In Stephen King’s story Low Men in Yellow Coats, an older man offers some advice to a boy about reading books: “Read sometimes for the story…read sometimes for the words–the language…but when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
The same can be said of film, with the visual style replacing the wordsmithing. When it comes to the treasured sci-fi and action adventure films of the ’80s and ’90s, it’s both the filmmaking and storytelling that strike such a lasting chord influencing the way we envision and think about the future even decades later.
As an homage to those movies, a new short film called Envoy is offered from director David Weinstein. Described as a passion project, the film also deals with a boy who discovers something strange in the cornfield:
Envoy draws on a very familiar story structure in the genre: the innocent openness of a child that drives unexpected connections with a non-human entity. Additionally, the overly reactionary and flat militaristic response is frankly overly played–in fact, a great lyric from the classic ’80s Dead Milkmen album, Big Lizard in My Backyard, captured this stereotype acutely: “I ran downstairs to find an army man. He said, ‘We gotta blow up those things we don’t understand.’”
But the star of this short isn’t the story as much as the visual effects, especially of the alien. In the statement for the film, the filmmakers describe that their purpose was a proof of concept, a way to introduce the story concept to fans and demonstrate to financiers the ability to “craft high-budget content for a fraction of the cost.”
Yet, the fact that production cost is getting cheaper for digital effects isn’t really all that remarkable in 2014.
Commercials are increasingly showing off what can be done with today’s processing power. And high end production companies aren’t alone anymore–two years ago a fan used a freely available video game engine to recreate a pivotal scene in The Matrix with incredible detail.
So it’s not cost that’s really the linchpin of great sci-fi movies–it’s story with vision. Last summer, io9 put together a spectacular list of low budget films that drives this point into the ground.
Visually, Envoy is no doubt up to par with Hollywood’s current offerings, but it’s disappointing that improvements in visual effects technology is turning filmmaking into the same kind of fad-driven industry that the fashion world is chided for. And it seems that moviegoers aren’t buying it either.
In an era of reboots, an audience hungry for new ideas in the sci-fi space is left wanting with Envoy. Still, as King admonishes, sometimes you watch for how fricking cool an alien looks.