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WEB REVIEW

Arts on the Web

Online Film: Short but Sweet

By Fred Choi
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

Atomfilms <http://www.atomfilms.com>

Ifilm <http://www.ifilm.com>

Most film fans who surf the web are probably already familiar with two of the biggest sources for online film, namely Atomfilms.com and Ifilm.com. Both allow users to browse short films by genre or to find the top audience-rated or most commonly viewed films. Online film is a technology which is hampered by the fact that the average web surfer doesn’t have a connection fast enough to make browsing online film very feasible (enjoy MIT’s T1 connection while you can!). However, although both sites work within the same relatively limited niche, each appears to have different goals and audiences.

Despite Atomfilms’ recent redesign, Ifilm remains the much more sophisticated and original site. There are many reasons why Atomfilms pales in comparison, but the principle one is that the bulk of its content is infantile and insipid. A quick survey of their highest-rated shorts shows that viewers at Atomfilms tend to favor raunchy, violent humor and predictable plots. Furthermore, their shorts tend to be repetitive and completely lacking in substance. For example, Puppies for Sale is an eight-minute film version of the chain e-mail concerning a boy who wants to buy a lame puppy. Although the film is professionally directed, features Academy Award-winning actor Jack Lemmon as the pet store owner, and is filmed competently enough, the film is pointless because it adds absolutely nothing to the inane and sappy chain e-mail. Similarly, The Last Real Cowboys is an eleven-minute short featuring Billy Bob Thornton. The majority of this short is spent listening to a cowboy reminisce about the days when he used to skip around with the other little kiddies. The cowboy then tries to convince his fellow cowboy (Thornton) to release his inner child by joining him in skipping. As in Puppies for Sale, one immediately wonders why famous actors stooped so low.

The bulk of Atomfilms’ other shorts are either pointless parodies or shorts similar to the Joecartoon.com shorts (which also appear on Atomfilms). The parody Script Doctor is a mildly amusing short that is far too long at eight minutes, and virtually every joke in the short could have been predicted from its title. However, it concludes with a somewhat funny scene, during which the Script Doctor attempts to revise Batman 5 by casting Matt Damon as Batman and adding a Celine Dion duet with Ice-T. The Joecartoon.com shorts on Atomfilms feature pointlessly violent or raunchy Flash cartoons, such as Stone Flies. In this short, a group of flies get stoned and recite the expected, vaguely funny comments, like “I think I can fly!”and “Uh, I did not know that she was 13!” In JoeFish, a gerbil is dunked into a tank full of piranhas and is gradually mutilated. Even the Stainboy series, which contains Flash-animated shorts written and directed by Tim Burton, fails to impress. Although it features Tim Burton’s trademark off-beat humor, the pedantic “adventures” of Stainboy (such as the adventure in which he confronts the “Bowling Ball Head” that is terrorizing the local bowling lanes) aren’t enough to sustain half an episode, let alone an entire series of them.

It is evident that these actors, directors, and writers haven’t mastered the difficulties of the short film, a medium which demands the highest levels of creativity and originality. Although Atomfilms may appeal to some, if you are looking for online film that features more than a single overly familiar joke or plot, surf over to Ifilm.com instead. Ifilm contains links to trailers, music videos, and shorts, and taking a quick glance over its top ten audience-rated short films shows the high quality and wide variety of short films that make Ifilm a superior source for online film.

Currently at the top of Ifilm’s highest rated films is the Academy Award-nominated More (written and directed by Mark Osborne, see <http://www.moreshort.com>), a surprisingly moving mixed media short that follows a tired inventor who seeks to bring happiness to his tired and drab world. The short, which is just over six minutes long, has impressive visuals, little dialogue, and is tied perfectly to its music, written by New Order.

A close and deserving second on Ifilm is 405 (by Bruce Branit, Jeremy Hunt, see <http://www.405themovie.com>), a hilarious three-minute short which follows an unlucky driver who ends up in the path of a descending jumbo jet. The short was one of the first Internet film phenomenons: it received thousands of downloads. In addition, the film was created by just two people (albeit professional special effects programmers) in only three months, and it has been heralded as a harbinger of the future of filmmaking,.

The third highest-rated film is The Killer Bean 2 (by Jeffrey Lew, see <http://www.jefflew.com>), which is completely different from More and 405. When the protagonist’s sleep is interrupted by a loud group of partying coffee beans, he straps on two guns and hops into his hot rod to kick some bean ass. What follows is a slew of well-animated and oftentimes quite clever fight scenes, including a climactic rooftop shoot-out. Although the short features cartoon violence, the violence is not crude or gratuitous, and that the fight scenes are all in good fun. Like 405, this short was created at home on a personal computer by filmmaker Jeffrey Lew (who also worked on X-Men and The Matrix). The short features a catchy score, also by Lew.

Although these three films on Ifilm are easily some of the best short films around, there are many others. Ornaments (by Aaron Erimez) is an impressive computer-animated tale of a quest by a Santa Claus ornament to reach the plate of cookies at the opposite end of the room. Summoner Geeks (by Tim Borrelli), which any person who has dabbled in the RPG will appreciate, is a short that relies completely on the dialogue between four friends playing Dungeons and Dragons.

The duds on Ifilm tend to fall into several categories. Along with the gratuitously violent and the gratuitously raunchy films is an overabundance of uncreative parodies. The moderately entertaining George Lucas in Love, a supposed melding of Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love, gave rise to the much less clever films such as American Jedi and Apocalypse Pooh. Ifilm also features an inordinately high number of Star Wars spin-offs, only a few of which are any good.

If you like online film, be sure to check out future columns that highlight the best films on the web. This column is dedicated to highlighting the best of the web, and if you want me to check out a site that you think deserves attention, e-mail me at <webstuff@the-tech.mit.edu>.