Project London's Calling To The Cyberworld: Death To The Studios, You Boys And Girls!
That this year's Visual Effects Oscar was going to Avatar was a done deal from the moment Jake Sully floated out into 3-D zero gravity. But what had gadget-minded geeks excited was the Samson-versus-Goliath sight of James Cameron's big-budget behemoth and J.J. Abrams' similarly mega-monied Star Trek competing for the statuette against District 9, the comparatively pocket-change production that sweetly beat Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen to a nomination. This, it was shouted, would soon put complicated special effects spectacles into the hands of the people! And now that time might already be here -- at least if the hype surrounding Project London is to be believed. But how does the teaser for this no-budget, crowd-sourced alien-invasion epic stack up, not just as a preview but as the first shot in a revolutionary war to topple that most sacred of Hollywood tentpoles?
Driven by "The Triumvirate" -- that'd be Ian Hubert, "writer, director, VFX samurai" and brothers Nathan and Phil McCoy, whose jobs range from producing to chicken wrangling -- Project London's main engine is its 250-plus worldwide army of volunteers who're using open-source software to create the film's visual va-va-vooom. These man hours and megabytes are going into the service of a hugely ambitious story the official website describes thus:
After WWII, the Nalardians, an alien race, have brought their technology to Earth. Peace reigns under the world government they helped create, the Joint Command. Nebraska Higgins plunges into a world of intrigue and struggle when Joint Command kills his father, a hero known by his exosuit, Arizona. Seeing a prime opportunity, the London Underground, a rugged band of revolutionaries, recruits Nebraska to join the resistance against the Joint Command. Can Nebraska deal with the loss of his father as interplanetary calamities threaten to destroy the world around him? Earth's fate depends on the potential in a young man's heart...
Ah, as it so often does, from Tatooine to Pandora. A familiar hero's journey and a newsworthy production story? Lovable, sure, but it's not going to be enough to win sci-fi fans over if what's on screen doesn't dazzle.
Okay, the dramatic interludes look a little amateur hour, even without hearing dialogue about people named Nebraska and Arizona. Then again, Project London would hardly be the first effects showcase whose characters and performances came second. So what of that first priority? Describing the visual effects as dazzling might be a stretch -- I'm not sure how the cut-out-animation-looking bit fits in -- but some moments here might well have slotted neatly into District 9. However the final film pans out, it's an impressive experiment. And it's hard not to enjoy The Triumvirate's proclamation:
"We will not bow down at the gilded gates of Hollywood. We will stand and distribute our film across the wilds of the Internet with the help of websites, blogs, word of mouth, and the sheer intensity of our belief in the power of The Individual. We will reach our brothers and sisters in this movement through grassroots efforts and old school rabble-rousing."
Project London -- and other networked rabble rousing efforts -- won't derail Hollywood's plans for Avatar 2, Transformers 3 or District 10 just yet. But a VFX-driven, zero-budget blockbuster along the lines of Paranormal Activity would seem inevitable. And when it happens, it'll change everything.