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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Panel Vision - The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special

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There’s a Lobo Christmas Movie; did you know that?  I didn’t, and I certainly wasn’t planning to review it before stumbling blindly upon the thing a few days ago while researching a Cover Story.  While not technically falling under any official DC/WB canon and only lasting 13 minutes this thing does exist and was merely memory holed out of collective consciousness.  

Given the short running time this “review” is going to be on the brief side and more about explaining how this happened than reviewing the actual quality of the “film.”  However, the entire movie is up on youtube and is protected under fair use so go ahead and give it a watch if you're curious to know what you’re in for before my explaining how this bizarre link of pop culture sausage got made.

Firstly, a quick primer on Lobo AKA the Main Man: created in 1983 by Keith Giffen and Roger Slifer Lobo is, essentially, a parody character.  He’s an alien bounty hunter with chalk white skin, white guy dreads, a super healing factor, and a real love of blade and hook weapons.  When he first popped up as part of the space team L.E.G.I.O.N. he was intended mostly as a parody of Wolverine, which is where the healing factor thing came from.  

Much like his source of inspiration, Lobo could recreate his entire body from a single drop of blood and even produce a whole army of himself by cutting off his limbs.  When the ‘90s rolled around, however, his creator Keith Giffen decided to update the parody, and Lobo turned into an over muscled macho meat head, as to fit the decade. 

At this point he was more of a parody of all ‘90s comics, specifically the works of Rob Liefeld like Cable, while also taking pot shots at other fads of the era like Pro Wrestling.  Since then Lobo has popped up a few other times but really hasn’t found any staying power into the 2000s; however, his popularity in the ‘90s is key to our story.  See, like many parody characters Lobo also became popular with the people who liked the kind of stories he was meant to be subverting.  Thus, he came to the attention of one Scott Leberecht, which is where our story takes a new turn.

Leberecht was (and might also still be, but information on the guy is incredibly hard to track down) a visual effects art director and concept artist working through Industrial Light and Magic.  He had enjoyed some major success in the ‘90s working on a blend of family films like Flubber and 101 Dalmatians while preferring harsher material like Spawn and Sleepy Hollow.  Like a lot of design directors, Leberecht decided in the late ‘90s he wanted to try his hand at directing, so he enrolled at the American Film Institute.  In his graduating year, he was called upon to make a final feature film. 

Now, given that Leberecht was the kind of guy who unironically loved Spawn he wanted to do a superhero movie, so he settled on adapting the quasi-forgotten Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special, conscripting fellow Lobo fan Andrew Bryniarski to play the title character.  Bryniarski actually may have been key to this decision as he loved the Main Man so much he had started circulating make-up tests he’d done in 1999 to showcase how much he looked like the comic book character.  So, in 2002 after only 4 days of shooting, The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special movie was forced into the world. 

The movie itself is…not good.  Obviously, we’re grading on a curve because this is a student film (which is actually why they were allowed to use Lobo, education means fair use) but even for a student film, it isn't exactly all that quality. 

Given it’s just adapting a single issue, this was never going to be a long movie though it’s a relatively faithful one to the source material.  The plot is that the Easter Bunny has hired Lobo to kill Santa Claus so that Easter can be the biggest holiday, presumably because the Bunny already killed Halloween off-screen. 

It’s a decent set-up for a short film and you can forgive some of the low-budget production value knowing how this was made, especially given how great their Lobo costume actually is (again, we’ll get back to this.)  The film’s real biggest problem is the sound quality.  

This could be just the limitations of the school’s equipment, but the film’s audio is really lacking and hard to make out, with the uncomfortable sense that they recorded all the audio on the built-in microphones.  I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if they had boom mikes, I just know that the sound definitely could’ve used a touch-up.

As I said, the best thing in this whole movie has to Bryniarski as Lobo. Bryniarski totally gets the part and while he’s playing a different version of the character from the lovable lunkhead of the DC animated universe his growling, snarling, version of Lobo has just enough of a “wink to the audience” attitude to make it work.  It’s a Lobo closer in style and tone to the more mature content heavy comics of the time but it works really well, and I honestly wish we could’ve gotten more of him.  I could see this take on the character showing up in Supergirl. 

As for the rest of the movie it is what it is, which is passable.  There’s a decent middle sequence where Lobo kills his way through a bunch of elf guards at the North Pole that’s pretty fun, and there’s some real technical acumen shown in a scene where one of the elves loses an arm.  

However, by in large, it seems like Leberecht doesn’t really get that Lobo’s meant to be a joke character, or at the very least doesn’t know how to impart that idea through direction.  That is one problem: even for a student project the directing, the skill this is meant to show off, is pretty lackluster.  It is worth noting that the guy playing the Easter Bunny is Tom Gibis, a shockingly prolific voice actor that most would know as the dub voice of Shikamaru Nara from the Naruto franchise. 

I’m not sure that it’s going to change anyone’s life that The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special exists ad you could probably go your whole life without watching it but where’s the fun in that.  Honestly, in today’s climate of fan films and streaming adaptations the movie honestly feels a little quaint, especially given how much easier it is to make a movie now than it was 14 years ago.  

Still, there’s a charm about projects like this, from the time before every superhero on the planet was basically guaranteed some kind of adaptation and stuff like Green Lantern showing up on Superman, the animated series, felt like a big deal.  It’s a pleasant re-visitation of a time when adaptation wasn’t a guarantee and sometimes you just had to make your own damn movie, even if it didn’t turn out all that groundbreaking. 

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