The Best of Atomfilms 2000: Cinema with an Edge
Review by Chris Hughes | posted January 17, 2001
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Graphical Version

Features: Full Screen/Wide Screen. Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.) Subtitles: English.

The Movie:
If you're a movie fan and you don't know anything about Atomfilms then drop everything and visit right now (well, after you finish reading this review of course.) Atomfilms is a Web based resource for filmmakers and content providers that distributes short format multimedia titles via streaming QuickTime, RealVideo, Flash and a host of other technologies. Because Atomfilms is an independent distributor whose primary channel is the Web they're relatively immune to the restrictions imposed by the MPAA and the 'old economy' drive of big studios and theater chains. The net result is a source of daring, controversial and extremely entertaining films that might not have found an audience otherwise.

So, if you can get all these films online why bother with a DVD? Broadband is a good thing but most people still connect to the 'net with 56k and slower modems. When was the last time you tried watching a movie online? The quality of the picture and sound wasn't all that good was it? Many of the shorts offered at Atomfilms have a good deal of artistic merit and entertainment value so having the opportunity to see them on a good home theater system is a real treat.

The Best of Atomfilms 2000: Cinema with an Edge is "a compilation of extreme short films that have either received an exceptionally high number of site views, significant syndicated deals, and/or notable festival awards." It's the first of two Best of releases from Atomfilms this year and it's chock full of outstanding shorts. Because the theme of this release is Cinema with an Edge don't expect films conducive to family viewing. There's a large helping of adult themes contained on this disc including violence and sex but it's handled with humor and shouldn't offend the vast majority of reasonable adults.

Disc Interface:

The packaging for this release is very straightforward. Think of the Short Cinema Journal discs (only with keep cases) and you'll have a good idea of what to expect. Upon inserting the disc you're presented with a short animation advertising the Atomfilms Web site. You can't skip this clip but it goes by in just a few seconds. The animated menus are tastefully designed and easy to navigate. Each film includes a brief text screen with production notes.

The Picture:
Each of the eight films presented here comes from different video sources and none of the transfers are anamorphic. Atomfilms has taken a great deal of care to offer consistency though. Each short exhibits strong color, good contrast, deep black levels and only a hint of edge enhancement. I didn't notice any instances of digital artifacting. For non-anamorphic material these films look great.

The Sound:
Again, consistency could have been a problem here but Atomfilms handled the sound tracks adeptly. Volume levels are in the same range from film to film, the dynamic range is deep and the Dolby 2.0 surround is surprisingly immersive

Select Shorts:
Here are my impressions of some of the better shorts contained on this disc.

Wheelchair Rebecca:
In my job as a Web developer I've worked from time to time with Wil Vinton Studios (the Claymation innovators who created the California Raisins) here in Portland Oregon. One thing I always notice when visiting is that animators love to make Barbie dolls do things they were never intended to do. Wheelchair Rebecca takes this concept to the extreme. The action centers on a Wheelchair Rebecca doll and illustrates several rather disturbing scenarios that could have lead to her disability. This short could never be accused of being politically correct but I found it to be the most hilarious offering on the disc.

Black XXX-mas:
This film goes back to the original Red Riding Hood story (you know; the one where the wolf actually eats Red) and uses it as a springboard for broad religious and social satire. In the film Red is a ghetto girl who's dad (black Santa) is a second story man. On her way to buy drugs she's accosted by a cop (Wolfie) and mayhem ensues. Overseeing all of this is a detached god who manipulates reality via a GameBoy. The live action short has the look of a cartoon and features some very snappy and quotable dialogue.

Stargeeks reminded me of last year's independent film Free Enterprise. It concerns a somewhat under socialized Star Wars fan who finds all sorts of obstacles (not the least of which is a rival gang of Star Trek fans) to attending opening night of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The acting here is a little sub par but the silly and memorable dialogue and camera work make up for it.

Wow. I have no sufficient words to describe this film. Consider a middle-aged man who looks like Adolph Hitler who dresses in drag and sings bizarre lyrics to the tunes of popular songs. Take my word for it; this short is funny, disturbing and nothing if not unique.

The Extras:
Unfortunately there are no meaningful extras included with The Best of Atomfilms 2000: Cinema with an Edge. The ancillary content is limited to some brief production notes and a couple of bonus shorts scattered around the disc. Atomfilms could really learn a thing or two from Warner's excellent and feature packed Short Cinema Journal series.

The best policy when it comes to Atomfilms is to visit the Web site and sample the shorts before buying. For many DVD enthusiasts this material simply won't be to their taste. On the other hand students of short film and supporters of independent film should rejoice. Atomfilms is doing the artistic community a service by providing a venue for first time directors, writers and producers. Overall rating: Recommended.

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