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The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Rarely do we get to write about a movie experience that’s truly local. Subject Two gives us the chance to do what we were made to do — write about movies that you can see only in Boulder.

Subject Two is a little film made by Philip Chidel, Dean Stapleton, and Christian Oliver “in and above Aspen, Colorado.” They’ve booked a run at the Crossroads Commons for one week only. It’s a movie you can’t see anywhere else, at least not yet.

We Love You Dr. Frankenstein

Colorado winterscapes add not just a sense of place, but also a chilly tone
Colorado winterscapes add not just a sense of place, but also a chilly tone

The movie is a modern take on Frankenstein, at least on the surface. Adam Schmidt (Oliver), a medical student who’s failing his medical ethics class, is invited to do some research in a mountain laboratory with Dr. Victor Frankenst... I mean Dr. Franklin Vick (Stapleton). The good doctor has some interesting theories about the nature of life. He says it’s like a switch that can be turned off and back on. We never get the full details of how this all works, but it involves cryonics (thus the mountain cabin in winter) and nanotechnology.

Adam says he’s interested in working with him, and Dr. Vick seals the contract by garrotting Adam from behind, catching him by surprise, and throttling him to death. The doctor then leaves Adam’s corpse out in the snow, injects it with nanites, and waits, hopefully, for Adam to come back to life.

There wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t, so it’s not spoiling anything to say that Adam becomes Lazarus and walks again (one of the first things he sees is the frozen corpse of his predecessor, presumably Subject One). Adam takes his death and resurrection well, although there are some side effects, both pleasant and painful. Obviously, they’ll need to try again if they are to work out the bugs in the system.

From Aspen to Sundance

The film is sometimes surprising and sometimes funny, but it’s mostly a drama about the two men — Master and Igor. Theirs is a strange world, both without death and with death in abundance. The Colorado winterscapes add not just a sense of place, but also a chilly tone that mirrors the mood of the story.

The occasional line of dialogue sounds a little tinny (“Drink this; it helps restructure your cells”), and the movie should have settled on a single theme — immortality, the nature of pain, or the meaning of death — rather than exploring all and resolving none. But for a completely independent and truly local film, Subject Two is good.

One look will tell you that Subject Two is made cheaply. The movie is shot on video, and there’s really only one set (not counting the outdoor mountain peak shots). Only five actors are listed in the credits. With a decent script and enough time for production (in this case, 3 1/2 months from inspiration to “in the can”), that’s really all you need to make a feature film worthy of Sundance.

Spreading the Word

Of course, promoting such a film is another story. If a distributor had picked up the movie, the filmmakers would have been sitting pretty. But rather than give up, the three producers are promoting the movie themselves. They arranged to have the Crossroads Commons in Boulder show the film for a one-week run.

The only place besides Boulder where you can see Subject Two is Chicago, conveniently the hometown of America’s best-known film critic, Roger Ebert.

  • DON KAWASH : i like the review. it captures the essence of the experience of watching the movie and gives the film due credit for its low budget achievement. i enjoyed watching the film . however, the article failed to point out the particular aptness of the location relative to the inspiration it drew from frankenstein. in mary shelley's novel, the good doctor finds himself pursuing his creature out in the snowy wilds of the arctic circle. surely this reference inspired the setting of the film. November 2, 2009 reply