Director: Steven Kostanski
Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Meredith Sweeney

Ever since I can remember, I have loved movies. From the first frame of Snow White that was projected on the silver screen when I went to a movie theater for the first time, to decades later watching movies on my big screen television at home, I have devoured the cinematic art form. That probably explains best as to why I started this movie review web site. Some of you may be wondering that since I love movies so much as to constantly watch them and write reviews of them, have I ever had the urge to get directly involved in the movie making process itself. I must confess that that idea has crossed my mind a number of times. Actually, more often in my youth than in this present day and age. You see, I have loved movies enough to have read countless books and articles about them, and what I have learned about how movies get made has made the creation process look very unappealing. Mainly it's with the Hollywood film business. Strict creative control by a filmmaker in Hollywood is very rare - filmmakers more often than not have to collaborate with many other people on the same movie, and in that process someone's strong and clear vision more often than not gets diluted. There is the saying that, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," and with so many voices speaking up on the same film explains why the majority of Hollywood movies are pretty bad. And don't get me started on the Canadian film industry, which not only more often than not suckles on the taxpayers' teat, is more often forced (or heavily pressured to) to make movies that have little to no commercial potential. Though I have an artistic vision, I would also want people to be attracted to watching my movies, and there's little room for such filmmakers in the Great White North.

As you can see, I would not want to make a film under the thumb of some major movie production company, American or Canadian. So it would seem that if I wanted badly enough to make my own movie, to do what many filmmakers have done - make it completely under my control on my own. While that may seem to be the logical thing to do, there are some potential problems I have not figured out. For example, I don't know how I would round up a cast of actors - especially talented actors. Put an ad in my local newspaper? Then there are problems like how I would round up a crew, especially since it wouldn't be a union production. Then there would be the problem of getting equipment, from lights to cameras, especially since the city I live in isn't exactly a popular place to make movies. I guess those problems could be overcome if one had the resources, but there is one essential resource that I am short of - money. At least money to spare, since there is no way I would tap into my retirement savings to make a movie, like what Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman did with one of his movies several years ago. I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars, and let's face it, so many movies depend on an ample enough budget. On the other hand, I have certainly heard of people making feature films on very low budgets. El Mariachi was made for only $7000, and Paranormal Activity was made for only $15000. Lloyd Kaufman once said something like, "If you only have $5000, make a $5000 movie," and he certainly knows a lot about low budget filmmaking.

So I guess it's possible that I could make my own movie with very little money. Though I would take small steps to making my own movie. I would first get a camera and editing software for my computer, and figure out how to use both. Then I would start by making a short film. Eventually I would make a feature length movie, though I would probably first make a down to earth comedy Manborgor a serious domestic drama, since those genres don't depend on large budgets. Certainly there have been genre movies that have successfully been made on rock bottom budgets like those two examples I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Another such movie is Manborg. I was interested in watching this movie, because it was an independently made genre movie - the science fiction genre - on a real rock bottom budget. The budget on this movie was only $1000 - and those were Canadian dollars. Yet despite the ultra low budget, the end results were apparently attractive enough to get the movie picked up by a fairly major American DVD label. These facts got me so curious, I had to see how the filmmakers accomplished so much with so little. The events of the movie take place in the future, where "The Hell Wars" are raging all over the world. An evil leader named Count Draculon (Brooks, Father's Day) and his armies from Hell are determined to take over the world and wipe out humanity, but humanity is fighting back. During one battle, a human soldier (Kennedy, Father's Day) is killed. His body is taken by a scientist named Scorpius (also played by Brooks) and is implanted with mechanical parts to make a cyborg, which is given the name "Manborg". It is hoped by Doctor Scorpious that Manborg will save the world, though he is soon captured by Draculon's forces. In prison, he meets an Australian punk gunfighter named Justice (Conor Sweeney, ABCs Of Death 2), Justice's sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney, Father's Day), as well as a kung fu master (Ludwig Lee). Eventually Manborg and his three new friends escape, and are determined to stop Draculon. Despite having all this help, Manborg is troubled by not knowing his origin, and this weakness could lead to his possible downfall.

