4 Stars
Year Released: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 12 minutes
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20th Century Man is a bold short film. With its backdrop of a time travel experiment gone awry, there was ample opportunity to stumble and flail all over itself. Couple that with the choice to make it a silent film, and you’re now walking that line of “good” or “parody of itself.” Luckily for me, and you, this film succeeds in almost every way it can, despite the challenges it sets for itself. Aim high, right?

The film centers on Robert Wallace (Joseph Adams), who in 1938 creates a time machine, run by a typewriter hooked to a shower-crossed-with-a-flux-capacitor. Robert only wishes to travel a short bit, to test out the machine, and his wife Anna (Sarah Carleton) obliges by typing in the time coordinates… except there is a malfunction and Robert arrives in 2014 instead.

When he arrives in the future, he finds himself surrounded by military scientists who have been trying to get his machine working since it was first found back in the ’30s. They want his secrets to fix the broken machine, but Robert just wants to be with his wife. By 2014, however, his wife has died.

The most impressive aspect of this film is how easy it was to follow the story, and the character arcs, without narration, dialogue or anything of the sort (well, one word is spoken at the end). It’s not played “big” either, with folks getting emotions across via wild, cartoonish movements. It’s as simple a tale one could make about time travel and love lost, and it retains all the subtlety and nuance you could hope to have.

The effects work is smooth and accomplished; it’s not uncommon for a filmmaker to trot out their favorite After Effects plugin and just use the settings it comes with to make something look passable; when someone knows what they’re doing, or has ample resources, it really shows. And my only criticism of the film does come from those ample resources, as Robert appears to arrive in a future lab that also just so happens to look like a professional green screen studio (if you can do all the stuff you did in the film to make it look as great as it does, you can take the time to desaturate a green screen in the background, or do something else to make it disappear). But that’s a picky gripe for a film that, in all other counts, excels.

Filmmaker Dustin Lee has crafted something beautiful here. Even if you don’t dig silent films or the nostalgia that they pack on their shoulders, it’s okay because 20th Century Man transcends most of the stereotypes and pitfalls. I got more emotional payoff out of these 12 minutes than I get out of most blockbuster sci-fi epics, and I’m curious what Dustin could do with a feature.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

Posted on January 16, 2012 in Reviews by

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