X-Strike Studios, in memorium

After eleven years, X-Strike Studios is closing its doors.

You may have heard of them recently, or you may be a longtime fan.  Or you may never have heard of them.  That’s one of the struggles with being an independent artist.  Sometimes some of the best work goes unnoticed.

I don’t hesitate to apply the term ‘best’ to X-Strike Studios’ catalog.  While their films are definitely low-budget, that hasn’t held back their excellence.  If anything, it’s helped to underscore the talent and skill at play.  These are movies for a niche audience, by that same audience.  There’s no irony, there’s no multi-audience pandering, there’s no attempt to be anything that they’re not.  These are movies for gaming fans and nerds.  And the result is that they are some of the best video game movies ever made, hands down, bar none, damn straight.

But it isn’t some goofy love of games that makes their movies good.  River City Rumble, called ‘the Citizen Kane of video game movies’, is a solid (if low-budget) action movie that straddles the line between being serious enough to be internally consistent but not taking itself too seriously so as to deprive the fans of fun antics.  Silent Horror, and its sequel Resident Horror, are genuinely creepy at points while still providing a tremendous good time in every vein, something that their big budget imitators like the Resident Evil series fail to deliver.  Project Snake is an ambitious action story that some consider more entertaining than the games that inspired it.  Their Off-Campus series, while full of inside jokes, remains some of the funniest segments on the internet to this day.  And their most off-the-wall film P. Rappa’s Nth Mile is…a thing that exists.

X-Strike Studios came along at a time when video game films of pretty much any type were novelties.  The best video game movies available were studio-made behemoths like Street Fighter and the Super Mario Brothers movie, attempts made to appeal to general audiences with the after-thought of tapping into the video game fan market.  With the exception of a handful of Star Wars or Star Trek videos here and there, fan films hadn’t yet taken hold either.  There was no Street Fighter Legacy.  There was no Mortal Kombat Legacy.  No Megaman live-action.  And the idea of a video game-inspired fan film that was feature-length?  The very idea was unfeasible, a pipe dream fanboys talked about but knew wouldn’t happen.

And then X-Strike did it.  And then did it again.

Much like Troma Films, much like Robert Rodriguez’s early work, X-Strike Studios would establish a baseline from which other studios would be able to build their success.  An early pioneer of committed and dedicated fan films, X-Strike Studios would be a harbinger of what we know as the fan film industry today, an industry that continues to inspire and influence mainstream cinema.

It isn’t a surprise that X-Strike is closing its doors.  The assorted members had stated on numerous occasions they hadn’t planned for the company to endure indefinitely.  After all, it’s hard to maintain a consistent artistic vision from your early twenties into your mid-thirties, as most of the leadership has seen.  It’s a bittersweet announcement all the same because they’ve given the fan community so much entertainment.

Thank you, X-Strike Studios.

New Article

A wonderful off-beat periodical site known infamously as Drunk Monkeys has published one of my articles today.

As a fan of professional wrestling (evidenced by the earlier post, a reference to the defeat of the Undertaker last night), I often ponder the weird universe its stories are set in, and just what a strangely bizarre and beautiful hybrid product televised wrestling is.  There have been plenty of discussions of how WWE Monday Night Raw could be a better wrestling product, but little discussion about how it could be a better television product.  In this article, I draw comparisons to Prestige Dramas (Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, etc) in an effort to demonstrate what other shows Raw might be able to take its cues from in order to improve the product it offers.

Give my article a read; I hope you enjoy!

Tools of the Imagination — The Hobbit

The Hobbit
screenplay by Romeo Muller, directed and produced by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr

The Original Animated Masterpiece

Originally published in 1937, the Hobbit has been a classic of children’s literature for generations.  A funny little tale about a strange creature named Bilbo, who goes on a quest with dwarves and a wizard to slay a dragon, it’s enchanted fans for decades.  On it’s fortieth anniversary, animation underdog Rankin & Bass studios decided to bring the tale to life.

Rankin & Bass, much like Jay Ward Productions, is an oft-forgotten chapter in animation history.  Few people outside animation fandom know the name, but everybody knows their work.  Rankin & Bass studios were the ones responsible for just about every stop-motion Christmas movie you love (yes, including the Rudolf movies), many of the animated Christmas movies (including Frosty the Snowman), some of the most iconic fantasy cartoons of all time (namely The Last Unicorn and the Flight of Dragons), as well as perinnel 1980s classic, Thundercats.

But in the 1970s, Rankin & Bass was still primarily known for making holiday films.  Undertaking a non-holiday project was unexpected, and taking on a beloved classic such as the Hobbit was considered monumental.  To everyone’s amazement, they would knock it out of the park.

Story – 5 out of 5
Just about anyone who has ever read probably knows the story of the Hobbit, if for no other reason than the Peter Jackson incarnations currently appearing in theaters.  This critique then is more about the screenplay of the movie itself, which is expertly done.  Great pains were gone to in order to add nothing that wasn’t already in the source material, and very little was cut (Beorn and the Arkenstone being among the few things that got the axe).  The pacing is perfect, upbeat and constantly moving but still giving the impression of a long and winding adventure.  Purists of the Hobbit may likely enjoy this outing more than the Jacksonian films for the efforts to change as little as possible.

Art – 5 out of 5
Simply put; gorgeous.  Arthur Rackham’s art is rich and textured but not unwieldy.  The subdued earth tones of the dwarves and the hobbits are countered with the celestial imagery of the elves and the monstrous depictions of the goblins.  Everything looks appropriately fantastic and the image of Smaug is quite simply the definitive dragon for an entire generation of fantasy fans.

Animation – 4 out of 5
The animation is quite good, but not overwhelming.  There’s a lot of adventure in the movie, but few ‘action’ scenes.  Violence is handled very tastefully, meant to shock and scare little kids without outright traumatizing them (see the Death of the Goblin King).  Overall, it supports the beautiful artwork masterfully.

Characters – 3 out of 5
There’s really only one ‘character’ in this depiction of the Hobbit and that’s Bilbo.  Thorin, Gandalf, and others aren’t given much of the way of motivations or personality.  The other dwarves, especially, are little more than just there.  Bilbo, standing front and center, however, vividly but subtly shows the transformation the quest puts him through.

Acting – 5 out of 5
Orson Bean’s depiction of Bilbo Baggins is excellent.  He brings the character beautifully to life, but without overpowering the narrative itself.  Hans Conreid and John Huston are perfect as the gruff Thorin and the mysterious Gandalf respectively.  Otto Preminger adds a very unique but distinctive touch to the unnamed elf king.  Cyril Ritchard as Elrond is appropriately warm yet haunting, while Brother Theodore is perfect as the creepy Gollum.  But the crowning achievement is Richard Boone as Smaug in one of the greatest voice acting performances of all time.

Overall – 5 out of 5
This is one of those legendary films that somehow manages to fall to the wayside for no really identifiable reason.  Only Disney was making anything even remotely comparable to a film of this majesty (it would be almost a decade before Don Bluth films would release An American Tale).  This is visually gorgeous and would be the definitive animated fantasy movie for ages.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say Rankin & Bass’ Hobbit is the greatest animated movie of all time, but I would assert that it has a strong case to be in the Top Ten.