Director: Steven Kostanski
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 7.5/10
Every once in awhile a movie may come along that when you hear the title you may be inclined to dismiss it. That sounds dumb. With a title like that you know this will be stupid. In some instances you may be right because it turns out that it is actually just what you expected and you could have saved yourself precious time. However, as the old adage goes “never judge a book by its cover.” In the case of Steven Kostanski’s Manborg don’t let the title dissuade you. I nearly did and glad I didn’t.
The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, a Los Angeles based repertoire theatre, had programmed a Cyborg Night that featured the west coast premiere of a film called Manborg and a rare 35mm screening of Charles Band’s 1986 sci-fi/cyborg adventure film Eliminators. For me I was more excited about seeing Eliminators I remember liking it way back when and hadn’t seen it in ages let alone never seen it on the big screen. I was initially planning to just see Eliminators but since Manborg had a Q&A I changed my mind and came for that as well. Noting the 75 minute running time I figured it would be relatively painless if it ended up sucking. The film’s minimal synopsis did nothing to intrigue me. “A cyborg and a band of fighters face off against the minions of Hell.” Or something like that. Having never seen nor heard anything about this film my first exposure was the one sheet artwork. First impression, yup looks pretty damn cheesy but certainly seems to have an ‘80s vibe to it. The filmmakers were brought up to introduce the film. I was struck by them being a young bunch, late twenties to early thirty-somethings. The director, Steven Kostanski who also wrote and directed the 2011 film Father’s Day, noted that Eliminators was a direct influence and sparked the idea for Manborg. With that in mind, the film began.
What an unexpected surprise. You are at first struck by the cheap green-screen effects. Obviously this is a low budget film so you’re going to have to hold judgment based on that aspect of the film. Second you are hit by the film’s sense of humor. The film opens in the midst of battle between human soldiers and soldiers from Hell. Of note you have the first appearance of a stop motion creature that harkens back to old Charles Band days and was reminiscent of Laser Blast. Sure it looked cheap but it had a certain charm to it. No one really does much stop-motion nowadays. The acting seems wooden but then you start to get the feel that it is intentionally so as the first laugh out loud moment hits. After the battle we see our hero transformed into the title character and the setting shifts to the future. It’s a future that looks rather like an old PC cut scene from something like Wing Commander or even Star Trek: Borg. The effects have that look throughout the film. Manborg meets up with an Asian martial artist named #1 Man who has an oddly overdubbed English voice, an Austrailian wanker who likes to dance and his bad-ass sister. Together they face off against the evil Count Draculon, his lovelorn henchmen The Baron, the traitor Dr. Scorpius and the deadly Shadow Mega.
This ode to ‘80s action/sci-fi is funny, entertaining and has an unexpected heart to it. The story and characters are well done that you forgive and forget the cheapness of some of the visual effects, sets and costumes. Even more so when you learn that Kostanski’s intention was to make it look like scenes from an ‘80s PC game very much like the aforementioned Wing Commander or Rebel Assault. What was really enjoyable was its sense of humor. There are moments when you expect Manborg to come back with a cool retort but what he does end up saying is unexpectedly funny. Kostanski also makes our hero flawed with a number of humorous results like when the group tries to sneak by some guards and his whirring is making too much noise. Funnier still is the evil henchman who simply can’t find the words to express his feelings for the lovely “Prisoner #7.” Silly stuff for sure but it works here and elicits laughs. There are cut scenes and sound effects within fights that make it look and feel like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. On top of that there are more stop motion creatures that very much feel like you’re watching Arena, The Dungeonmaster or even something you may see on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Low tech but still charming.
The actors play it straight never winking at the audience once. They look like they’re having fun so that helps the audience to enjoy as well. Kostanski does a solid job of orchestrating the mayhem considering the nearly $1000 budget. Three years in the making and having been told to just make a trailer out of it instead, Kostanski moved forward on the film and succeeds in paying homage to ‘80s staples such as PC games, Charles Band pictures and cheesy sci-fi action.
However, the fun doesn’t end there. This added bonus was included as part of the presentation and I would imagine it will be on the DVD. By now the world knows what a faux-trailer is. It’s a fake trailer for a film that doesn’t exist or it may be a fan trailer that uses existing footage fashioned into a cohesive narrative. At the end of Manborg was the faux-trailer for the film Bio-Cop. I haven’t heard an audience laughing so hard in some time. In it, a cop suffers a debilitating accident where he becomes indestructible. The only drawback is that he is continuously melting. There are some truly hilarious line deliveries and moments in this short that I wished they’d make it into a feature. Directed by Kostanski he stated the idea came to him while he was doing some stop-motion work for Manborg. Kostanski is one to keep an eye on and his new film is worth seeking out.