Short #7: Utopia

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Warner, widescreen 1.85:1, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, subtitles: none, single side-single layer, chapters NA, rated NR, 100 min., $14.98, street date 2/1/2000.


  • More - Alternate video track of animatics (storyboards in motion); interview with filmmaker Mark Osborne
  • Zoltar from Zoran - Audio commentary by the director; rough cut alternate ending
  • Lars from 1-10 - Audio commentary by the filmmakers
  • Amplified Man - Robotic version of American Gladiators
  • Images of Korea - Audio commentary by the director
  • Superstition 9 - Filmmaker's multi-media creation
  • The Lion and the Lamb - Audio commentary by the director

Studio Line

The Utopia issue. More is the first stop-motion animated short film shot in the 70mm format. This story of an elderly inventor working on a secret project was nominated for an Academy Award. Zoltar from Zoran is a pitch-perfect teen angst story about a boy who claims to be from the Planet Zoran. Sophie Fiennes and Shari Roman have created Lars from 1-10, a portrait of Lars von Trier, director of Breaking the Waves and creator of Dogme 95. The documentary Amplified Man weighs in on the evolutionary future of man and machinery. Features experts ranging from Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo to NASA rocket scientists. Other films include Richard Belzer (Homicide) as one of the futuristic patrons in The Bar Channel, along with director Frank Chindamo's companion piece, The Remote; claymation animator Young Man Kang employs traditional Korean images and materials in Images of Korea; Superstition 9 from Mexico; The Lion and the Lamb from Montreal; and much much more.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B-/C-/B)

I have always liked short films for many different reasons. A lot of the time they can be quite entertaining and fast paced because they have to cover quite a bit in a short time frame. And if they do suck, you've only lost 10 minutes of your life instead of 100 minutes.

I am a little confused on how to review the disc so bear with me as I go through it. I will go through each film one at a time (or a couple at a time) and give a basic layout and critiquing of each. While I like short films there were only a couple I found worthwhile on the disc.

The one I enjoyed the most was one called Zoltar From Zoran, which tells the story of a young boy who thinks he's an alien named Commander Zoltar from the planet (yep, you guessed it) Zoran. It's not hard to see why he's like this. His homelife doesn't seem too appealing. His mother treats him as a whacko most of the time and his father (or mother's boyfriend) insults him to his face. To convince himself fully of his daydream he even dresses up as an alien, tin foil and taped together milk jugs for a helmet. Everyone teases him at school and this eventually leads to a suicide attempt. This one has the best narrative, especially impressive at such a short time rate. The narration of the Challenger radio transmissions before it exploded is a nice disturbing touch.

The next one I liked was an animated short called More, which is the first stop-motion animated short shot on Imax film. I love stop-motion animation and this one is very well done. It tells the story of a lowly creature (reminding me a bit of Sam Lowry in Brazil) working for an oppressive factory. He dreams of a simpler better life and gets it when he invents the most incredible gizmo, inspired by whatever is inside him (his spirit or soul if you will). They are a pair of goggles that allow you to see things in a brighter way, reminding me of Yellow Submarine. Of course, he ends up just becoming one of the oppressive people he hated and loses whatever he had inside that gave him his creative spark. While overly depressing, with a score to go along with it, the short is still incredibly powerful for 7 minutes.

There are two I found somewhat interesting but not as good as the two above. One called Superstition is basically an 8 minute music video, playing mambo music throughout, but it's good music at any rate. Another one I found amusing is The Bar Channel, which has Richard Belzer (from the TV show "Homicide") turning to a TV station called the Bar Channel and tries to pick up a Playboy centerfold. At only 30 minutes this is somewhat amusing. As an extra with that film is another short film by the same director called Remote and I'll admit I didn't care (or really get) about this one as someone can control everything through his remote control.

The rest are all pretty dull and of little interest to me. Images of Korea is a well done claymation but at 2 minutes it was still too much for me. The Lion & The Lamb is French (that's all I need to say) and is incredibly "out there" (the director says it is just an experimental film in the commentary that goes along with it). A documentary called Amplified Man is about robots and (I think) the possibility of artificial intelligence. I'm unsure as to what it was trying to say as the editing has it jump around from one spot to another. The second most boring segment on here is called Dean Sam L. Grogg of the AFI Muses on Utopia and it's a 4 minute lecture on the definition of Utopia in film. And since he reminded me too much of one of my professors, I couldn't take it.

