By now you have most likely heard of "Delgo," and how it ranks among the all-time flops. Its total box office take was $694,782, a record low for a movie in wide release; on its opening weekend, it earned a staggeringly low $237 per theater. Indeed, the first time most moviegoers even heard of the film was in news reports about how nobody had heard of it.
What's odd about all of this isn't the preposterously low box office haul, or that Freestyle Releasing - a company devoted to getting independent and specialty titles into theaters - failed to properly market "Delgo" in any way resembling competence. It's that Marc F. Adler, the film's co-director, producer, and founder of production house Fathom Studios, convinced Freestyle to squeeze it into over two thousand theaters, treating it like one of the big studio's tentpole titles.
Indeed, everything about Adler's work on "Delgo" screams wild ambition. In an effort to rival the big studios, $40 million was dumped into the film's budget, an unheard of number for independent animation, especially for a first-time filmmaker. The producer assembled - well, if not an all-star cast, then at least an affordable facsimile thereof, with almost-still-popular-in-2003 names like Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Chris Kattan. He also hoped to harness the then-rising power of the internet by posting work-in-progress footage online, hoping to receive not only feedback from fans, but increased buzz.
Fathom spent ten years developing the picture, and Adler hyped the film's release repeatedly throughout the decade, only to push back the dates as production problems escalated and revisions were juggled. (To give you a clue as to the delays: the film, released December 2008, stars two actors who died in 2005.)
And then, well, that part you know: it tanked, horribly, overwhelmingly, enough to turn it overnight into a punchline, a shorthand for disastrous animation wannabe. Like "Ishar" or "Gigli," "Delgo" became the new two-syllable sound of badness.
Of course, as the numbers show, few people actually saw it; they only went by bad word-of-mouth and snicker-filled headlines. Had they paid their ten bucks and actually bothered to watch the thing, they'd have clearly discovered...
...that "Delgo" is indeed a terrible, terrible, terrible movie. It's a misguided effort at every turn, visually unappealing and creatively empty. The script, credited to six authors, is a dreary, often incomprehensible mash of genre rip-off, underwhelming characters, cheap dialogue, and overblown plot. Its epic reach would be commendable, except it looks like nobody was paying any attention to what they were doing those ten long years.
How do you go ten years and not notice how lousy your script is? How can you overlook major flaws in the very structure of your screenplay when you're spending an entire decade working on its every detail?
Ah, but there's the thing: the makers of "Delgo" put so much effort into the details that they become oblivious to the big picture. There are times when the images on screen look honest-to-goodness impressive, especially for an independent work from an upstart studio. Backgrounds overflow with finely rendered detail - lush vegetation that breathes with life, imaginative creatures scurrying past, with skin that ripples with reality. And yet, all the while, in front of all that loveliness, we're stuck looking at badly drawn monkey-people who say stupid things and engage in boring adventure.
The story - a blend of elements lifted from "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," "Romeo and Juliet," and countless generic fantasy novels - features tensions between two species on a distant planet, one native and one alien; they landed years ago looking for a new home but took a colonialist approach, and now, years (and a war) later, the animosity between the two tribes remains. Delgo (Prinze), a young monkey-person with limited Force-like powers, falls in love with Kyla (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a princess of the lizard-fairy-people. Both must work out their romance while the evil Sedessa (Anne Bancroft), Kyla's exiled aunt, attempts to take over the planet, or something. There's your typical hero's journey, peppered with awful comic relief via Delgo's bumbling pal (Kattan), and some stuff about Delgo trying to master the Jedi-ish "power of the stones" while our leads must learn that things like hate and prejudice are bad.
It's all so absolutely shoddy, especially once the script decides to start packing in the clumsy jokes (Kattan's slapsticky character is the worst offender, but Eric Idle's dopey henchman's a close second, and watch out for cutesy moments like when Kyla asks if an outfit makes her wings look fat, har har) and faux-meaningful sincerity (Michael Clarke Duncan is brought in as an Obi-Wan type who spouts things like "there's only honor in fighting for what you believe in if what you believe in is honorable," which is, I think we can all agree here, an incredibly dumb thing to say).
It hurts a bit to consider how often the idiocies of the screenplay go unnoticed by animators too excited over scales on a monster in the background. If nothing else, couldn't they see that their poorly rendered, awkwardly wooden main characters looked like bad fan art brought to life for a crummy PlayStation 2 game?
"Delgo" has all the wrong moves of a chintzy direct-to-video CG quickie, and yet it comes to us with ten years, two thousand multiplex screens, and dozens of tickets sold. It's the sort of movie that deserves to be quickly forgotten, and yet its monumental failure will ensure it never will.
Twentieth Century Fox acquired the home video rights to "Delgo," presumably the result of having lost a bet.
Video & Audio
Once again, Fox has supplied DVD Talk with a heavily compressed, watermarked DVD-R screener and not final shelf copy for review. As such, we're unable to provide a proper look at the transfer's video and audio, other than to inform you that the film is featured in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby 5.1 audio and optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. If/when a full retail version is supplied to us, we'll update this review accordingly.
The extras kick off with the cartoon short "Chroma Chamelon" (4:48; 1.78:1 anamorphic), which ran before "Delgo" in theaters. (You know, just like Pixar does!) The animation is quite lovely, although the short itself - about a chameleon dance contest - grows tiresome; how many "look, it's a lizard breakdancing, how cute!" moments do we really need?
Adler and co-director Jason Maurer share commentary duty with animation director/effects supervisor Warren Grubb. The track was obviously recorded prior to the film's infamous theatrical release (either that, or they're blissfully avoiding discussing it); the chat covers a wide range of topics, from the detailed efforts put into the technical presentation to Adler's literary analysis of the story, which he surprisingly takes very, very seriously.
"Behind the Scenes" (3:50; 1.33:1) is a limp promotional piece, obviously created years ago during voice recording, with cast and crew raving about how awesome the film's going to be.
"Sounds of Delgo" (5:35; 1.33:1) follows the movie's sound designers as they rave about the story. Once you get past the fluff, there's some decent information here, with the designers explaining their work.
"Meet the Characters" and "See the Creatures" (1.33:1) are simple click-through galleries of character briefs and monster information, complemented with full-motion character designs.
Six deleted scenes (12:54 total; 1.78:1 anamorphic) offer some minor unnecessary character touches and excess Chris Kattan chatter. What's unusual here is that these scenes are final versions, with complete animation and sound - which means unlike most filmmakers, who fine tune their story with meticulous detail before putting the effort (and money) into animation, ensuring nothing goes to waste, the makers of "Delgo" didn't notice that the scenes were worthless until they were finished. Huh.
Only the bravest and most curious lovers of cinema disaster should bother checking out "Delgo." It's as bad as you've heard - worse, even. Skip It, and then some.