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2011 | 75 min



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Theatrical release date

 19 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Manborg Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 18, 2013

Their name is Astron-6. A filmmaking collective from Canada, the production team specializes in retro entertainment with a distinct wink, fueled by a love of eighties cinema and the freedom of no-budget creative challenges. Their debut feature, “Father’s Day,” was an unexpectedly hilarious, imaginative take on splatter shenanigans, cutting the toxicity of the gore with a sly sense of humor, articulated by a sharp ensemble of capable comedians. Astron-6 returns with “Manborg,” another dip into the warm waters of violent B-movie reverence, this time channeling “RoboCop,” Sam Raimi, and the “Mortal Kombat” video game to generate an acid-washed cornucopia of action and laughs. Short, silly, and superbly crafted with next to no money, “Manborg” is a delight.

A war has broken out on Earth, with the forces of Hell, led by Draculon (Adam Brooks), bringing humanity to its knees. When a soldier witnesses the murder of his brother on the front lines, his own death is avoided when his bleeding body is peeled off the battlefield and transformed into Manborg (Matthew Kennedy), a powerful robot/human hybrid warrior. Captured by Draculon’s second in command, the lovesick Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), Manborg is imprisoned with illiterate Australian punk Justice (Connor Sweeney), his sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney), and kung fu master #1 Man (Ludwig Lee), forced to fight monsters in front of a roaring arena crowd of Hell’s soldiers, the Killborgs. Proving his worth in combat, Manborg inspires his friends to escape from their laser prison, only to find revelations about his past from Doctor Scorpius (Adam Brooks) weakening his confidence, soon witnessing the return of Draculon.

Crafted with copious amounts of greenscreen and assorted post-production tricks, “Manborg” is a backyard production effort with a big screen appetite. It’s rough around the edges, mimicking the look of a worn VHS rental from 1988, and there’s no mistaking the lack of budgetary might Astron-6 endured to help piece the complicated picture together. However, much like “Father’s Day,” the production seems enlivened by the hardship, finding director Steven Kostanski sweating to secure an entire world for “Manborg,” using low-wattage visual effects, stop-motion animation (bringing robots and monsters to life), and accomplished make-up work to flesh out the possibilities of the frame. It’s convincing work, even when the seams show, generating an exceptional look to the feature that’s concentrated on optical manipulation to achieve desired arcade game and bottom shelf aesthetics. It’s all about an artificial visual kick to bring demonic wars, creature battles, and action sequences to life, and even without two nickels to rub together, Astron-6 manages to shape a captivating movie, rich with references and a triumphant sense of bedlam.

“Manborg” is also pretty darn hilarious, revealing a funny bone that helps to alleviate the occasionally overwhelming screen activities. Perhaps the largest bellylaughs of the effort are found with The Baron, a Cenobite-looking satanic hellspawn nursing a serious crush on Mina, unsure how to break the ice with his uninterested human prisoner. It’s absurd in all the right ways, and that ridiculousness extends to #1 Man, who’s handed a Shaw Brothers-style English dubbing, and Justice, a Tromaville delinquent who barely pulls off his flamboyant sense of badassery. The cast is uniformly successful in attacking the material with skillful restraint, keeping calm in the face of overwhelming opportunities to ham it up. Not that “Manborg” is played straight, yet Astron-6 has a miracle touch when it comes to having fun with their material, instead of pointing out the obvious absurdity of it all. They know how to sell a joke, and mercifully “Manborg” is teeming with ripe comedic opportunities to balance out the horror.

Extraordinary filmmaking creativity and love for arcade culture and moviegoing oozes out the picture’s pores, making “Manborg” unusually endearing for such a retro exercise. Running just over an hour, a gripping take on the titular character’s rise to glory is missing, replaced with a series of knowing nods to frayed genre clichés. There’s not much meat on these bones, yet “Manborg” doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s something wonderful about a feature that’s completely comfortable just as it is. Although I can’t reasonably expect Astron-6 to keep making the same type of cinema forever, I sincerely hope they make B-list bonanzas a career. These guys are just too skilled at schlock to stop the blood-stained merriment anytime soon.

Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Meredith Sweeney
Director: Steven Kostanski

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