FANTASTIC FEST 2011: MANBORG Review

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Do you remember when Mortal Kombat first hit arcades?  I do.  We were all so impressed with the photo-realistic characters who all had crazy violent finishing moves.  Of course, twenty years down the line, those graphics are incredibly dated, even though the game has lived on in some form or another for much of the time between now and then.   No matter how crappy Mortal Kombat looks today, it still holds a place of high esteem in memories of my younger years for being a trailblazing game.  If you still feel that way about MK, you're likely to enjoy a lot of what Steven Kostanski does with Manborg.

It is the future, and Hell has risen from below and taken over the Earth, led by the evil Count Draculon and his minions.  A ragtag group of rebels is fighting back, but their rebellion is effectively crushed, leaving nothing but scorched earth on which the Hellions rebuild their new world.  After a personal confrontation with the Count, one man gets blasted into oblivion, but manages to survive thanks to the help of a mysterious inventor who turns his bloodied body into a cyborg of destruction, Manborg.

In the even more distant future, Manborg awakens and joins forces with 3 other badass humans in an attempt to destroy Count Draculon and his followers, including The Baron, and a strangely sympathetic human called Doctor Scorpius. Manborg's team, which includes fighters named Justice, Mina, and Number 1 Man, is up against all of Hell in their battle to both free the world from the Count's evil reign and get revenge against The Count and The Baron.

The story is hokey, and the script digresses into broad humor a bit too often for my tastes, but Manborg is still a lot of fun.  The film is built around the framework of films from the late '80s like Cyborg and Nemesis, which feature a lot of man on machine violence.  What sets Manborg apart and really makes it worth watching is the craftsmanship that went into the production, as well as the enthusiasm of the cast and crew for their material.

Astron-6 is a small production company from Canada that has brought other throwbacks to the market like Father's Day, and the infamous Lazer Ghost 2.  After a long time working on short films, they are just beginning to break into the feature market. Astron-6 and their crews' enthusiasm for their work is astounding.  Manborg features tons of different styles of action and VFX, with particularly impressive stop-motion work from Kostanski.  Most of the film is shot on green screen, however, the obviousness of that adds to the charm of the experience, rather than distracting from it.

What Manborg lacks in budget, it makes up for in heart and soul.  As the film cranked up and the prologue began, I was ready to write this one off, but the longer I saw with it, the better I felt.  Manborg doesn't have a lot of dialogue, though what it does have ranges from cringe inducing to inspired, but it manages to use what brief passages there are for the necessary set-ups.  It does this efficiently and without wasting time.  The entire film runs exactly sixty minutes, which is exactly how long a film like this should run.  

If you like your science fiction action with its tongue planted in cheek, Manborg might be the way to go.  The film combines the broad, but topical humor of the '80's New Concorde films with the graphic sensibility of your favorite arcade games from the early '90s and turns them into something fun.  If you ever found yourself running out of quarters trying to beat the Terminator 2: Judgment Day arcade game, but never got far enough to see how the game ended, give Manborg a shot, and I think you'll get a fair idea.
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