Regular readers of The Unknown Movies will know that when I review a movie, I almost always judge it by examining several main features of it. And as I type this, that is my plan for my review of Manborg. But I must admit that there was one thing about this particular movie I was most interested in critiquing, and that was the look of the movie. Probably that's what you are most interested in as well. After all, the filmmakers only had $1000 to spend - could they create a convincing science fiction world on a pittance of a budget? Well, my opinion is that Manborg's filmmakers created the best possible science fiction world anyone could make for such a low budget. I say that because as much as they managed to accomplish, the end results are (no surprise) not without fault. But boy, what they did manage to do. The wardrobe department managed to dress every actor in appropriate clothing, from soldiers in the field battling the armies of Hell to Doctor Scorpius in classic scientist whites. When it comes to the various props showcased, from hover vehicles to weapons, the results are also very impressive. Yes, for the most part they have a crude and clunky feeling to them, but it feels right for the war-ravaged world the events of the movie are taking place in. Speaking of that war-ravaged world, the various sets constructed also are more often than not a marvel for the eye. According to what I uncovered while doing research on the movie, the sets were miniatures constructed out of boxes and various odds and ends. Then apparently the actors were filmed for the most part in a garage and through chroma key technology their footage was combined with photography of the miniature sets.

I feel that I should make clear that the costumes, props, and sets are not up to big budget Hollywood movies. So is the cinematography, since the bulk of the footage shot was apparently given a soft focus look somewhere down the line, possibly to help mask the cheaply made effects. But when you remind yourself of the $1000 budget, you can't help but be impressed with what was wrangled or built for the movie. That also includes the various special effects - there's a lot more than you may think. There are tons of them, from little details like explosions in the background as humanity battles the forces of Hell to full blown special effects such as stop-motion animated monsters battling the protagonists in gladiator combat. While I am speaking of scenes of action, I think it's a good time to mention something that director Kostanski apparently couldn't do with his low budget, and that is to generate much excitement with the action scenes. Possibly because most of the movie was filmed in a garage, most of the action feels confined and lacking a "big" feel to it. Some other action sequences (like the battlefield sequence at the start of the movie) are awkwardly presented, making it hard to figure out at times what exactly is happening. And even though one of the characters in the movie is a kung fu master, the scenes of martial arts are not choreographed or edited that well. Still, despite the action not being that terribly hot, there is usually some interesting factor to make these scenes interesting to watch. For example, when Manborg or one of his friends is battling a stop-motion animated monster, there is a slightly goofy feeling that makes you smile a little at the silly sight of it all.

That fact that I mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph should give you a clue as to another reason why Manborg is fun to watch - it doesn't take itself completely seriously. There are a few moments that are clearly designed to make the audience laugh out loud, like when Manborg is handed a "future cassette" by his creator, or the fact that actor Ludwig Lee as the kung fu master is clearly dubbed by another actor throughout. However, the member of the cast who steals the show is Connor Sweeney as Justice, the Australian punk. He accomplishes the difficult task of being not just amusingly goofy, but goofy in a way that is believable. He seems to realize that going over the top would not fit with the mostly straight faced attitude of his surroundings. In my opinion, that mostly serious attitude was the right decision by the filmmakers. Deliberate camp is something that is very difficult to pull off successfully, and being constantly jokey would not only have been very annoying, it would have suggested to the audience that the filmmakers not only had contempt for their creation, but towards the audience as well. Ironically, with the movie being played mostly straight, it is easier to smile and laugh at what you are seeing. Eventually the joke becomes somewhat repetitive and wears a little thin, but the filmmakers seemed to have realized that, since around that time the movie finishes (if you don't count the end credits) exactly at the one hour mark. This speeding through the movie, though a wise decision overall, does lead to some problems like the majority of the characters being weakly written (Manborg is surprisingly a secondary character for much of the running time, and the movie's chief villain, Count Draculon, only shows up for a few minutes in total.) But when I sit down to watch a movie with such a low budget as this, I prepare myself for finding some inevitable shortcomings and I lower my usual expectations, which helps towards possibly finding the movie enjoyable in the end. If you have that ability, chances are you'll find Manborg a silly but enjoyable backyard production.

(Posted August 12, 2016)

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See also: Cherry 2000, Invader, Omega Doom