Suicidal Heroes: Episode I & II (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18Jun/110

Suicidal Heroes: Episode I & II (2010)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

I'm going to take a rare tack for me and try to be nice here. If you read this review and think I am being mean, I've linked to the videos I'm reviewing and I think you'll see my point.

Today I'm going to take a thankfully brief look into the world of machinima. What's machinima? Simple. It's when you take videos of characters from videogames and dub in dialogue and images to get the audience to forget that they're essentially watching a long form death match with bad lines dubbed over it.

You may think this is an incredibly obscure and rare form of work to find on the internet, but, having read the beginning of this sentence, you're already beginning to realize what a rather large phenomenon this entails. I toyed with linking you to a few of the thousands of videos created in this manner, but I don't know if I could live with myself afterward.

Today I'll be looking at two episodes of a series called Suicidal Heroes. They're rare as machinima insomuch that they're supposed to be serious; they are not so rare insomuch that they're terrible.

Episode I: Autonomy

There's a war happening. No, not the one in real life, there's one in the future, and it involves two sides fighting. One side wears red armor, the other wears green.

In the middle of this fray are two men, Z09 and G7. I think. Their names aren't very memorable, and once you get going, getting the voice to match which of the faceless Halo characters they're supposed to correspond to becomes impossible.

Oh no! Either Z9 or G07 is in trouble!

And that's half of the problem with machinima-- talking over Mario 64 and pretending that it's Mario talking is always going to possess a disconnect. The actions that videogame characters are confined to automatically limit their emotions, and are constricted further depending on how they have been programmed.

Combine that with how videogames already suffer from poor storytelling, as, by necessity, their plotlines are created as a bait and reward system. There are long pauses between narrative beats in any game for the portions that the user can't take part in, and these portions, when exorcised, often turn out to be nothing more than extended transitions.

But I'm off on a tangent. "Episode I" takes us with the two soldiers as they rescue a strange package from behind enemy lines. Not to spoil it for you, but can you guess which of the following things this package is?

  1. An attractive woman.
  2. Z07's long lost child.
  3. An attractive woman who is a badass assassin.
  4. Some other character or object from Halo who is a badass assassin.

Since the game doesn't throw in any objects that don't come from Halo, I hope this narrows this down for you.

The whole film flows like a cliche with only a spark of decent framing to give even the modicum of entertainment value-- and even then, I doubt "Decent framing!" will look good as a quote pulled out for the poster.

Unfortunately, and this goes for the second episode as well, there will never be a world where 'great action scene' and 'ragdoll physics' are used in the same sentence. What works in one outrageously cartoony environment reeks of silliness in another, no matter how similar one tries to ape the other.

See, this one even has Cobra Commander in it.

Of course, there's an irony in the episode's title since any machinima is constrained by another medium's forms and ideas, and, thus, lacking in any sort of autonomy. But then I may be the only one who finds something like that funny.

Episode II: Ipseity

At twice the length of the first, Episode II does what a lot of sequels try and delves into the mythology of a world that it takes place in. Unfortunately, this world where every character looks identical save for the color of their armor plays more like a rehash of the first one than anything more expansive.

The larger conflict is touched on with a little more depth in this episode. One character rightly calls an enemy a terrorist, and he shoots back that, no, they're the terrorists. Casting both sides in the conflict, where there are clearly assigned good and bad sides, as terrorists indicates an interesting post-9/11 frame of mind for the relatively-young makers of this film. The limited scope of this movie could even be read as a testament to the hidden betrayals and domestic paranoia that has crept into the world stage; all wars now are small wars, fought between small men whose ethical lines are blurred beyond their own abilities to figure it out.

But there's also the obvious argument that the limited scope is because of the limitations of the videogame Halo. The ability to create a serious world using machinima will always be difficult, since any audience is going automatically detect such a disconnect.

Even films that try and take another narrative and morph it to fit other languages find such trouble-- check out the Italian Hercules movie series, which were often hectically edited and rendered nonsensical but fed to children's matinees at an incredible speed. Then compare the semi-serious tact that those films take to Woody Allen's re-purposed footage film What's Up, Tiger Lily? and it's not hard to measure which ones are a success.

Look, here's some foreground action. That at least shows the director understands a good way to portray space!

All of this being said, all of Suicidal Heroes suffers the ill effects of sounding like a war movie written by someone who has never seen a war movie. The voice acting, which was merely dull in the first episode, has, at best, become sketchy and unenthusiastic. There are some good effects added, and the director does a decent job of trying to make a world that feels lived in, but there's not much anyone can do against such a bland plot with such terrible voices.

The Suicidal Heroes series is deeply flawed, and, while conceptually risky, is trapped in the world of machinima and unable to use any of its advantages. The world of machinima I picture in my head, for the record, is that of a man trapped in a large plastic bubble that is slowly filling up with wet, slimy shit.

Poor Suicidal Heroes, it never had a chance.

Posted by Danny

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