Monday, April 9, 2012

Short Film Review: PAC-MAN The Movie (The Fan Film)

1600 feet beneath the surface of the Nevada desert, “Project Yellow Sphere” is nearing completion.  This top secret undertaking is so massive that the government funded Maze Compound has had to deplete the surrounding areas of electricity to keep functioning.  No one quite knows the nature of these experiments or to what end they are being conducted.  Rumors of weapons technology and artificial intelligence abound.  When a skeptical colonel is granted access, what he sees blows his mind, and quells any doubts he has.

If you were a kid in the late 80’s, chances are you encountered Pac Man.  Namco’s arcade game was a bone fide phenomenon.  While the basic concept of the game (A yellow orb maneuvers around a maze while devouring dots and running from ghosts) doesn’t sound like the makings of an epic fan film, James Farr and Steelhouse Digital manage to make it happen with PAC-MAN: The Movie.  They do so by allowing Pac-Man to do the exact same thing by the exact same means as he does it in the real world.  

The filmmakers avoid certain obvious pitfalls in their adaptation. Most importantly, they don’t treat Pac-Man as either the main protagonist or as an intelligent/organic life-form of any kind.  Nor do they attempt to realize Pac-Man’s “world.”  In the films established reality, Pac-Man exists as a man-made creation, the main difference being that in PAC-MAN the movie, he isn’t just meant for recreation.  He actually serves a purpose.  His name is an acronym which stands for Polymorphic Autonomous Compound MANipulator.  He’s basically a computer generated weapon, meant to seek out and consume various targets.

FX wise, the film maintains fidelity with its basic concept.  They don’t try to make Pac Man look “real.”  He is very obviously computer generated, which is as it should be given how the film explains him.  The main set piece is a sequence where Pac-Man does his thing in a giant maze as part of a demonstration for the colonel.  The whole thing plays as homage to the Tron films, particularly the Light Cycle match from the original.  Pac-Man zooms around the maze, devouring dots like a hoover vacuum.  Unlike the game, Pac-Man has arms and legs. These appendages come in handy when he performs a flourish after eating a power pellet.  There’s also a nice touch borrowed from Tron: Legacy.  Whenever Pac-Man chomps down on a ghost, blue translucent liquid juts out from his mouth.

PAC-MAN: The Movie is a lot of fun.  If James Farr could somehow stretch this out into a full length feature, I just might watch it.  How a concept such as Pac-Man could’ve been adequately expanded upon was likely anyone’s guess up until now.  The whole time, the answer was to just keep it simple. Stick to the basics, and show the character do exactly what he’s known for.  James Farr adapted a video game by making a movie about people designing and playing a video game.  He just changed the context to weapons technology.  It doesn’t get any cleverer than that.

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