Director: Steven Kostanski
Cast: Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Meredith Sweeney, Conor Sweeney, Ludwig Lee
Dark Sky Films / NTSC Region 1 / Unrated / 1.78:1 Widescreen / English 2.0 Stereo / 72 minutes
DVD Extras: 2 Commentaries, Deleted & Alternate Scenes, Bloopers, Behind the Scenes, Stop Motion, Montage, VFX Montage, Short Film, Interviews, Premiere Q&A
If you’re a fan of quirky independent Canadian filmmaking outfit Astron-6, you’ve probably been anxiously awaiting their latest release, Manborg.
Regular attendees of DEDfest (Edmonton, Alberta’s only annual horror/cult film festival) have been waiting at least since June, when we were given the pleasure of welcoming three of five Astron-6 members — Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy and Steve Kostanski — for a very special DEDfest screening of the highly anticipated and controversial Father’s Day, which turned out to be a dementedly gory treat. So you can only imagine how excited DEDmontonians were upon learning that Manborg had made the cut for the 2012 DEDfest movie lineup. If Manborg were to bear any sort of resemblance to the raucous ride of Father’s Day, there would be no doubt of it becoming an instant hit among Astron-6 enthusiasts and cult movie fans alike.
Well, Manborg turned out to be its own distinct breed of movie, concocted of every department-store-bargain-bin gem that you could possibly think of — or have never heard of, for that matter. It in no way, shape or form resembles the same Grindhouse-revenge-flick-inspired nature of Father’s Day (which was actually made after Manborg but released before). It lacks the gore, and it lacks the insane plot that Father’s Day has to offer, but there is definitely no shortage of heart and fan-boy passion for all the things that inspired it.
The movie is chock-full of nods to the low-budget sci-fi action-adventure movies of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, characters that were (and still are) frequented in the majority of pop-culture pieces and we sure as hell can’t forget to mention the very foundation of Manborg — the green screen! Pretty much every single visual in this movie is set on the backdrop of a green screen. And all of the FX were created by Astron-6’s master of SFX, Steve Kostanski — who also wrote and directed Manborg.
The movie is set in a very familiar future dystopia. We are thrown into war in the opening of the first scene. Introduced to us are two soldiers — Matt Kennedy as pre-Manborg soldier, and his main comrade, the schmuck who is about to be ruthlessly murdered by our main villain Draculan. Absolute carnage ensues and Soldier Number One (Kennedy) witnesses the traumatizing death of his best friend.
Flash-forward: We see bits and pieces of Soldier Number One’s transformation. He then wakes up in a box in some sort of laboratory, looks himself over and realizes that he’s been turned into some sort of human-cyborg hybrid (or as he later declares, “Manborg”). He also comes to realize that he’s trapped in some sort of prison operating under Doctor Scorpius and The Baron (Astron-6’s Adam Brooks and Jeremy Gillespie). The evildoers keep captive a group of pop-culture-proclaimed heroes — Australian badass Justice (Conor Sweeney), cute anime chick Mina (Meredith Sweeney), and Asian sensation #1 Man (Lustig Lee) — who they use for their own personal entertainment by tossing them in a Gladiator ring and making them fight monsters and demon hordes. What ensues is a battle of survival of the fittest.
As I mentioned, the plot isn’t anything special, but the essence of Manborg lies within the execution and it’s resemblance to all of those beloved bargain-bin gems of past decades that inspired it. The visual FX are outstanding, perhaps a bit too cheesy and unrealistic for anyone who is unfamiliar with the sci-fi action adventure movies of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but outstanding nonetheless. Steve Kostanski is a truly talented craftsman of both visual and practical FX, and his talent really shines through every scene in Manborg. For a movie that was made on a shoestring budget of $1000, the costumes and makeup/creature FX are fun and look top-notch against that green screen.
Manborg is definitely a movie that requires an acquired taste for such B-grade brilliance, but it’s a blast to see with a group of like-minded friends. I have no doubt that it will gain a well-deserved fan base, likely consisting of dedicated Astron-6 enthusiasts.
[NOTE: The following supplemental information written by Greg Baty.]
The DVD of Manborg from Dark Sky Films (available April 30th) is nothing less than stellar. It is looks and sounds fantastic and is packed with awesome special features. The 15 minute “Behind the Scenes” is a voyeuristic and goofy look at the cast as they interact between takes. The stop-motion and VFX montages are a lot of fun especially seeing how the very low-budget visual effects are put together. I loved the creepy stop-motion short that involves a small girl being saved from a monster who lives in paintings by two guitar/weapon wielding badasses. But I think by far my favorite supplement is the 22 minutes worth of interviews with cast and crew that are like no interviews I have ever seen. Dead fetuses, mind-melds and complete madness for sure.