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Featured DVD Review: Strange Frame

March 18th, 2013

Strange Frame - Buy from Amazon or Video on Demand

Strange Frame is a low-budget animated film with an LGBT twist to it. When I got the chance to review it, it sounded so weird I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Will it appeal to its target demographic? Will it have more mainstream appeal? Or is it just too weird for anyone?

The Movie

The film is set at the end of the 28th century, but our story begins in the 26th century. The Earth is poisoned to the point where humans can no longer live there. Ships are loaded up and the people are sent to the various colonized moons in our solar system to live. These trips are not free and the price is indentured servitude, and not just for a few years, but for a generation or two. However, even this bad deal was made worse and for people like Naia X. and her family, she is born into debt slavery and no matter how hard she works, she and her family will remain in debt slavery for life. This is so certain, that the people are genetically modified to do the work they are born into. Naia's lungs have been tweaked so she can work in the mines longer.

This information is told to us by Parker C. Boyd, who was born on Ganymede. She's part of the middle-caste, which means she was born without genetic modification. However, she quickly grew bored of the middle-caste lifestyle and went to the big city where she could play her music. She also got caught up in the abolitionist movement. Riots were commonplace and in one such battle with the corporate enforcers, Parker gets jumped from behind, only to be saved by Naia. It's love at first sight and the pair can't keep their hands off of each other, even while the riot is still going on.

We next meet Philo D Grenman and Reesa Abi Kiran Ariana Livingston the Third, who run an unregistered garbage hauler. They take whatever job they can find incinerating garbage sent to them while looking for spare parts they can use to build their ship. Among the latest haul is an A.I., which Grenman christens BitSea. Reesa is worried that having an A.I. run the ship will bring more trouble than it's worth, but when Grenman gets an idea in his head, he goes with it.

Naia and Parker, plus Atem and Chat form a band and have a pretty good gig. However, Naia is looking for more. Her family is in debt slavery and she wants to make it big so she can be free. Parker is worried she will get a better gig and leave her behind, but agrees to meet with the record producer, Dorlan Mig. ... A record producer played by Tim Curry? Oh yeah, he's evil. That's not a spoiler, that's one of the constants of the universe, like gravity or strong nuclear force. We're basically told he's evil, because before he meets with Naia and Parker, he gets instruction for his hirer-ups, Tamadamsa, who describes Naia as having Tian Cai. She is the Virtuosa and Mig is to, "Acquire and replicate." I really hope he's talking about cloning, otherwise this is going to be more twisted than I thought it would be.

Naia and Parker go with Mig to the Stratosphere, where the elite hang out. Naia is quickly seduced by the glamor but when Mig asks Parker what she wants and Parker says nothing, Mig has Parker thrown out of the band.

This hits Parker hard, understandably so, but one day she runs into Grenman. They talk and share stories of loss and when Parker nearly gets busted for vagrancy, Grenman offers her to ride on his ship. At least she can get away from her true love. Being on the same moon as Naia, but not being able to be with her is too much. However, it isn't long before Parker is willing to risk everything to get Naia back.

On the one hand, the basic plot of the movie is not unique. It's about an artist who is looking for their big break, but when they get it realizing the price of fame is too high. This is not the first time this story has been used in a movie. Hell, this is not the first trippy animated film with this same basic plot (Rock'n'Rule immediately springs to mind). There are also lot elements in the movie that seem borrowed, not in the sense that they are plagiarized, but homages to what has come before. Blade Runner is the most obvious of these, but I swear I saw someone do a Crazy Ivan from Firefly. Maybe it is my nerdom messing with my mind. On the other hand, the end result is really unique and the film comes together in a way that draws you in. The writing is very good and the cast is amazing. There are a number of excellent voice actors here who have some significant name recognition for live action work who are basically in the movie as just cameos. Michael Dorn's character didn't even have a name, but he was in a very funny scene. The music is also excellent, but it is the visuals that really make the film stand out.

One could call Strange Frame the best animated motion comic, except that it is not a comic. It is also not a traditionally animated film either. The elements are hand-painted and then like motion comics, brought to life with animation and special effects done on computer. There are some pure CGI scenes and lots of CGI special effects, but the combination of the hand-painted, computer assisted animation and CGI results in a very unique look. This will draw in a lot of people, even if they are not drawn in by the story. Personally, I was fascinated with both.

The Extras

Extras begin with five minutes of deleted scenes. There are two featurettes, the first runs six minutes of behind-the-scenes with the cast recording their lines. Finally, there's a seven-minute interview with Claudia Black.

The Verdict

Strange Frame is absolutely worth checking out. The DVD isn't loaded with extras, but there's enough replay value here that it is worth buying over just renting.

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Filed under: Video Review, Strange Frame, Tim Curry, Claudia Black, Michael Dorn, Ron Glass, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Cree Summer, George Takei, Alan Tudyk, Juliet Landau