Killer Robot Review
Over the years Machinima has become an evolving medium for film-makers to express themselves through the usage of computer technology, allowing them to shoot films in a virtual setting. Using a 3D package called TrueSpace as a basis for his model work and GameStudio to tidy up the visuals, Australian director, Peter Rasmussen has created Killer Robot - a full length feature film that follows the conventions of a typical buddy movie but with a less impressive budget.
The story takes place on Mars where two robots in dead-end jobs carry out their mundane duties on the sandy planet. Mira and Sam are complete opposites; Mira is an irrational and headstrong exploration robot and Sam is a cautious seismograph whose loyalty toward his master makes him a little too boring in Mira's eyes. The pair are soon forced to work together when Cato - the robot expedition leader - goes insane after a bout of guilt overcomes his senses from a recent dig. Cato now plans to destroy the humans who are preparing to land on Mars and it is up to Mira and Sam to make their way back home, across a baron landscape to save their masters.
In order to prepare myself for this feature I visited Machinima.com and downloaded Peter Rasmussen's Rendezvous - a story about two space probes who engage in flirtatious discussions on life. This short did not appeal greatly perhaps due to the fact I didn't find it very amusing, although the animation was certainly interesting and there was promise shown in a few choice camera angles suggesting that, given the opportunity Peter could go on to greater things.
So it was with further interest that I decided to sit down and watch Killer Robot and much to my expectations I found that this feature billed as an "action/comedy" offers very little in the way of either. Let's face it, when the DVD packaging quotes what I presume the guys at Machinima think to be hilarious: "I'm bored. I'm the chairman of the bored," then you have something to worry about.
A lot of Killer Robot's dialogue isn't that good making it hard to ascertain whether or not Peter simply didn’t realise just how clichéd a lot of it was or if he knew exactly what he was doing, and as such tried to provide a send up of the traditional buddy movie. Either way the film falls flat due to several uninspired exchanges between Mira and Sam and for a film running over an hour in length it struggles with the task of keeping the viewer interested. There are only two or three scenes that offer some decent and cute visual humour, but even these do no more than raise half a smile. With the comedy out of the way it leaves me to mention the more 'poignant' moments and dramatic tones that are relayed through Cato as he contemplates life and death and his contribution to the greater good. It's here that Peter Rasmussen introduces philosophical insights that end up turning into painful meanderings, that given the robot's delivery isn't funny and barely borders on touching.
As I mentioned a moment ago the delivery is poor for the most part and it's that which forces me to express further concerns with this production. Peter Rasmussen has utilised a new technology called speech synthesis, which enables him to control tones to a certain extent and altogether erase the need for actors to be involved.
This method is an interesting one and does go beyond the usual flat sounding computer generated speech, allowing each robot to have a distinguishable voice. However, there is only so much these robots can do and though for a moment they manage to raise a smile the novelty soon wears off, and too often the dialogue becomes hard to understand. I admit that there are one or two moments of fine delivery that are pretty much spot on but they feel accidental when compared to the majority which fail to work. It becomes a case of having to put up with these voices for the duration and their mostly monotonous tones might only be appealing to children. This technology is no doubt still in its infancy and I'm confident that one day it will become highly developed enough to be able to express a wide range of emotion but for this supposed comedy film it doesn't really work and offers very little in the way of charm when married with Rasmussen's visuals.
The film's visuals offer some nice pleasantries that see a good amount of rendering put to use that covers the red landscape of Mars, through to the actual, authentic looking robot designs. Clearly Peter is more focused when it comes to telling a story visually and pays attention to detail with concerns to the mechanics of his robot friends. There are only three robots that are of any interest and they are the aforementioned stars of this film. Each bot relies on his/her various abilities to get them in or out of situations. We have Sam and Mira who are both powered by solar panels. Sam is quick, Mira can use a pick-axe - together they can help each other to get back home, something that emphasises teamwork. Cato is the most intriguing robot, using several parts of his body to move about, both on the surface and underground. His big red eye is very reminiscent to that of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I think that he's perhaps something of an homage to Kubrick’s creation.
The story itself is simple and executed with a reasonable amount of pacing. For its run time it does feel shorter that it actually is. Usually I'd assume that to mean I enjoyed it more than I thought I did but in all honesty I found it to be a restless affair, and I did look at the clock several times wondering when this was about to near its final approach. In fact I'm not sure exactly how long it runs for as the DVD case doesn't mention it and I was unable to get a time check on my DVD player, but I'd say close to around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The visuals were enough to sustain my interest, the animation is decent, and the colours are bright and cheerful. With this debut DVD from Machinima.com I don't think that the Machinima revolution has had a great effect on me thus far. My major difficulty is getting to grips with the writing that Peter Rasmussen has conjured up and I'm sure that if he or future Machinima film-makers can merge this technology and scripting better that we may well see some memorable productions in the future.
Machinima.com have chosen Nanoflix's Killer Robot to be the first in their line up of DVDs. The feature can be purchased here for approximately £12 through their site: Killer Robot DVD
The film is presented in full frame and overall it's a very nice looking transfer. The most obvious and noticeable flaws are aliasing and compression artefacts. The nature of the graphics show jagged edges to begin with but aliasing is evident on the robots' solar panels and finer line work. Aside from this there is no major grain and the colours are very strong and appealing.
The sound here is presented as Linear PCM 48/16 and sounds good for a production such as this. The film uses sound effects to a successful degree. The robot movements come across the speakers loud and clear and the effects of metal knocking on surfaces is both realistic and attention grabbing.
As far as trailers go this isn't very interesting and is made up of several scenes that are just thrown together. There's no narration or any real indication as to what the film is about. It's more of a teaser.
A fairly bog standard collection of shots that are of little interest.
This is a collection of screen shots that show early wire-frame models and landscapes. It is a short feature that again offers nothing rewarding.
This is a short, early feature that inspired Killer Robot. There is no sound here but it evidently shows the foundations for the film and shows a few ideas that were not implemented in the final production.
Machinima seems to be something that generally only appeals to other users of the medium. It provides a cheap and alternative way to make films but the rewards can be few and it seems at this moment it is kept within a small circle. This release of Killer Robot does well to showcase the art form but director Peter Rasmussen does little to make his contribution truly exciting.