creators' Web site
Web site for downloading @ TheForce.Net

review written 2/23/2003

A fan film about fan filmmaking. This is the Bowfinger of fan films, or the whatever-Woody-Allen-movie-(where-Woody-plays-a-nervous-writer-or-director)-you-like-best.

This movie would have been so easy to screw up. I mean, SO easy. Hell, before The Formula was ever announced, I actually tried to write something like this, a script called Far, Far Away, about a few New Jersey high schoolers trying to make a fan film, and they want to see if Mark Hamill will be in it, and the director's girlfriend is cast as Leia and then breaks up with him, and… and I stopped after ten pages because it sucked.

As a film student, I like to trade moviemaking stories. Sometimes they only make sense to other moviemakers—but you love to tell the one about the time your lights died before you got the last shot, or when you had to build a camera crane out of a tree branch and chewing gum. I am aware of the fun, tension, laughter and tears that go into making a movie.

So are the Digital Llamas, and they get it all across in this wonderful, wonderful film.

Recently a thread was posted on the fan films forum asking people for their favorite fan film moments. What struck me was that while everyone was mentioning The Formula, not everyone was mentioning the same moment. Everyone had a different favorite part.

And recently some idiot decided to bash fan films and say they all sucked. Everyone rose up to defend one film or another, and the one that got the most defenses was... The Formula.

And recently someone decided to ask if The Formula was worth the long download time. The response was an overwhelming yes.

I've seen this film a lot, and yet I can't believe I only recently noticed that (according to the opening credits of "Bond of the Force") the characters' last names—Knight, Bishop and Castle—are all chess pieces. And Zarth and Jenny play chess later. Well, The Formula is a well-plotted chess game. As is fan filmmaking. You gotta have your pieces lined up right. And who's playing the chess game in The Formula? Thomas "Servo" Harrison, as we see on his title slide.

We see some clips from the making of "Bond of the Force". Send up the clichés—Jedi, Sith, forest, fight. What I find interesting is that even though ostensibly they are trying to do this all in one shot, we see it from different angles. We're seeing it as Tom wants to see his film. (Until Greg screws up, of course.)

Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps. But people read too much into Star Wars, too. We can talk about if Zarth is taking a piss at 6:08, if there's a significance to the weird orange-green compression screwup on the panel holding up the lightsabers in the store being the same as on Tom's t-shirt later on in the film, if Greedo is putting on his seat belt as the car drives away (maybe he's not, but it looks like he does, and that makes the film funnier). Do you get where I'm going with this?

Anyway, Tom yells "Cut", and we know what he's feeling when he shouts and rants afterwards. We know.

We see the credits for the actors. The acting in this film is top-notch. I don't get the sense these people are performing, but really having a conversation. Their real-life chemistry transfers well to the screen. Co-writer/co-director Chris Hanel shoulders the "dramatic" role of Tom smoothly and without a hitch, delivering monologues that could have been tedious without losing us. Abe Peterka as Greg and Justin Whitlock as Zarth deserve some kind of award for being brilliant comedic types beyond belief. The characters weren't written to be carbon copies of each other (thank God) and the acting styles match that. Rebecca Peterka as Jenny, unfortunately, does not hold a candle to these three. I don't get the sense she is confident in her skills, or even happy to be performing. But overall acting is good, and very natural—so much that when we actually do get some spontaneous, improvised conversation (the "she's your sister" conversation before Greedo's arrival), we don't sense it as being different than the regular scripted lines.

Steve Phelan, co-writer/co-director, operates the camera well, mixing well-chosen "standard" angles with hand-held work that is neither shaky nor uncontrolled. The camera work makes this feel like a real film, not an amateur production, for which I am thankful.

But let's forget all this, and just pick out the lines we'll remember forever. "The Emperor just called." "Pants of that magnitude." The Trekkies' intro (does James ever blink?!) "What hat?" "Dah-da-di-dah-dah, use the Forrrrce, use the Forrrrrce!" "You know I'm in the shot, right?" (I'm skipping a thousand other wonderful moments here, I know.)

And my personal favorite, the Greedo scene. I love the Greedo scene to death. I don't even know what the whole Crapisode I deal is supposed to be about, and I still love this scene. (And his introduction, too; completely unannounced, funny as hell.)

Unfortunately, there are times when The Formula drags. Hard. The mathematical discussion in the comic book store is unclear and confusing; couldn't they have gotten the money in a way requiring less setup? The REM sequence is too long—it should have made its point and moved on. And while the High Fidelity monologue is touching and sharp (and this is coming from a guy who hadn't seen High Fidelity at the time), the Jaws monologue just stops the film dead. Dead. From 38:07 to 45:52 The Formula takes a nose dive. A gutsy nose dive, a nose dive that Hanel-as-actor performs well in, but a nose dive nonetheless. I'd still rather have a nose dive of this kind then a pointless action sequence, though.

I can't say I'm thrilled with the typography in the non-credits parts, either (though perhaps that was meant as a joke).

But you know what happens when my reviews fall into nitpick territory.

The Formula is not a perfect movie. Its flaws, when they occur, are too gaping for me to call it that. But I can't imagine a better look at the world of fan filmmaking than this. This is a classic for the ages, a sheer joy.

I want to be a Digital Llama. Hell, I'd settle for inhabiting the world of these characters and being a part of "Bond of the Force II".

Digital Llama Productions is in the special thanks of Run Leia Run, not just because a couple of them helped me with filmmaking questions (Greedo voices among them). It's because I would watch The Formula to remind me of why I was doing Run Leia Run. Because I loved Star Wars, and fan films, and all that jazz.

It's not often that a fan film touches your life.

Here's one.

So despite its flaws, I'm giving it a good mark.

You people are great. This is nothing short of brilliance.