Starring Glen Hunwick, Peter Paltos, Holly Austin, Albert Garcia, Michael Shanks
Directed by Michael Shanks
Stop-motion is now something of a lost art, but for a number of decades, it stunned audiences by bringing fantastical creatures to life in a way they had never seen before. For instance, the scene in Jason and the Argonauts where the titular hero battles against sword-wielding skeleton warriors is arguably one of the most recognizable set pieces in the history of cinema. Through the magic of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects, this scene has been burned into the audience’s memories for decades, but did you ever stop to wonder what happened to the skeleton warriors after the end credits rolled?
The new short film Rebooted, which can be viewed on YouTube, focuses on a skeleton actor named Phil, who made a name for himself after starring in the fantasy epic 10,000 Sandals, but now struggles to find work as the industry moves away from stop motion and embraces computer effects. Featuring almost no dialogue, the twelve minute short shows Phil struggling to find work and botching multiple auditions, as he grudgingly comes to learn that there just isn’t any demand for a stop motion skeleton actor anymore. Which is not good news, because since he can’t find work, he won’t be getting any pay checks, and actors do need to eat (or at least we assume that skeleton actors also need food). Despite the somewhat comedic premise, this is still a story which is likely to make you cry, as Phil and the other old school movie monsters he encounters come to accept how they have been rejected by society. We never thought that a film about a walking skeleton would tug on our heartstrings as much as Rebooted did, so you should probably watch it with a pair of tissues handy.
Needless to say, the stop-motion effects in Rebooted are phenomenal, with the filmmakers perfectly invoking the work of Ray Harryhausen in a modern setting. Not only does Phil believably interact with the live-action world and with his human co-stars, but he was given a variety of versatile facial expressions which allow him to feel more like a fully fleshed out character, despite his lack of actual flesh. His diverse expressions also gave us a clue to his motivations, which was useful in a story with almost no dialogue. Heck, the performance of the stop-motion skeleton was more convincing than a great deal of performances we’ve seen from real actors in various films over the years, and his struggles really make you feel for him. After all, the poor guy can’t even drown his sorrows, as the alcohol he drinks in a bar spills from his ribcage into a bucket he conveniently placed between his legs.
Some of the fellow struggling actors Phil encounters throughout his journey include an animatronic dinosaur, a CGI liquid metal creation, and a black and white hand-drawn dragon which makes cute squealing noises. Seeing this creatures bought to life in such a unique way will certainly bring a smile to the face of any monster movie aficionado, and it was hilarious to see them interacting with regular people. Because while saying a T-Rex walks into a bar may sound like the setup of a bad joke, seeing the poor thing clumsily knock over the drinks of other patrons with its enormous tail as it tried to gesture to Phil only makes us wonder what an average day in the life of such a gigantic creature in the modern human world must be like.
Although he appears to be a relatively good-natured character, Phil also dreams of burning the set of the remake of 10,000 Sandals to the ground after the producers drop him in favour of a human actor in a motion capture suit. He never actually acts out these dark fantasies, however, as he’s far too nice to actually cause harm. Instead he simply tries to find his place in a society which rejects him. This is by no means a new idea, so kudos to the writers and filmmakers for coming up with such a fresh and original spin on a concept we’ve all seen dozens of times before. The topic of loss is also addressed, as Phil clutches a photo of the elderly visual effects guru who created him while watching his VHS copy of 10,000 Sandals, and anyone who has ever lost a loved one will be touched by this scene.
It’s rare for stop-motion to be used these days, so Rebooted was a welcome homage to a bygone era before CGI took over. Not only was it a beautiful film from a visual perspective, but this short film also reminded us to respect forgotten members of our society, even if they happen to be stop-motion skeletons. Phil might not have a heart in his chest, but he certainly did a great job of tugging on our heartstrings, and watching Rebooted will probably make most viewers want to hug someone they love. And right now, we want nothing more than to buy Phil a drink and tell him how much we love and appreciate him, even though we’ll need to bring along a bucket as any liquid he consumes spills out between his ribs.
Anyone who was awed by the stop-motion skeleton sequence in Jason and the Argonauts will love Rebooted. As will anyone looking for a story about a forgotten member of society trying to find his place in a world which no longer accepts him. This is an unforgettable film both from a visual and narrative perspective, and it deserves all the recognition it can get.