. I think the kid mentioned it… maybe? I’m not sure. Maybe the Kickstarter is referring to an earlier draft? I don’t know, but honestly, if you weren’t aware of that angle before watching the film, I don’t think you’d notice it at all. That bit aside, the objective is otherwise very clear, the characters are pretty well-drawn, as are their conflicts, and it all looks pretty good.
It looks really good, in fact.
The previously mentioned flying fortress thing? Excellent work. It’s a cool design and it really looks great in the film. Even more amazing is Red the robot. He’s all practical effects. It’s a suit with some puppetry and some animatronic features, and it’s all really great. Really, really great. It’s the type of impressive that really elevates the whole film. The character moves well and looks fantastic, which not only helps to convey the strength and power of the character during the fights, but the animatronic features really help to sell the emotional moments between Red and Wei. Those quiet moments on the beach between a sad little boy and sad big robot sitting around a campfire really work well, a testament to both the strength of the writing and the effects. That’s all so good.
I’m a little torn on the ending. Wei and Red reach an understanding in the film, and that’s all good stuff—a satisfying and well-earned arc—but since it’s only a smaller piece of this larger story, the ending just kind of goes on into the credits. That kind of undercuts the arc, especially if you’re aware of the whole “fathers and sons” angle, but also realize the film is over and they’re not going to get to any of it. But then, maybe that’s the sign of an engrossing story: the credits roll, and you’re left wanting to see more.
All in all, I liked it. I’m interested in seeing more from Mike Pappa. The film is really well done. It looks great, and that robot suit is super cool.
“A Crimson Man” is currently making the rounds at the festivals, so…. Yeah, it’s not available to non-backers yet (dusts shoulder). Did you think it was going to be embedded down here for you to check out? Were you excited? That’s too bad. Sorry about that. You’ll just have to wait. It is a lot of fun though, so if you get the opportunity make sure to check it out.