Tim Miller, of Deadpool and Love, Death & Robots fame, cut his teeth with this action-oriented short film.
This week has been a real toughie for reviewing movies. A ton of movies I want to see are out, so sorting through the backlog is daunting. It also doesn’t help that I currently have the attention span of a goldfish lately. So, a short film it is. Luckily, Short of the Week recently featured Tim Miller’s first film, Rockfish, in anticipation of the release of the second season of his short film anthology, Love, Death & Robots.
While Rockfish shows some wear and tear for being nearly twenty years old, it certainly demonstrates Miller’s devotion to the short film medium, and the flair for gripping action that has made him one Hollywood’s hottest young directors.
A peaceful fishing trip on a remote desert planet turns out to not to be so peaceful after all.
Big Fish Story.
The premise of the film is pretty self-evident, though it does do a nice job of building tension and then paying it off with a roller-coaster ride of action. The tension comes by way of the elaborate set up our protagonist goes through to set up his fishing expedition, a process that seems more like he’s about to wage nuclear war against the mole men than to try his hand at angling. The mechanics of rock fishing is a bit dicey, but all of the science fiction is a hoot: his gear is gritty and industrial, advanced yet immediately recognizable. I think you’d be crazy to use this set-up, but then again the film reveals at the end that our fisherman was not exactly expecting to accidentally hook a leviathan.
The graphics for Rockfish are both impressive and dated. They’re impressive as hell knowing that a small indie studio with a 20-year old at the helm was producing graphics in 2003 that rival giant CG films of the time such as Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within. They’re also pretty good in their own rights; there’s lots of moving pieces, fast action, and a gorgeous setting.
That being said, there are some hiccups here and there that you notice, mostly because they were common at the time and have since been ironed out. Things like the alien monkey/dog thing our fisherman pals with is a bit silly looking compared to the industrial feel of everything else.
The one that stood at the most to me was that objects don’t realistically interact with the ground. When the big six-wheeler our fisherman uses to anchor his line comes rumbling into view at the start, the particle effects are great with the dust that the tires kick up…but this just highlights how those tires don’t sink into the terrain and feel rather like they’re floating just above it. The same thing when our big, burly fisherman jumps down to the ground from the cockpit: he kicks up dust like expected but we don’t get any of the deformation or sense of pressure a real body with mass would have.
Luckily, the studio works around this limitation in two ways – first, the pod that is essentially an industrial fishing rod floats above the ground (intentionally!) and the rover is moving so fast in pursuit of the fleeing rockfish that dust and smashed rocks obscure some of the floatier aspects of the physics.
All in all, Rockfish is a solidly put together product. I like the premise, the execution, and the pace. While its not a profound experience, its a visceral and exciting one that keeps you engaged throughout the whole chase. It took in a pair of prestigious short-film award nominations upon release and put Blur Studios and Tim Miller on the map. Not bad for a weekend fishing trip.