I have to admit it makes my day when I open a new DVD and find inside a short full-color mini-comic book. Not only is it a fun little extra, but it suggests that someone put in some overtime creating extra layers of depth to its world. More than most SF films do, perhaps.
This is true even when it doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the events in the film itself.
The original version of Sentinel 2099 came to my attention not too long ago when I was doing research for an article about cinematic giant robots and mecha for Clarkesworld Magazine. One of the most intriguing of these films was a defiantly do it yourself 1995 film featuring over 150 effects shots of battles between heavily modified tanks and armored mecha, combining miniatures with live, in-camera pyrotechnics.
Unfortunately it was extremely elusive and only appeared on an exceedingly scarce VHS tape (for an all too brief moment, I could have got a cheap copy from Amazon, but it vanished almost instantly). It’s still on my Wish List and I suspect it will stay there for a some time to come.
However, its director, Mike McGee, has finally completed his “Special Edition” of the film, although as Special Editions go it seems a more thorough revision than even the endless string George Lucas has produced.
As far as I can determine, the basic plot remains unchanged (although I’m not entirely certain). A large part of the film has been completely remade, with an all new cast and even more miniature shots.
Well, almost all new. It came as a shock to learn that the parts involving two characters (possibly three) were shot eighteen years or more earlier.
And that that one of the goals of the main characters was impossible because they were almost two decades apart.
The movie itself? Well, if you’ve seen this sort of Do it yourself movie then the results aren’t much of a surprise: the acting and dialogue are problematic, and, as is true of far too many films these days, it could have stood being tightened considerably. I’ll concede this may seem a touch ironic as Mike added another twenty minutes to the film, but several storylines just don’t go anywhere, or add much to the main story. This, sadly, has been a temptation to a lot of filmmakers to add unnecessary material to their films to bring it to some more “salable” length.
Let’s face it, they could all learn a big lesson from Joshua Kennedy, who continues to market forty and fifty minute films that are the right length — for that film.
After all, the audience generally recognizes padding for what it is.
As far as the film or audio quality goes, I really can’t comment as my screener appears to have been rendered at lower resolution. A lot of filmmakers will do this for whatever reasons but it seems a rather bad idea to me, as reviewers may just complain about how bad their film looks.
I really can’t see any advantage in that.
However, the effects work is quite impressive in a hand-made practical sort of way, particularly all the hardware. We get heavily modified tanks and big armored walking tanks which are actually rod puppets. It’s all very old school and I’ll admit that I definitely prefer the slightly unreal look of a great, well-shot old-school miniature to most CGI.
The film really takes off when one of the Sentinel walkers takes on a Chieftain III tank, in a beautifully staged and edited scene, where the damaged Sentinel plays cat and mouse through a ruined building. It’s actually quite a long sequence and the highlight of the film. One just wishes that more of the film had been like this — even if I know just how difficult it must have been to create even this much.
All in all, it is an interesting effort, one that shows a great deal of promise. Sadly, though, most people won’t be able to accept its limitations — or those of most DIY films, no matter how good they are.
However, if you can accept this, then it is worth a look, particularly for that one, incredible battle scene.
Just remember that your mileage may vary.