This summer has brought us both 9 and District 9, two movies that started life as short films. Are there more to come. We look at some of the shorts we'd like to see on the big screen.
We've seen a lot of stellar shorts here; some are simply wonderful as brief visits with strange beings and strange worlds, and some are already being adapted as feature films (like Sundance-winning Tomo and possibly Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). These are just a few of the short films that could make for wonderful, fun, or strange feature films:
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
Notes: Jasper Morello proved a film festival darling, taking top prizes at the Australian Film Institute Awards, Flickerfest, and Dragon Con, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film.
Synopsis: Jasper Morello, a disgraced airman, lives in a city plagued by a terrible and incurable sickness. He is called to be a navigator on a mission carrying an unusual passenger, the eccentric physician Claude Belgon, who is studying airmen in hopes of devising a cure. During the voyage, his wife back home, a nurse, develops the sickness, but the crew finds a strange beast whose flesh can cure the sickness. Unfortunately, the creature has a taste for human blood.
How it could be expanded: Already 26 minutes long, Jasper Morello wouldn't need much expanding once we get a bit more into Jasper's background and the personalities of the crew. But in an expanded Jasper Morello, Claude Belgon could commission an air mission on behalf of the Royal Academy to find a mysterious treasure long rumored by airmen to exist on a far off island, one closely guarded by air pirates. Belgon is fully aware of the treasure's true nature: it is a deadly monster that could potentially cure the sickness. When the airship reaches the island, they are nearly thwarted by the air pirates, but they manage to defeat them, taking one unconscious pirate hostage. They find several of the monster cocoons and take them aboard, but then crew members start disappearing. It is not until the air pirate wakes that it is revealed that Belgon has been feeding the crewmen to the growing monsters. From there, the remaining crew would have to evade Belgon and the monsters (and keep the ship afloat). In the final confrontation, it would be revealed that Belgon chose Morello specifically for this mission because he knew of Morello's disgrace and his wife's likelihood of contracting the sickness, and believed it would make him easy to manipulate. The film ends not with Morello trapped in a cavern feeding the beast, but him steering the monster-filled airship home after killing Belgon, knowing full well that, in trying to save his wife, he could be condemning the entire city.
What could kill it: Much of the short's charm comes from its silhouette animation, which might not translate well to a feature-length film. A live action, or perhaps stop motion, film would have to stay close to the look and feel of the original.
Notes: In addition to Alive in Joburg, Neill Blomkamp has directed a handful of short films, including Yellow, a short for Adidas about an escaped robot who easily passes for human, and Tetral Vaal, about a robotic cop patrolling South Africa. Tempbot is the more narrative of Blomkamp's shorts.
Synopsis: Tempbot is sent to a corporate office for a few weeks to determine how well robots function in the office. As the only temp and the only robot in the office, Tempbot doesn't connect to his fellow employees, only silently observing them and making mental notes of how they interact. The only connection he makes is a physical one, with a fellow temp staying at his motel. But when a new HR manager enters the office, she makes an effort to get to know him and treats him as more than an office drone. He falls for her, but when he clumsily makes his move, he's sent to an all-robot office.
How it could be expanded: Just as District 9 used alien segregation as an allegory for Apartheid, an expanded version of Tempbot could examine the way companies treat their employees like robots. An indie comedy-style Tempbot could have our industrious hero joining an office to find that all the employees are much like him: uniform, hard-working, and not showing much of a life beyond their work, thanks in part to their officious HR manager. But when a new manager joins the staff, she begins to encourage more spark and individuality among the employees. Tempbot begins to sense that he, too, is more than just a worker drone, but his fellow employees continue to treat him like one.
What could kill it: Its non-speaking protagonist.
Notes: Based on Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," the trailer for the 25 minute film (above) attracted a great deal of interest online, and the film debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Synopsis: Closely, following Vonnegut's original story (except with a somewhat older protagonist), 2081 takes place in a future America where everyone is forcibly made equal through the use of physical and mental "handicaps." The strong are made to wear heavy weights, the intelligent wear devices that emit loud noises to distract them, and the beautiful wear masks. Harrison Bergeron, who is brilliant, handsome, and strong, defies the government, delivering a speech during a national broadcast in which he owns up to his own excellence. He is summarily executed while his parents, who can't remember who he is, watch.
