THE BOOTLEG FILES: WORLD’S FINEST

BOOTLEG FILES 436: “World’s Finest” (2004 short film by Sandy Collora).

LAST SEEN: It can be seen on YouTube and other video websites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Unauthorized use of copyright- and trademark-protected material.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.

Somewhere on the outskirts of independent cinema is the subsection known as “fan films.” In the world of the fan film, the movie lover leaves behind the restraints of being a passive observer of a particular production or franchise and becomes a daring auteur that creates new cinematic adventures based on beloved characters from the big screen.

The earliest known fan film has been traced to South Carolina in 1926, with an amateur production based on Hal Roach’s popular “Our Gang” series. In the 1970s and 1980s, the combination of popular movie franchises and low-cost Super 8mm and home video technology inspired a generation of would-be Spielbergs to run amok.

Fan film creators are united in one aspect: they ignore copyright and trademark laws in creating new adventures of their favorite movie characters. For many years, fan films were barely released and so deeply under the radar that most people outside of the comic book convention circuit never heard of them. The Internet, of course, changed all of that, yet the Hollywood studios that maintain ownership of the fan film source material have rarely engaged in litigation to shut down these endeavors or punish their creators.

In 2003, aspiring indie filmmaker Sandy Collora sought to raise his visibility via a fan film-style demonstration reel called “Batman: Dead End.” Framed as a trailer, the film offered a stylish vision of a potential new installment in the Caped Crusader’s cinematic exploits. The $30,000 film created a sensation when it was screened at the San Diego Comic-Con, and no less a figure than Kevin Smith dubbed Collora’s short “possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made.”

Collora enjoyed a great deal of attention from “Batman: Dead End,” and he sought to capitalize on the triumph in true Hollywood fashion: by creating a sequel. The resulting “World’s Finest” tapped a wonderful concept that Hollywood (for whatever reason) never bothered to consider: putting Batman and Superman together in a live-action narrative feature.

In “World’s End,” reporter Clark Kent finds himself agitated over the actions of industrialist Bruce Wayne. Part of the problem involves Clark’s alter ego (Wayne Industries is signing a business alliance with Lex Luthor’s Lexcorp) and part involves Clark’s fragile human ego (Lois Lane is finding herself getting the hots for that the mega-wealthy Bruce Wayne).

But Lex Luthor has more things on his mind than securing a business deal. He is on a new crime spree, and he is calling the nefarious miscreant Two-Face as his ally. Two-Face, of course, is committed to bringing down Batman, and Lex is now looking at Batman as a target worth whacking. Clark’s Superman is not entirely convinced that Batman is the best ally – and, quite frankly, Batman is visibly indifferent over sharing crime-fighting duties with Superman.

For a film that runs less than four minutes, “World’s Finest” is not lacking in action. Corolla packs each shot with a surplus of commotion, ranging from over-the-top behavior (most amusing is the film’s hefty Perry White comically manhandling the scrawny Jimmy Olsen into his office) and smart-ass dialogue (Two-Face sneeringly refers to Superman as “Big Blue”) to special effects (Superman catches a falling car and then flies with it – though why the car is falling out of the sky is never quite clear).

Collora’s Batman in both “Batman: Dead End” and “World’s Finest” was played by bodybuilder/fitness model Clark Bartram, and he had no difficulty filling out the physical dynamics of the role. Bartram also acquitted himself with the film’s dialogue – he satisfactorily conveyed the Bruce Wayne character’s smug self-confidence and he handled the acidic-snarky elements of the Batman dialogue without a hitch.

Collora recruited another muscleman – Mike O’Hearn, one of the spandex-clad warriors of “American Gladiators” – as Superman, and he was physically perfect to play the superhero. O’Hearn was equally fine as Clark Kent, and his playful banter with Nina Kaczorowski’s Lois Lane suggested that the big guy possessed a flair for light comedy that casting directors overlooked.

There are a few tiny chips of imperfection in “World’s End” – a shot of Superman in flight is staged in a manner that clearly hints at an off-camera crew holding up O’Hearn, while the make-up used for Two-Face looks like a cheap mask. But on the whole, it is an amusing notion of what a Batman-Superman mash-up could look like.

Alas, lightning did not strike twice for Collora. Warner Bros. got wind of his plans to screen “World’s Finest” at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con and successfully maneuvered to prevent the film from being shown. Collora would later recall that he was tailed at the 2004 Comic-Con by a Warners representative who was assigned to make sure the filmmaker did not distribute any promotional material related to the short. Collora later put the film online, and Warner Bros. has made no effort to have it taken offline.

Collora’s post-fan film career has been a mix of lows (a near-fatal car crash) and highs (his feature film directing debut with the 2009 Mexican-lensed “Hunter Prey,” starring Clark Bartram). As for Collora’s Superman, Mike O’Hearn is currently producing and starring in an intriguing Web series thriller called “Alter Ego.”

Batman and Superman, of course, continue to run amok on the big screen – albeit without crossing paths. Fan films based on these characters will most certainly continue to be made, with or without Warner Bros.’ approval.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on July 13, 2012 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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