We Are the Strange

(USA - 2007)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: voices of Chaylon Blancett, David Choe, Stuart Mahoney, Halleh Seddighzadeh, M. dot Strange
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Director: M. dot Strange
Screenplay: M. dot Strange
Cinematography: M. dot Strange
Composer: M. dot Strange

If you can imagine working showstopping Jan Svankmaker and Brothers Quay stop-motion shorts into an anime that takes place inside a Nintento Entertainment System video game fantasy world and originates from the twisted mind of a David Lynch fan, you can perhaps begin to grasp the unique viewing pleasure offered by M. dot Strange’s debut feature We Are the Strange. The epitome of do it yourself animation, Strange created and rendered his fusion of stop-motion, 2 dimensional digital artwork (CG) and blue screen effects in his own cramped apartment with lots of encouragement from fans who saw the bits, pieces, and ultimately the trailer he posted on You Tube, but little actual outside help.

Strange arguably explains less to his audience than David Lynch, simply thrusting you inside a video game where two outcasts meet in the forest and embark upon a perilous journey to the evil city to buy ice cream. Apparently it’s just that tasty, as they precede despite attacks from monsters and giant robots. eMMM is a small broken up doll with an M spray painted on his forehead whose basis is Kabuki, while Blue is a young woman whose basis is manga. Blue has a disease that renders skin scaly upon opening her mouth, and is particularly conscious of the affliction due to it just causing her to be fired from her stripping job.

Blue’s disability provides an excuse for Strange to focus on the sensual visual experience, lights and colors providing the bulk of the ambient experience. In a sense, the storytelling is similar to silent films, though the characters have a more posed feel due to either being dolls or animations that don’t have a great deal of facial movement or detail. There is a modicum of dialogue, but it’s much too true to the clunky banal simplicity of video games for the good of the movie.

The film is largely traversing though wonderful backgrounds until friend or usually f foe appears. This may sound as terrible as watching someone else play a video game, but Strange not only deeply immerses his audience in his visionary world, he manages to mix narrative incoherence with emotional resonance. Following a basic calm before the storm pattern, Strange attempts to bring out the emotions of his sad dejected characters in the quiet scenes, relying on the atmosphere, particularly a more classical sounding score featuring somber strings, to convey the mood of the lonely isolated characters. Themes of individuality, freedom, and alienation vs. conformity surface, but probably still take a back seat to the shape shifting landscapes.

Strange delivers startling, wildly disorienting montages of max plus stimulus when a monster appears. Though a battle between good and evil, the superhero Rain, who regularly saves eMMM and Blue, derives gleeful pleasure in mopping the floor with his enemies during these frenzied, hectic sequences. During the action and adventure sequences, the soundtrack switches to chiptone music (electronic music created on old video game systems such as Game Boy or NES).

Despite the reliance on computers over hand drawing, We Are the Strange maintains a handmade feel due to the constant mixing and blending of all types and tech levels of animation. Many of the backgrounds were created on the old 8-bit Mario Paint program, but the film is so active - constantly morphing shapes, beings, and backgrounds - it never feels decidedly low tech either. It can burn you out at times, and feels long because it doesn’t develop the story beyond the basic video game parameters, but it certainly possesses a strange beauty.


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* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *