Some films are so breathtakingly, tragically terrible that they boldly leap across the boundaries of good taste and into the world of kitsch ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema. Sadly Scavengers isn’t one of those films.
The story deals with Captain Jekel (Sean Patrick Flanery) and the crew of the Revelator who make their living scavenging space debris, and keeping out of firefights until, that is, they pick up a super powerful alien artifact with mysterious powers. This leads them into conflict with Wake (Roark Critchlow) – Jekel’s nemesis – who wants the artifact for himself.
Given such a set up, you might hope that what follows would be something like Firefly: the story of a loveable group of underdogs surviving against the odds. A story told with wit, drama, and finesse. Not so.
Obviously this is a budget film without the deep pockets of a big Hollywood project. Although there’s nothing wrong with the design concepts, the CGI effects are rather crude and lacking the polish that you would expect to see even in a video game. Set dressing is less than ideal, with keyboards stuck to walls to add a ‘futuristic’ technology texture. However, we’ve all seen and enjoyed films whose ambitions exceeded their budget. Plot, dialogue, and good direction need not cost mega bucks. If the actors involved believe in the project and bring that to a scene, then they can create a story worth telling, that the audience will engage with.
Unfortunately, it’s evident for the beginning of the film that the actors are struggling to deliver clunky and unnatural dialogue. Sean Patrick Flanery, playing Captain Jekel, has perhaps the most difficult lines to deliver.
“Even in space I can smell your rancid, scavenger breath.”
“You make death sound so good Breathtaker.”
“I will see your severed head float across my bow.”
Okay, let’s be honest, this dialogue is impossible to deliver in a realistic way. Maybe that’s why Flanery whispers most of his lines in a sinister, evil guy voice. People simply don’t talk like this. Yes: this is a fantasy scenario, with spaceships and laser beams, but without the believable interaction that is at the heart of the actors’ craft, then all will fail.
With nothing to work with, there is no emotional realism and character interaction is flat; sometimes surreal in its emotional abstraction. As an example of this emotional distance, there’s a scene in which a character explodes, suddenly and without warning, spraying those in the room with blood and gore. As it later turns out, this character is a clone and can be re-cloned. Never the less, you might expect a little more reaction than “yuk”. Especially from a woman who is soaked in the blood and brains of her lover. In the next scene she hasn’t even had a shower. It seems that life in space is cheap and no one is especially bothered by exploding bodies. But this is just one example. Almost every scene leaves you thinking “what the…??” and watching with your head in your hands.
With good direction something could have been salvaged but ultimately, the shocks are not shocking, the action lacks punch, the romance is cold, and the deaths are unemotional.
There are little things that start to irritate too, such as characters explaining pseudo techno jargon to each other (for the audiences benefit?). Explaining what “liquid lasers” are to the captain, as they are under fire? Why does he not know?
If you can hold on through to the end, then there isn’t even a sense of closure. Indeed it seems as if the end has been left open for a sequel. No spoilers here. It would be impossible to spoil this film.
It’s so disappointing and depressing to the film/sci-fi fan to see a group of creative people not allowed to reach their potential. This could have been the start of a promising TV series, if only the actors had something to work with. Perhaps the lack of money meant that there was no time to get the essentials working. No time to rework the script, to workshop scenes, to look for that more imaginative camera angle. There must be a good reason for so many talented people to have made such a poor film.