I'm an avid reader, and one of the authors that I enjoy perusing is
Cordwainer Smith. The science fiction stories he wrote are complex
and obtuse works that are often hard to understand at first. But
if you are willing to work and persevere, you will be rewarded with a great
tale. It's almost as if Bird is saying "I'll give you a story worth
reading, but you'll have to earn it first. You have to work your
way through the beginning." The same can be said about Broken
Saints, a web based animated comic book that has just been released
on DVD. The beginning is confusing and seems to wander aimlessly,
but when all is said and done, this is a worth while story.
Starting out as a web based animated graphic, Broken Saints (or
BS, the unfortunate abbreviation that they use on the DVDs themselves)
is a cross between a comic book and an cartoon aimed at adults. It
consists of drawing that 'talk' through word balloons, like a comic, but
the images have some limited movement. (The DVD also has a
dub track that has voice actors reading the dialog.) A 24 part presentation
that runs nearly 12 hours long, the story is told through flash animation.
This is a very limiting style, but Ian Kirby was able to push the format
to its limits to make these episodes feel like they had more movement than
they actually did.
In case you aren't familiar with flash animation, it is the type of
animation that is often used in on-line games and short cartoons.
With this technique you can take a solid image, say a dog, and move it
across a background. The catch is that the image itself can't move,
just its place on the background. So we could have a dog romp across
the surface of the moon, but the dog's legs wouldn't move. It would
look pretty stupid. To get around this, the BS team used a
lot of lighting effects to give the illusion of more fluid movement.
They also used dissolves effectively, having a figure slowly dissolve and
reappear across a landscape to show both his movement and the passage of
time. I was quite impressed with the final results. Even more
so when you realize that this mammoth project was created and funded by
three guys working in a basement.
Having said that, I think this project would have been more enjoyable
as a fully animated series. While the creators did an outstanding
job with the flash animation, in the end it is still flash animation, and
not nearly as dynamic as traditional cell animation. I never could
really forget that I was watching something that was meant to be downloaded
from the web.
So what is this epic all about? It is about the possible end of
the world. Four people receive the same horrific vision of the apocalypse.
It is the end of the world, and in the middle of it all is a tower and
a giant red eye. These four individuals come from different parts
of the world, have different religions, backgrounds and cultures, but they
are all drawn together to find out what the vision means and how they can
stop it. At the center of it all seems to be a global telecommunications
company and their satellite network.
As they search these four people will go on a spiritual journey, and
encounter many usual and sometimes horrific things. All four people,
though they are about as different as they can be, all share the same core
beliefs. They all want to make a difference, to do good in the world.
They feel that they aren't up to the task and that too much is being asked
of them. They are broken. It is quite a journey they take,
one which the viewer also experiences to some extent.
This series is both philosophical and entertaining. When it was
all over, I was glad that I had watched this series and enjoyed it, but
the beginning is tough going. This isn't for the impatient, because
the series starts off slowly. After the first two hour long DVD which
encompass eight chapters was over I really wasn't hooked. There wasn't
anything that I could latch onto. There was a lot of mystery, but
nothing familiar to give me a frame of reference to begin understanding
what was going on, so I didn't really care about the answers to all the
questions. The plot seemed to plod along and I didn't care about
any of the characters. If I had rented the set I probably would have
stopped there and returned it.
Since I was going to review the set though, I felt an obligation to
the creators and readers to at least watch it all. I'm glad I did.
As the series progresses, the characters become more fleshed out, the events
start to come together and pace picks up substantially. I found myself
drawn into this world, and by the end, I couldn't wait to see how it would
all turn out.
This series is filled with reference to such diverse things as David
Lynch, The Koran, quantum mechanics and Robert Frost. There are quotes
from Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Lewis Carol, Phillip K. Dick and Shakespeare.
To be honest, my first impression was that this series was pop culture
masquerading as high art, with gibberish and literary references thrown
in to give the appearance of depth. As the story unfolded though,
I realized that my first impression was wrong. There is some substance
here, it just takes some time to fully emerge.
Another problem I had was with the flowery hyperbole that fills the
series, especially the early chapters. It makes the show sound a
little too full of itself. Quotes like:
"Oily teeth scrape the fetal glass of the east. The sky breathes
fire in the name of God and country."
"Electrons whirl like drunken dervishes. Photons, behaving as
both particle and wave, are predictably schizophrenic."
