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Musicians that make movies starring themselves isn’t exactly a new thing, with many high-profile acts creating movies that showcase their music, often loosely cobbled together to form a plot. Many of these films are decidedly silly and abstract, basically long music videos to promote a new release. Some though have become iconic movies that are now beloved for their creativity and imagination. Think of The Beatles Yellow Submarine or The Who‘s Tommy, both of which used the band’s music to tell visually arresting stories. Others have come close or fallen into oblivion. Now we have The Killer Robots! (the ‘!’ is part of the name) a band that you could be forgiven for not knowing, though they’ve been making entertainment for more than a decade.
You’ll notice the odd phrasing, “making entertainment” in the previous sentence. I’ll try and explain. Formed in late 2004, the members of the theatrical band, self-proclaimed fans of music, comic books, and science fiction, produce multimedia projects, live shows, and films. Their stage personas are that of robots. They released their first feature-length film in 2009, called The Killer Robots and the Battle for the Cosmic Potato, which right away gives you the tone and sense of humor these talents are shooting for. It was a mix of crude computer animation and live-action that is certainly creative, if not inspired.
Now comes The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn. Keeping with the same style as their previous movie, things have definitely been upgraded. The computer animation, effects, attention to detail and writing, have all improved. The movie, no matter one’s taste for the genre, is a wildly creative and visually captivating experience. Like a big-budget video game cut-screen come to life, it offers a feast for the eyes and never stops finding ways to be imaginative. To that end, and with a nod of respect, their costumes, the sets, the creatures and more are all handmade out of recycled plastics and toy parts. It’s a stretch to lump Star Wars into this conversation, and don’t mistake this as a comparison, but back in the 1970s before that franchise exploded, those visual effects teams were doing the same thing.
The story starts in a robot fighting arena, where a mechanized dinosaur-like creature easily defeats a series of combatants. Four of these fighters are blown apart and end up as scrap metal in a heap where they are soon retrieved, re-assembled, and re-activated by a mysterious organization with need of some help. The robots are Auto, Max, Strobo, and Trog, four wise-cracking, party-loving robots with a penchant for punching. Recruited by a mysterious benefactor, they are tasked with traveling to the planet Vidya, an artificial world that was once a utopia, now plunged into chaos by a computer virus that has turned the population into a barbarous, hostile wasteland. On the planet, joining forces with others in the cause, they must do battle with a wild variety of androids, mechanical monsters and killer machines while seeking a device that will link multiple universes and restore peace and tranquility. It won’t be easy. But it will be fun.
By no means are the makers and members of The Killer Robots! playing it serious. But that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. For a low-budget indie project, there is a remarkable commitment to injecting this film with the highest level of quality. The style and animation are loads of fun with so much in the peripherals, it’s a wonder to watch. Its hokey approach and ultra-cheesy dialog mix well, feeling like panels ripped from a bizarre amalgam of Japanese manga and American cyberpunk comics.
That said, at an hour and forty minutes, it stretches on a bit long. Some of the characters and action tend to blend together so it can be hard to discern who is who and what is what, though that’s a minor point. No one watching is paying much attention to the story. This is is about the visuals and the action. Director Sam Gaffin, who is a founding member of the band and stars (naturally) in the film, keeps that action lively and interesting. There are a number of creative moments that, while betraying the computer animation, give the film a real sense of style. That’s the real reason to stick with this often funny, curious little gem.
The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn debuts on VOD, July 15.
Director: Sam Gaffin
Writer: Sam Gaffin
Stars: Sam Gaffin, Samuel Williams, Charles Harris, Shawn C. Phillips, Jenna Hellmuth, Jesus Rodriguez