Astron-6, the same people who brought your Father's Day, return to their retro inspired B-movie pastiche style with Dark Sky Films' release of their 2011 feature, Manborg. A ridiculous mix of action and science fiction inspired by films like Robocop and Terminator (or more specifically, the low budget knock offs they inspired!) but made with less than the catering budget of blockbusters like those aforementioned films, this is just over an hour's worth of crazed cinematic mayhem done right.
When the movie begins in an undetermined future, we learn that a portal to Hell has opened up and an army of demons, led by Count Draculon (Adam Brooks), have emerged to take over the Earth and lay waste to all of mankind. A soldier (Matthew Kennedy) serves alongside his brother and a few other resistance fighters but is shot down in the line of duty. A scientist named Doctor Scorpius (Adam Brooks again) drags him off and converts his nearly lifeless body into the ultimate fighting machine... Manborg! Soon enough, Manborg is captured by The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), Draculon's second in command. He's tossed into a prison where he meets some of the other prisoners - an illiterate Australian fighter named Justice (Connor Sweeney), his hot and seemingly not Australian sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney) and a martial arts expert named #1 Man (Ludwig Lee). Although The Baron is obviously in love with Mina, he nevertheless forces this ragtag group of renegades to fight giant stop motion monsters in an arena of death!
After proving themselves in battle, Manborg and his new friends escape from The Baron's prison but he and his assistant, Shadow Mega (Andrea Karr), give chase. While Manborg and company fight to survive, they'll soon have to content not only with The Baron but also with the arrival of the dreaded Count Draculon in an amazing fight with the survival of the human race hanging in the balance! Will Manborg be able to come to terms with his past and his current identity before it's too late?
Borrowing elements from Blade Runner (you can't help but think of that movie when you see some of the futuristic neon laden streets) and Mortal Kombat (those fight scenes almost make you want to yell 'Finish Him!') and mixing them up with elements from low budget horror movies, this is a relentlessly paced and surprisingly gory mix of live action, green screen work and stop motion animation. While some will immediately dismiss this picture as a manufactured cult film, the kind that seem to be a dime a dozen these days, Astron-6 really does a great job of mixing up those requisite 'cult' elements with a wicked sense of humor. Funny without ever really looking down its nose at the material that's being skewered, you get the same impression from Manborg that you do from Father's Day and the various shorts that the Canadian collective have put together over the years, and that's that they genuinely love this stuff.
Odd little touches, like the fact that #1 Man is called #1 Man in the first place and that he's dubbed like something out of a bad martial arts movie, help to give Manborg some effective humor and replay value. The bad guys look like Cenobites, the good guys are obviously inspired by the various post-nuke movies that were churned out ad nauseum in the eighties and hey, check out all of those exploding heads! Given that this movie was supposedly shot for a cool grand in a garage, it's amazing what they pulled off here and the cast are all completely game, never breaking character and never playing anything less than completely straight.
There are moments in the feature, which clocks in at just over sixty minutes, where the humor is laid on a little thick and there are moments where the green screen effects result in a sort of twitchy, unnatural look but for the most part, this movie gets it right. The gore effects are plentiful and well done, the costumes are great (particularly when it comes to the Nazi inspired outfits worn by the bad guys) and the soundtrack suits the content perfectly. Wait... sixty minutes? Yep, it's a short one - but keep watching once the end credits are over for an awesome faux-trailer for Bio-Cop and some bizarre legal disclaimers, provided in both English and French of course!
Manborg looks about as good as it should in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors look good, flesh tones too, but some obvious ringing and compression shows up in a lot of the backgrounds, likely caused by the low budget green screen renderings that so much of this plays out in front of. There are no issues with dirt, damage or debris, though some scenes have been intentionally degraded to give the movie a retro look.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on this disc is a good one, offering up some impressive channel separation and a constant barrage of sound effects that really help to make the movie as chaotic as it is. Dialogue somehow manages to stay clean and clear throughout, and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion of note. Optional English closed captioning is provided but there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles offered here.
Dark Sky Films have crammed about as much extra content as possible onto this DVD release, starting with the two commentary tracks. First up is director Steven Kostanski, who flies solo for the first talk but joins actor/co-writer Jeremy Gillespie and executive producer Peter Kuplowsky for the second chat. The solo track gives us 'an in-depth, technical commentary on the making of this film.' Basically a scene specific talk that gives us some insight into what went into getting the shots and effects work done for each part of the movie, it's an interesting talk. Kostanski notes that there was a 'no lasers' rule in effect in the movie, because he'd already made a movie about lasers, but after seeing that the shoot outs scenes done without lasers looked lousy, he decided to ditch that rule noting that 'if you want to make your movie better, just put lasers in it.' Sound advice. He also notes various influences that inspired certain scenes, talks about ideas that worked and didn't work and generally just fills in all the blanks. The second track goes in some different directions, talking about the writing process behind the film, how Eliminators combined with an evening of Megadeth can inspire one to create a movie like Manborg and more. They discuss different characters, who did what and why, the significance of flying tentacles, and more.
Up next is a fifteen minute long Behind The Scenes featurette which shows us some of the key scenes as they were being shot and which gives us a good look at what it was like working on this picture while it was being made. Also very cool are montage sequences for The Stop-Motion and the more traditional VFX - a nice sort of recap of what Astron-6 was able to do for peanuts. Also included here is a very strange stop-motion short film that shows what happens when a monster emerges from a painting to assault a little girl. Thankfully two rock n roll heroes show up with guitars to save the day. If you want more from the feature itself, check out the Deleted And Alternate scenes that have been included, but for the love of God, please check out the twenty-two minutes worth of Cast And Crew Interviews. Rounding out the extras is a Premiere Q&A session, a Blooper Reel, a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter stops.
If Astron-6's previous projects weren't your cup of tea, it's unlikely that Manborg will change your mind, however, if you've enjoyed the shorts they've released and dug Father's Day then by all means get this disc now. The movie is a complete blast from start to finish and Dark Sky Films have seen fit to load the disc with some great supplements too. Not everyone will get it and not everyone will want to but for those who appreciate this type of thing, Manborg comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.