I know that I said I wasn’t going to review bad films on this site, but something about Fanboys struck me. Perhaps it was empathic pity for a concept gone wrong. After all, this is a film that attempts to capture that anticipation felt by so many (myself included) before the release of The Phantom Menace. And in a middling, sloppy sort of way, it does. The story revolves around four friends who, in the fall of 1998, concoct a plan to infiltrate George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in order to steal a print of Episode I. Of course, there are innumerous flaws with this plan, not the least of which is how they plan to project a multi-reel 35mm print once they smuggle it out, but . . . whatever.
But, breaking into Lucas’ ranch does not an entire 90-minute film make. No, for that you need a host of wacky, moronic contrivances, like Internet girlfriends with access to schematics, a shadowy figure who provides pass codes and ID badges, a few scenes of heated words between Trekkies and Star Wars fans, and perhaps a quick detour to get some peyote from an Indian played by Danny Trejo. That’s pretty much the crux of Fanboys. It’s basically Road Trip with a Star Wars twist.
Their absurd, impossible plan is primarily motivated by the estranged friendship of two of the leads, Eric (Sam Huntington) and Linus (Chris Marquette). During their high school years, Eric and Linus had dreamed of being the “next big thing” in comic books, but they drifted apart when Eric decided to become an adult, which meant taking a miserable job at his father’s dealership. However, in a somewhat cheap plot device, it is revealed that Linus is dying from cancer. So, the road trip is planned as Linus’ last hurrah. Of course, the last laugh is that The Phantom Menace turns out not to be a good movie, but the Fanboys, in one of its rare poignancies, handles that disappointment with surprising adroitness. And that’s the problem with Fanboys. It’s not a good film, but it has certain charms that made it difficult for me to dismiss it entirely.
The film, directed by Kyle Newman, is one of those unfortunate projects that got chewed up and spit out by the proverbial machine. It started off great, even getting an early stamp of approval from Mr. Lucas himself. Production quickly went south, though. Originally slated to be released in 2007, the film was plagued by reshoots, conflicting schedules, and several damaging focus group screenings (one of Hollywood’s more grotesque practices). A second director (Steven Brill) was even brought in during the aforementioned reshoots and supposedly did some butchering to the plot (including excising the cancer angle). After several disputes and release date changes, a final, mostly director-approved version hit cinemas in February of this year.
It’s obvious, though, that this final version is a patchwork flywheel, at best. The plot is disjointed, the characters loosely drawn, and the narrative’s objective is mired by those plodding contrivances I spoke of earlier. Bits of random, unfunny dialogue were looped in to “punch up” mundane scenes, and a plethora of mostly distracting guest stars and cameos only stagnate an already struggling momentum. Take it from me—being a Star Wars geek doesn’t bring much quirky adventure or excitement (a Jedi needs not these things). What it does bring is ridicule from those who don’t understand the obsession and an uncommon camaraderie from those who do. It’s only when Fanboys highlights the latter that it really works. It’s fine to have ridiculous happenstances befall your antagonists, but you must root them in some sort of truth. A functioning example of this would be Kevin Smith’s (who makes a cameo) Clerks. Dante and Randal may have experienced pot dealing sages, necrophilia, rooftop hockey, and funerals gone hilariously awry, all in one day, but, in the end, the weight of their increasingly wasted lives was always paramount.
Still, Fanboys has a certain nagging charm—like an amiable mynock chewing on the power cables of your heart. Beneath the silly antics and pandering mechanisms of the film there lies a very authentic story of friends connected by a history of common passions. Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or a Dolphins fan (that’s a baseball team, right?), you know that to be a universal concept. A concept that goes sadly unexplored in Fanboys. Newman is too busy referencing his characters’ obsession to stop and actually analyze what motivates it. For this Star Wars fan, more was needed than just familiar sound effects, trivia-heavy dialogue, and Kristin Bell—God bless her—in a metal bikini. Seriously.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (annoyingly opened up from its original 1.85:1). The transfer is decent with good colors and okay black levels. I did notice some compression issues, but nothing horrid or overly distracting. The film doesn’t have a very interesting visual palette, but if you’re a fan, you might want to wait for the inevitable Blu-ray disc.
The film is presented in a mostly competent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The film is front-heavy with cleanly reproduced dialogue. The surround channels are sporadically used for the film’s few action sequences. Separation is decent, but I did notice some odd level changes between scenes which had me reaching for the volume.
The commentary features director Kyle Newman, screenwriters Ernie Kline and Adam F. Goldberg, and actors Dan Fogler, Kristin Bell, and Sam Huntington.
It’s not a super informative track, but a fun listen nonetheless. I really enjoyed hearing what Lucasfilm would and would not let the filmmakers get away with. For example, Stormtroopers at a party were not allowed to hold beers. They could have plastic cups, but not labeled beers. The cast and crew obviously had a good time making the film and their infectious rapport comes through in the commentary. Worth a listen if you enjoyed the film enough to watch it twice.
Deleted Scenes (8min):
This is a collection of mostly rightfully deleted scenes and extended sequences. There is a sort of funny ewok vs. wookie scene and an extended Kevin Smith cameo.
The Truth about Fanboys (5min):
“The Truth about Fanboys” is a piece of interminable fluff that is comprised of redundant interviews, clips and “insight.”
The Star Wars Parallel (5min):
Yet another fluff piece (that repeats interviews from the fluff piece directly preceding it). It reminds you that the film has something to do with Star Wars. Thanks.
4 Fanboys & 1 Fangirl (8min):
You know, if you’d just cut all these lame documentaries together, you might actually have a semi-interesting 5-minute feature.
The Choreography (3min):
A feature on the choreography in one of the film’s more patience-taxing scenes.
Disturbances in the Force: A Series of Webisodes (12min):
These are actually not all bad. Obviously, these were used as web marketing features and some of them are amusing. If you only watch one feature on this disc . . .
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