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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Clone Hunter
Clone Hunter
Lifesize Entertainment // Unrated // August 10, 2010
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 25, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Clone Hunter is the perfect curiosity piece. It's reasonably well-written and adequately performed, and yet it's not really a good movie in the sense that it never really engages the audience with the characters or story, because the film's making-of story is on the screen at all times. Made for must what have been a pittance in garages and homes using green screen and other computer effects, it's the first homemade example of the "digital backlot" technique that Sky Captain and Sin City used. The result, given the extreme limitations at hand, looks like a lost 1997 CD-ROM game, but it's a pretty impressive achievement that director Andrew Bellware and his team of actors managed to piece the whole thing together.

The plot is a slightly incomprehensible mash that uses five parts Blade Runner and a handful of other random sci-fi tropes, in which two bounty hunters, Cain (Ben Thomas) and Rachel (Angela Funk), are called to a distant planet and asked to retrieve a rogue clone. It's not very clear what clones are in this world (Slaves? Spare parts? Servants?), but the muddled mythology doesn't really make much of a difference in terms of following the plot. Cain trudges around the planet like any good five 'o clock shadow antihero, with the strong, but also sexy Rachel right behind him.

I don't know why one would choose a large-scale sci-fi epic to stage as an on-the-cheap effort, but Bellware powers through. He uses computers to bathe everything in a copper-colored light, amping up the lens flares and heaping on the fake backdrops. It looks patently and completely fake 90% of the time, and you can tell there isn't any real flexibility in how the the movie is designed, but at least it's consistent. I may not have believed for a second I was seeing another world in some far-off galaxy, but I did believe each of the movie's settings were part of a whole, albeit one that would be right at home on the original PlayStation. Bellware may be forced to shoot large chunks of, say, a chase on speeder bikes from a way-up aerial view that no director would ever use for more than a few seconds if they didn't have to, but dammit, when all is said and done, there's a speeder bike chase in this movie, and it probably cost about ten bucks.

Even so, the bigger concern (for me, anyway) in low-budget movies is the acting and writing, but the Clone Hunter team has managed to unearth a passable screenplay and a decent cast. Nobody's gonna win any awards, and it'd be surprising to me if anyone from this turned into a movie star, but I never winced at what was happening on-screen, which is a pretty massive achievement. It's hard not to look at the awful DVD cover for the movie, which boasts a blue-haired girl holding a repainted Nerf gun, and the hilarious tagline "Living forever takes less time than you think" and not worry that the movie is an unmitigated disaster, but I assure you that Thomas, Funk (the blue-haired girl, who spends most of the movie with a different and vastly more appealing look), and the rest of the cast keep things moderately entertaining.

Still, Clone Hunter is not compelling as a movie. It's more like a science experiment that proves Bellware and his team have creativity and ingenuity to spare even when budget is limited, which is probably an invaluable resource to him as a filmmaker, but not as worthwhile as entertainment. Plus, there are still things that don't work: I roared with laughter at Cain's virtual cat, which is made out of blue wireframe and has no tangible weight, flying around the screen but never really "interacting" with anything. I'm thrilled that one of the movies I took from the DVDTalk screener pool almost as a joke (that tagline) turned out to be surprisingly well-made, but I'd have to see what these people are capable of with a bigger budget and more focus on making a movie than proving a point before I'd classify them as filmmakers to watch out for.

The DVD
Clone Hunter's DVD art is incredibly cheap-looking, as if someone threw it together using stock desktop backgrounds in ten minutes. The back cover offers up another hilarious tagline ("Their guns were for hire...but what about their souls?") and fails to highlight the special features, which are written underneath the billing block and copyright info in a tiny text blurb.

The Video, and Audio
I think the widescreen presentation of the movie looks fine, but most DVD image issues are indistinguishable from the effects Bellware cranked up to 11: the image is soft, parts of it are blown out and colors are quite harsh at times. The worst offender is some posterization, but even that could theoretically be intentional, so all I can really say is that it gets the job done.

Dolby Digital 5.0 (no money left for that last .1?) is about as dynamic as things get on a limited budget, which is to say not particularly dynamic at all. It's all too clean and plainly separated to become immersive; filmmakers need to remember that real sound isn't always clean and clear, and such careful divisons of front and back channels are like the audio equivalent of a pop-up book. No subtitles are included.

The Extras
An audio commentary by director Andrew Bellware, producer Laura Schlachtmeyer, and editor Henry Steady is a pleasant affair. Everyone's friendly and relaxed thanks to the inclusion of alcohol (something Bellware mentions repeatedly) and it moves along at a reasonable clip. Nothing particularly deep or relevatory is gleaned about the making of the movie, but it's full of interesting little tidbits, my favorite fact being that Steele wrote it as a true sci-fi epic, and he isn't present...I wonder how he feels about the massive downsizing done to his screenplay.

A reel of bloopers (4:01), a weirdly shot interview with Bellware (6:13) about general filmmaking topics, and a photo gallery are also included, as well as the original trailer for Clone Hunter. Conclusion
Clone Hunter is easily the most impressive no-budget effort I can think of in terms of the scope, spectacle, and ambition it has as a homegrown sci-fi epic, but it's extremely hard to view it apart from that exact context. If you're curious to see how far a few thousand dollars goes, give it a rent, but keep in mind the actual story being told is no great shakes.


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