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Film
In this world there are two kinds of films: studio films and independent films. The wildcard is that sometimes the indie directors are the ones making the studio films. Bryan Singer started small with his independently produced film Public Access, moved on to small budgeted studio films like The Usual Suspects, then on to the mega-budget X-Men films. Peter Jackson produced his first independent feature Bad Taste over a period of several years, playing two parts, creating the special effects, doing practically everything except grinding the glass used for the lenses. Last year he won a Best Director Oscar for his monumental work on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and took home the largest up front paycheck in directorial history for his work on this years King Kong remake. Sam Raimi moved slowly but surely from the ranks of Evil Dead to Spiderman. George Lucas ended up creating his own studio empire (irony) to produce the most expensive and highest grossing indie films in history (maybe you heard of them, they have something to do with midi-chlorians). Hollywood started noticing the independent film movement in the late '60s when Easy Rider became one of the highest grossers of the year. The rest, as they say, is history.

Broken
An independent feature can now be seen as both a work of film art and a video resume. Enter Broken, an aggressively promoted, twenty minute short with style and enthusiams to spare. But is it any good as a film, or does it only work as a demo peice? Ah, therein lies the rub.
 
Broken is the story of Bonnie Clayton who is abducted after awakening from a reoccurring nightmare one night by "a sadistic stranger and his colorful entourage" (quote from the video box). As she's held captive, it becomes obvious that her abductors know things about her that even she didn't know about herself. While they question her, a black-clad soldier guns his way into their hideout in an attempt to rescue her. Mayhem ensues.
 
Fortunately for us, director Alex Ferrari seems to know what he's doing, or at least he's very good at faking it. Broken does not suffer from any lack of visual flair, which is especially commendable considering its budget and the inexperience of all involved. What it does suffer from is weak and kind of derivative writing. Think Long Kiss Goodnight meets The Matrix, written ten minutes after reading Fight Club. The good news for Ferrari and producer/writer Jorge Rodriguez is that the story elements are easily ignored for the oodles of eye candy on display. Does the plot really matter that much in a twenty minute short meant to show off the technical skills of its creators? No, not really.
 
Broken
Though it would be unfair of me to overlook any negative aspects in light of the films budget and length. Broken is no genre classic. The biggest problem was that it actually would have worked better as a full-length feature. The final "twist" doesn't get enough build up time to be shocking. If Ferrari were allowed the time to slow burn the feature as needed, plot elements would seem less random, and the film more complete. Here's to knowing he's getting the chance.


Video
Broken was filmed in standard 1.33:1 framing, then matted in post-production. The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is pretty much exactly what should be expected from a low budget, digitally photographed feature. There is zero artefacting, as traditional film was not used, and thus never produced any imperfections. The picture detail is slightly soft due to the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Any other colour or grain issues are all due to either purposeful postproduction tinkering, or the inadequacies of a cheaper digital camera. All in all though, I’ve seen much worse transfers from major studio releases.

Note: Due to an error with my computer, these screen caps are taken from the official website, and not perfect representations of the real aspect ratio.

The most well named character in cinema history
Audio
Broken's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is second to none in the indie world. I’ve never heard such aggressive surround from such a small feature. The Matrix-inspired soundtrack is very rich and deep, gunshots have punch, and even the dialogue gets in on the surround effects. Of everything presented on this disc, it is the audio that speaks the most praise for modern independent DVD production. Also included is an equally impressive Dolby 2.0 surround track, which is the menu default.

Extras
There are literally hours of making of features to be found on this disc. There are so many extras, in fact, that I find it unrealistic to list and describe each of them here, while still expecting my readers to continue reading. Whatever shortcomings the actual short may have, the DVD is unprecedented in its informational resources. People who enjoyed the film can learn all there is to know about its production, including everything from the conceptual art to the promotional campaign. Those with plans to make an indie film of their own can learn just about everything they need to know from these features.

The extras are broken down into categorical menus. These include: pre-production, production, post-production, after the short, and cast and crew bios. From a critical standpoint, I found that some of the sections were quite short. Had they been edited into one featurette per menu option, they would’ve been less frustrating to navigate, as the curser defaults to the top selection with every return to the main section menu. This is, of course, just nitpicking, but perhaps for future DVD releases the filmmakers will take my advice to heart.

Between the six audio commentaries and hours of interview footage, the cast and crew can at times come off as somewhat pretentious, or at the very least a merry band of back-patters. I understand they are trying to sell themselves, as the DVD is basically a group resume, but think that all involved really should’ve tried to be themselves. This is a large group of pleasant, enthusiastic, and talented people, and despite the consonant salesmanship, their true colours do shine through.

Broken
The willingness to share their filmmaking secrets with anyone who picks up this DVD is quite generous. From the extras I learned what editing and effects software is most reliable and effective, what brand of camera creates the most professional look for the lowest price, even where to get cheap air soft weaponry. On top of this, I was given several alternate options, in case I found myself unable to locate any products used on this particular production. Wannabe filmmakers unwilling to read a book on the subject would do well to watch this DVD.

Overall
I’ve scored the actual short as a 6 out of 10, but wish there was an option for feature length potential and effort, because I’d have scored it an 8 or 9 in these fields. I recommend the DVD for its features and as a perfect example of what can be done with a mere eight thousand American dollars. Those who purchase the DVD can think of themselves as ghost producers for a larger project, as the more attention these guys get, the more funding the feature-length version will get.


Visit whatisbroken.com for a complete list of special features and ordering information.


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