MANBORG: Part Man, Part Borg, All Lunacy

MANBORG releases on DVD April 30th, 2013 and plays in select US theaters as well.

It is miraculous what can be done today with a camera, a basement, some green screens, and heavy doses of creative drive. MANBORG is technically directed by Steven Kostanski, but one look at the credits on the film will tell you that MANBORG is a family affair, with the same 5 or 6 names popping up in all categories from pre-production through post. That little family is known as Astron-6 and they are based out of Canada. They seem to be driven by an undying compulsion to create silly films together, and have put together several hilarious shorts which lead up to the creation of their first feature film in MANBORG.

You can see some of their hilarious shorts on their website. One of my favorites is LAZER GHOSTS 2: RETURN TO LAZER COVE. Stick with it and enjoy the Grindhouse-like insanity.

So, if you checked out that trailer, you have a great sense of what you’ll be getting into with MANBORG. This is the kind of film that will elicit a response one way or another. You’ll know by the close of the opening sequences if MANBORG is the kind of thing that was made just for you, or if you don’t even know anyone that this could possibly have been made for.

Me? I fall into the former category. As a love letter to low-budget sci-fi/action/horror from the early 1990s, MANBORG pays homage to all the stuff I remember fondly from my childhood. That said, homage and pop culture references do not a movie make. Just look to the endless stream of SCARY MOVIE titles for source evidence. Fortunately, MANBORG takes inspiration from a wide array of properties, but then adds its own heart and soul into the mix. What wells are Astron-6 drawing from? We’re talking about such properties as the KILLER INSTINCT video game, ROBOCOP, MORTAL KOMBAT, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, THE RUNNING MAN, and THE ELIMINATORS. (That last one is a title I’ve heard Kostanski reference often as inspiration for MANBORG, but I have yet to track it down and see it personally.)

In a swift 72 minutes, we’re introduced to a future world overthrown by Count Draculon and the armies of hell. Humans are subjected to gladiatorial combat, and only Manborg can stand up to Count Draculon and his evil forces. The problem is, Manborg does not know who he once was, or how he came to be. He can’t control his awesome powers and relies on friends that he meets along the way, including #1 Man (A MORTAL KOMBAT reject), Mina (An Anime-inspired warrior girl), and Justice (illiterate Aussie.)

The story doesn’t really matter all that much here. Which may bewilder many viewers. What wins me over when watching MANBORG is the constant barrage of effects-packed sci-fi visuals, the off-beat sense of humor, and the full knowledge that this entire film was created on a budget that Roger Corman’s jaw would drop over.

Sure, George Lucas proved to us that sometimes you really can’t just throw all your actors in front of a green screen and then build the entire world afterwards. But George Lucas was operating at the zenith of his profession with the most cutting edge technologies and the greatest casts money could buy when he helmed the STAR WARS prequels. Steven Kostanski and Astron-6 almost certainly sold body parts on the black market to fund this project and very definitely created every effect, every stop-motion creature, and every digital backdrop seen with their own hands and laptops.

The stuff they create feels movie-magical to me. Hell’s demons leap into the air and hover boards appear beneath their feet. Stop-motion droids and creatures skitter about and even get into epic battles with Manborg. (These stop motion sequences are easily my favorite element in the film.) Villains’ faces explode and disintegrate in grisly, practical-effects driven close-ups. But make no mistake, none of these creations look Hollywood-ready. The joy comes from how ambitious Kostanski is. Total lack of funds doesn’t seem to stifle his creativity or the scope of the stories he wants to tell. And I would even venture to say that the movie manages to look really cool, even if not-quite-ready-for-primetime.

There is something about the craftsmanship on display in MANBORG that feels tactile and inspirational. The Astron-6 team reminds us that any one of us could make a movie if we put in the time and energy to create something unique.

None of the acting is remarkably strong, but you can tell that the entire cast is fully in on the joke. And that brings me to another point of love for the film. Where the story really isn’t the centerpiece here, the humor bolsters the effects work and puts the film firmly into comedy territory. But the sense of humor is dry as hell and will be as divisive as the film itself. Again, if you haven’t at least chuckled within the first five minutes of MANBORG, you probably won’t laugh at all and this movie probably isn’t for you. I’ve seen the film twice and found myself laughing out loud upon both viewings. Kostanski has a gift for editing together lovable non-sequiturs that must be seen to really experience.

Since creating MANBORG, the Astron-6 team was brought on by Troma to create the feature film FATHERS DAY, which I still haven’t seen but would love to. In this review I’ve now casually mentioned both Roger Corman and Troma, and that gives you a sense of where Astron-6’s style can be most easily lumped. If Kostanski and the rest remain true to their unique sense of humor and inspirations, the films they create may very well remain on the outskirts of the system. Maybe an established B-film production company like Troma would be a perfect home base for Kostanski and team to continue creating their unique film versions of genre jambalaya. No matter how they press ahead, I wish them all the best and hope to see many more features and shorts with the unique Astron-6 flavor.

And I’m Out. (AKA “See You Lazer”)

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