Such purple prose was another barrier to getting into the series, but
if you can get past that, you'll be amply rewarded.
This four DVD set comes in a double wide Amaray case with two DVDs on
each side. The series has silent static menus with animated transitions.
Since the music is such a part of the BS experience, I was surprised that
there wasn't a soundtrack to the menu pages, but this isn't a big deal.
One minor thing irritation about this set was that there wasn't a 'play
all' selection, so after each chapter you have to start the next one playing.
Not a big deal, but worth mentioning.
There are two audio options included with this set, the 'classic' text
and music soundtrack in stereo, and a DD 5.1 mix with voice narration.
Though I found the combination of text and narration a little disconcerting
at first, but I really liked the 5.1 track. This series has excellent
sound, reference quality. Wind and the roar of the ocean come from
all angles, immersing the viewer in sound. This is not one of those
all too frequent soundtracks that have impressive sections only to collapse
down to a virtual stereo mix after the action is over. The entire
series utilizes all of the channels. The echoes from a shout will
reverberate from the rear channels, and a voice will travel from one speaker
to the other as a the speaker moves across the screen. A startling
scream will erupt from the rear left channel making everyone in the room
jump. There are a lot of subtle sound effects too, winding their
way through the story. They are all clear and audible, and they give
the show a three dimensional full feeling. The sound adds another
dimension to this program, enhancing it and making the story more engaging.
The quality of the sound is equally impressive. From the high
pitched tinkling of bells to low rumble of a double bass, the sound is
very crisp and tight, without any hiss or distortion. As I said,
this show has reference quality sound.
There are also subtitles in Spanish, French, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese
This story is presented with a non-anamorphic 1:1.66 widescreen image.
The picture quality is very good. The colors were usually earthy
and dark, but some scenes did have very bright and colorful palates and
the DVD reproduced both very well. The detail was fine, and digital
defects were almost non-existent. A nice looking disc.
This DVD set is packed with an unbelievable set of extras. Scattered
across the four discs is just about everything you'd ever want to know
about Broken Saints. The bonus material starts off with a
production featurette. This takes you behind the scenes to talk with
the creators about how the series was created and what the actual animation
process was like. A very good featurette especially if you are interested
in the nuts and bolts of animating for the web.
The audio effects and voice-overs get their own featurette too.
It looks at the way the dub was recorded and introduces some of the actors
who worked on the project.
The Broken Saints project ran into some financial difficulties
about a third of the way through production, so they decided to put on
a series of concerts to fill their empty coffers. There is a one
hour feature chronicles these events and the fans that turned out to support
the web site.
There is a 35 minute lecture that Brooke Burgess, the writer nad director
gave about the series. He talks about his background, the movies
and books that influenced him, and how he came to create Broken Saints.
At the end he answers some questions from the audience, but unfortunately
they edit out the questions themselves. I assume that this was because
they didn't have releases from the questioners.
A couple of the chapters, including the epilog, have commentary tracks
by the three creators of the series. They mainly talked about where
some of the ideas came from, the music, and the art, especially the backgrounds.
Not girpping commentaries, but interesting none the less.
Other video features include a documentary about the show as well as
a travelogue about the creator's trip, by bus, to the Sundance film festival.
The fan section has a lot of interesting items. One of the more
amusing is a 12-minute fan produced version of Broken Saints done
all in Legos. There are also flash animations that were created by
fans, and BS parodies.
There is also a selection of trailers for the show, the game based on
the show, and other movies. But that's not all. Also included
in the set are a website for Biocom, the company featured in the show,
a series of clips from TV and radio shows that covered the show, and text
based biographies of the main characters.
The CD-ROM content includes the original version of the first 12 chapters,
as they were first posted on the web, a selection of MP3's of music from
the show, links, and several wallpapers.
A stellar assortment of bonus material.
Though I had some problems with this show, I feel the creators were
able to overcome the limitations of their chosen format and create an interesting
and worthwhile show. This isn't a series for the impatient, since
it does take a while to get the story moving, but if you are willing to
make the effort, you will be rewarded. A great story with many interesting
aspects, Broken Saints is an amazing accomplishment. A high
Recommendation. It should also be pointed out that this set is only avalible through the creator's web site. If you click on the button under the cover in the upper right corner a page will open with ordering information.