Homemade robot battles must be down to 30 seconds or so in their 15 minutes of fame. At least that's about how long it takes to be utterly bored with the Metal Munching Maniacs DVDs.
At first there's a sick little boyish urge to watch small robots destroy each other. Admit it. But it fades when you realize just how dreadful these DVDs are.
In Gourmet Damage, the first of four Metal Munching Maniacs DVDs, 32 robots battle in divisions ranging from one pound "ants" to 300-plus pound heavyweights.
There are several problems evident almost right away. First and foremost is the utter lack of organization. Gourmet Damage is supposed to be the highlight reel from the 2003 robot battle competition. We don't know where it was held. Sometimes the battles are held in a recreation center, sometimes in a high school gym, sometimes outdoors. There's no order to the battles other than by division.
The rules seem simple: One robot wins either by knockout, tap out or when time runs out. But sometimes there is no time limit, sometimes it just goes on, and on, and on. Sometimes there's a referee decision, but we never see the referees, can't even hear them discuss the battle. And, egad, sometimes there's no winner declared at all. You just have to guess. Really, though, did you have much vested in the outcome?
Besides being monotonous, the battles, even the entire concept, is soon predictable: 90 percent of the robots that win are all designed the same way. It takes what little anticipation that was left away.
Sometimes there's a battle preview, sometimes not. Sometimes there are post-match interviews, sometimes not. Whoever organized the shoot schedule was drunk or inept. Maybe they realized no one would care.
Maybe it's because they put a 14-year-old in charge of carrying out a majority of the interviews. You feel for this poor kid right away. He stumbles through questions, has a deer-in-headlights look every time the camera's on him, and it's pretty evident he's never done this before.
The kid's adult counterpart is worse: His tone and questions are as monotonous as the robot action, and he's got robots in the competition, so he's anything but neutral. He mostly carries out pre-battle interviews in easily the ugliest waiting room you've ever seen: muted-green walls, with plastic plants and a stage light set in the completely wrong spot. Is this the best they could come up with?
The DVD tries to be informative: One of the competitors mentions Sir Isaac Newton, and a URL for more info appears on the screen. But it's not enough.
The same battles are on three of the four DVDs, which obviously wasn't an oversight. It's space filler. There's even the same 10-minute scene where a young man is eliminated because he couldn't get his robot fixed in time.
Maybe the worst things about Metal Munching Maniacs are the "Engineer General's Warnings" and the fact these people have the nerve to call this a sport. The warnings on the back of the DVDs claim kids may get into engineering by watching the robots fight and the DVDs may "cause children to choose careers in science and technology." Let's not fool ourselves: These DVDs have trouble holding anyone's attention, let alone a young kid who could be playing video games instead. And you call this a sport? That involves physical exertion, and the only physical thing the robot operator's are doing is lifting their damn machines. It's a game, a dead one at that.
What could have saved these DVDs? Maybe hiring a cheesy narrator to sit behind an anchor desk and direct the action, or add some camera shots of the referees conferring. But there's no direction here, no rhyme or reason to the production. There's not even an announced winner half the time.
AnimEigo does anime and live action DVDs very well. They should have left robot battles alone, however. This was a short-lived cable-only craze that didn't need to be immortalized on DVD. The only reason we can figure that the company picked this thing up is because it was cheap and no one else wanted it.
Full frame presentation, some minor aliasing, and some really poor camera work. It's a pretty drab looking picture, which is understandable considering the amateur equipment, direction and presentation. AnimEigo tries to dress it up with cool-looking menus, but it's just ugly source material.
The audio stinks. You can only hear the announcer half the time, the interviews sometimes fade out, and you only sometimes hear the 50-100 people max who are attending the battles. That's about the same number of people who are going to buy this DVD.
Hey there's three music videos for the other DVDs! Wait, they all have the same techno song laid down to them. And there's...DVD credits! Bleh.
This is a sad set of DVDs for a very niche market. Don't you have better things to do? Stamp collecting? Bird watching? Anything? Skip it.