The lamest short on here belongs to Sophie Fiennes, Ralph's (pronounced "Rafe" people-sorry, had to do that) sister. Called Lars From 1-10, it is an incredibly boring interview done with director Lars von Trier, the guy responsible for Breaking the Waves. And I'm thankful this guy is behind the camera because he has no charisma on screen. The short is very dull and goes on and on (and shows way too much full frontal male nudity for my tastes-and I went to art school!) but is not Sophie's fault, other than the fact she picked the material. She directs it capably with some nice edits and I liked that chalkboard that wrote out Lars' 10 rules on filmmaking. But that guy has nothing going for him in the on screen department.

The DVD fits these all together nicely and in a good order (you can watch them straight through or one at a time, which I suggest doing). The disc is presented in varying aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 (depending on the film) on a single-sided, single-layered disc.

The picture varies. I was confused on how to rate but I'll just average them all up into a "B-". You can't expect too much from a short film but some here actually look quite good. I found that More looked the best, which shouldn't be a surprise since it was filmed on that giant Imax 70mm film. Detail in that is the highest. It's a gray movie (meaning gray is the dominant color) but when colors do appear they do not smear or bleed and are well saturated. I'd give it an "A" for sure.

The rest is all on and off. Zoltar, Superstition and Lion present the next best pictures, all extremely sharp all throughout with bright colors (when called for) and great black levels. The Bar Channel has the worst picture of them all, grainy, spotty, dirty as well as a few digital artifacts plague it. The rest are just so-so below average "C-" stuff. Some of them have poor contrast or just don't look too much better than a video tape.

For some reason the entire soundtrack has been done in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. It doesn't show. Only More and Superstition seem to come closest to using the full potential, but both might as well be Stereo Surround. It's just the music. The same can be said for the others, except a few where a mono track would have made no difference. I don't know what else to say except there's nothing real special here. Only a couple shorts use the surrounds to a good use. The rest are just "blah".

Each skit get their own supplements. All of them come with production notes. More has an interview with the maker as well as a multiangle selection where you can view the storyboards. Zoltar has a commentary running with it and is nothing too compelling. It also contains an alternate ending that goes on a little too long. Bar Channel has the bonus short with it as mentioned. Images of Korea has a very short useless 2 minute commentary. Lion and the Lamb also has a commentary done over the phone. Lars has an over the phone commentary with Sophie and another commentary by the producer. Superstition has a slideshow and conceptual drawings. And then there are more scattered through the disc that aren't too big.

The disc includes a section called "The Junk Drawer" that is basically useless but has some okay things in it. It includes another little short that I found the funniest thing on the disc. The short displays a shed and we get the sound effects of people beating the crap out of each other. Then it's over and we get a minute worth of credits, making fun of the amount of people usually needed to make a movie. There is also a segment where you can pick food from a menu and then watch someone chew it (umm, you ever get the idea that some things are just too artsy they just go way over your head)) and for all you pyros out there, you can watch fire dance on the screen. You can also play a game of rock/paper/scissors with you TV if you wish. It's a segment divided into 3 chapters and each chapter shows a hand pick either rock, paper or scissors. Your machine randomly picks the chapters and it goes on until you hit menu. If you want to beat it, just memorize which chapter is what and watch for it being displayed on your machine. Of course, if I were in your shoes and I were doing this, I'd think about getting out more.

Since Warner Bros. distributed the disc you get an ad for "The Millenium Collection" and an ad for Eyes Wide Shut. And last but not least you get DVD ROM materials. Well, not really. All it is is an option to play the movie or visit the Warner Bros. or Quickband websites. Or even visit the Warner Studio store. Don't bother installing it and wasting that oh-so precious hard drive space.

Anyways, I can't really recommend the disc. I found a couple of the shorts good but there is nothing on here worth a purchase. But if you do like short films, this disc is a fairly good presentation of them. I will say this, though, I am looking forward to viewing another one of these discs.

Related Sites

Current as of 2/14/2000

Quickband Networks--"Quickband Networks acquires short-subject independent film, music video, interviews with actors, directors and music artists, as well as live footage of concerts and events, and packages them for broadband distribution." the DVD at special discount. the DVD at special discount.
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