How it could be expanded: A full-length movie could focus on Harrison's relationship with the Handicapper General, one of the few people in this modern America who doesn't use a mental handicap in his daily life. Harrison, as well as other excellent youths, attend a special school where they are closely monitored by the Handicapper General. The General normally feels shame at being "better" than other people, but she finds herself taking a perverse pleasure in devising new handicaps for Harrison, who seems to keep throwing them off. Increasingly, she is forced to remove the handicaps from guards at the school so that they can closely watch over Harrison and keep him from evading his handicaps, but he cleverly manages to slip them each time. In the meantime, the General has become lax with handicapping the other students, and Harrison manages to notice that one of his fellow students is incredibly beautiful and graceful. He tries to engage her in conversation, but she is initially too distracted by her handicaps and later too afraid to defy the authorities, though eventually she finds herself intrigued by him. The Handicapper General decides to hold a televised arts event to show off how perfectly average everyone at the school is. Knowing that Harrison is likely to disrupt such an event, she has him imprisoned in the school. But Harrison has gradually won over many of his now unhandicapped guards, and is released. When he makes his grand speech and unmasks the girl who has grabbed his attention — a ballerina in the General's production — the Handicapper General feels pride and admiration for Harrison, and immediately realizes he must be killed. She orders her enforcers — among them Harrison's friends — to kill Harrison, and they obey.
What could kill it: The original short's production was entirely funded by a conservative think tank, which may give some pause about adapting it for a feature film.
Notes: Originally made as a promotional film for a Flash-based video game, Gas Zappers (which you can watch in its entirety here) was eventually funded by the Tribeca Film Institute and made its way into the Sundance Film Festival.
Synopsis: A polar bear whose home is being destroyed by global warming strikes back, taking on rising sea levels, gas emissions, and Arctic drilling (represented by a giant drill with the face of George W. Bush).
How it could be expanded: Seeing the inconvenient truth of global warming and the threat to the polar bear population, Al Gore uses the Nobel Prize money to genetically engineer a polar bear (voiced by Ron Perlman) as the ultimate weapon of the Green Movement, sent all over the globe to combat the enemies of the Kyoto Protocol (armed only with environmentally friendly weapons, of course). When Gore gets wind of a government conspiracy that could lead to unfettered drilling in the ANWR, Gore sends his furriest and deadliest agent to investigate the situation.
What could kill it: It's doubtful that a live-action movie could live up to the awesome weirdness of the original short. Come to think of it, it might be better for an animated television series.
Notes: The Pixar short film that was shown before Ratatouille in theaters, Lifted received a 2007 Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film.
Synopsis: In a flying saucer hovering near a farmhouse on Earth, a young alien is taking his final exam in abduction, toggling the correct switches from an array of hundreds of identical, unlabeled switches to use the tractor beam to lift a sleeping farmer out of his bed, out the window, and into the ship. The young alien repeatedly messes up, banging the slumbering fellow into the ceilings and walls. Eventually, the instructor becomes frustrated and returns the farmer to his bed himself, but feeling badly for the young alien, lets him launch the ship back home. Of course, even that has disastrous consequences for the farmer.
How it could be expanded: I wouldn't presume to step in where Pixar has such a proven storytelling track record. But could we possibly make the alien female?
What could kill it: Pixar may not want to venture back into space so soon after WALL*E, which is really a shame.
Of course, there are plenty of films out there ripe for adaptation. Just a couple more interesting concepts I've only seen the trailers for:
Lone, a post-apocalyptic story about a man who, while searching for survivors, discovers a robot in a pile of junk, a robot who may be just the friend he's been looking for.
And Transgressions, a near-future tale about a society where the slightest infraction is immediately punishable by death, and one man who fears for his life when he inadvertently scratches a neighbor's car.
Additional thanks to Meredith Woerner for suggestions.