Even with the pandemic throwing a huge monkey wrench into current movie production, true originality and creativity in Hollywood has suffered for decades. The reason is easy to figure out, movie producers simply do not want to take risks with their money. So instead they go with tried and true film formulas and repeatedly do countless reboots, sequels, prequels, and remakes.
This allows the big movie producing boys and girls to make enough money to buy their third home high in the hills of the Italian Rivera, their second yacht, and that super nice business jet where the casting couch is the size of a queen-sized bed. The under-educated masses don't mind, they get their regular dose of excessive gunfire, explosions, superheroes, and just enough wild sex to blunt the growing midnight-black abyss at the center of their consumerist lives. Whoa, went really dark there for a minute and on second thought, I have to include my own movie preferences in what the under-educated masses line up to watch during the dog days of summer.
The lack of originality is common with movies of all genres. If one studio puts out a movie about a plucky team of astronauts putting life and limb in danger to stop a giant asteroid from colliding with Earth and causing a mass extinction, you can bet another studio has its own version following closely behind. The same goes for chick flicks, if one story of a down on her luck single momma goes big, other studios are surely working on their version.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this business plan. Unless a producer and director want to go all high brow, European experimental cinema there are only so many ways to tell a story. Full disclosure, I watched one of the experimental films once and went away with bad dreams for weeks. I'll stick with Bond girls, burly and unrealistic action heroes, and starships battling evil invaders.
While there are only so many ways to tell a story people can relate, it would still be nice if the movie studios tried to get outside the damn box every now and then. But since movie studios can't imagine even peering over the rim of the same box to fresher ideas outside, we get the same boilerplate stories year after year.
The best example are the Terminator movies that have never really found a way to tell a different story from the first two. The one exception, Terminator: Salvation with Christian Bale tried to tell the story of the man/ AI conflict from another angle but is widely considered one of the worst. Yes, the worst is Terminator: Dark Fate which is a betrayal of T2 and even the fans on so many levels I refuse to watch it.
However, as unlikely as it may sound there are film makers taking these tired tropes into new and interesting directions.
A new and little known group called Dust Film Studios produces short films that are high quality and extremely thought-provoking. The majority of these films are posted on YouTube for free and there have been several times I spent two to three hours watching one after the other. My favorite though involves a Terminator-like battle between aggressive, sentient androids and humans. The chilling aspect though is that this war for survival takes place in the relative here and now.
The film is called “Singularity” and was directed by Samuel Jorgensen back in 2015. Warning, I'm going full spoiler here but it takes nothing away from the film.
The seven-minute film begins with a black screen and a news report saying the situation had gotten progressively worse over the last week with fighting engulfing Washington DC. At the beginning it's not mentioned that the enemy is androids with bad attitudes, nor is any backstory given about what caused them to go all Skynet-like and killing humans. With the screen still black another reporter breaks in saying that Marine One, the president's helicopter, has been shot down somewhere in Washington DC with POTUS in it. In less than a minute a truly dire situation has been established and I was on the edge of my seat wanting more the first time I saw the film.
The first actual scene of the film shows a Blackhawk helicopter and three Apache gunships in the skies heading to the location of the downed Marine One. Riding inside the Blackhawk is a Delta Force team out to rescue POTUS.
The Blackhawk briefly lands next what looks to be a ruined hospital deploying the Delta Force troopers who head inside one of the buildings. The production value of this film is incredibly high with the actors decked out in high tech armor quite close to the equipment used in actual combat areas. Each actor is also holding what looks to be a highly accurate M4 assault rifle prop. One of the problems with these types of films involving military operations is the lack, or outright absence, of proper equipment. The other typical problem with the films are actors who simply do not look like soldiers. The actors in Singularity have the exact look and bearing of experienced soldiers.
The Delta guys slowly go through the corridors of the war-damaged hospital looking for the president. The hospital is eerily quiet as they proceed with the only dead bodies they encounter being that of the president's Secret Service detail.
They link up with the president and begin the long haul back outside to the extraction point where another helicopter will be waiting. The president, while alive, is gravely injured and can barely walk. They don't move far before making contact with the enemy. The president calls the androids “clinkers” and once again, we're given no information on what brought on their rampage.
A running battle commences with the Delta guys taking heavy causalities as they move with the president. It is here that we our first, brief look at the enemy. The clinkers are clearly mechanical humanoids and at first glance do not stray far from a Terminator whose fresh has been burned away leaving nothing but the silver endoskeleton.
With most of the Delta rescue team dead, the two remaining troopers and the president are on the verge of getting out of the building. That's when the clinkers begin a heavy push forcing one of the troopers to stay behind in the last room providing cover for the president and his protector to get outside.
Even though the last soldier and the president do get outside, their ride out of the combat zone is still a full minute away. And yes, the clinkers are converging on their location with guns blazing. With the last Delta trooper providing cover, he tells the president to sprint towards the MH-53 Pave Low chopper as its sets down.
The president makes it to the chopper with the last Delta soldier fighting off clinkers as they rush his position. The Pave Low chopper takes off and just as the Delta trooper is about to be overrun one of the damn Apache gunships finally shows up and turns most of the attacking clinkers into chunks of scrap metal.
Curiously, seconds later one of the surviving clinkers walks up next the Delta trooper, who is expecting immediate death, and just watches the president's rescue chopper as it goes out of range. The scene then cuts away from the lone trooper and the clinker and transitions to the president sitting in the chopper.
For a second or two everything looks like a happy ending with the president being saved. That's when the president looks straight ahead and you see electric flashes in one of his eyes. We are left with the clear impression that the president has either been altered by the clinkers or completely replaced with an android double. Either way the president is now a two-legged Trojan Horse in the middle of a war that gives every indication of going badly for the Americans.
Just to make the tactical situation even more of a dire shit-show, the last scene of the film is a shot of the Washington skyline. Off in the background much of Washington is one fire including the Capitol Building. While in the foreground, we see the Washington Monument taking a direct missile hit and collapsing into rumble.
The first time I saw this film I was breathless at the ending, even with no backstory nor explanation of why the clinkers went rogue. This is the type of story that would make an awesome movie and shows what is lacking in the big production blockbusters we get today.
The budget for this short film had to have been small, but despite that the production values equaled many of the movies produced by the big studios. I even went as far to search the internet for any sign that this was just the first stage of turning Singularity into a major motion picture. I found nothing to suggest that was the case.
Yes, it was the unanswered plot points that made this such a great film. Despite that I still want to know why the clinkers were developed and what caused them to turn on their creators. Most of all I want to know what their ultimate goal is in their war with humans. Recognition of their freedom from cruel servitude, or outright destruction and enslavement of their former masters. Given the clinkers no-holds barred fighting in Washington DC, I see dark times ahead for the Americans. Needless to say, if you've got seven minutes to spare and like great story telling, find Singularity on YouTube.