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IndieDVD presents
Mutant Aliens (2001)

"Hello, I'm reporting here from the top of the White House, where some very strange things have transpired. It seems the president was eaten by some kind of giant, flying nose."
- Reporter (Vera Beren)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: August 06, 2003

Stars: Dan McComas, Francine Lobis, George Casden
Other Stars: Matthew Brown, Jay Cavanaugh, Amy Allison, Christopher Schukai, Kevin Kolack, Vera Beren
Director: Bill Plympton

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, hot alien sex)
Run Time: 01h:25m:25s
Release Date: July 01, 2003
UPC: 802695002891
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+BC B+

DVD Review

Feature animation is typically, by necessity, a collaborative art form. On film, life ticks by at 24 frames per second. With animation, that number is usually somewhere between 12 and 24. That means that even a short, 80-minute movie is made up of at least 57,000 drawings. My hand cramps just typing about it (and I have an ergonomic keyboard). Bill Plympton, best known for his Academy® Award-nominated short, Your Face, and a number of pieces produced for MTV, is not your typical animator. For one thing, his films use only four to six frames of animation per second, well under the minimum even for low-budget television shows. For another, he draws every single one of them himself, by hand.

Such independence and artistic control means that Plympton can tell any kind of story he wants, and he certainly takes advantage—his films are all, for better or worse, totally, unmistakably, "Plympton." His crude, choppy animation is matched by his crude sense of humor—he's a fan of explicit comic violence, vulgar sex gags, and scatological wit, the kind of stuff that you'd expect teenage boys to eat up. But he brings to it such bizarre enthusiasm and skewed originality that his films regularly surpass their base comedic instincts and become a kind of surreal art form.

Unfortunately, it's art that works best in small doses. This is only the third full-length Plympton feature, and by all accounts, his shorts are more consistent and successful. Mutant Aliens certainly feels more like a long string of vignettes smashed together. The story, such as it is, concerns astronaut Earl Jenson, returning from a 20-year sojourn in space, where he was stranded by the evil Dr. E, the pawn in a marketing scheme to increase donations to the "Department of Space." He's brought back a clan of bizarre alien creatures, and he is bent on revenge, which pretty much amounts to letting his little buddies eat as many people as possible.

The story has a beginning and an end, but it isn't consistent, or even particularly coherent, though there are brief moments of near-brilliance. A preacher screams at his congregation, which leads into the song You Can't Drag Race with Jesus. Earl visits an alien world and falls (explicitly) in love with a giant nose (only to be torn away from her by a cadre of vicious fingers and lips). (I never thought I'd get to see an animated man humping a sentient nose; what wonderful times in which we live!) Earl's faithful daughter Josie has a few lewd sex scenes with her fiancé, and later, a couple of mutant aliens. Earl reveals the clever, nauseating truth behind the aliens' existence. And after about an hour, even though I'm enjoying the film, I begin to get bored with the repetitive blood and guts (every time the aliens chomp a human, goo goes everywhere). Plympton's style can be a lot to stomach, and Mutant Aliens is certainly a full meal.

That style is undeniably inspired, true. The mix of hand drawn animation and painted photographic backgrounds is striking, and the messy lines and clunky animation give the picture an intimate, personal quality that somehow overshadows the fact that you're watching what basically amounts to an animated storyboard presentation. Plympton's alien designs are mighty cute, and you start to feel for them after a while, even when they're crushing, skewering, and chomping everyone in sight. I especially like the tiny Pikachu-type, who hypnotizes his victims with his big anime eyes, then devours them in one bite and immediately evacuates a dainty poop cube (because adorable aliens need to have adorable bowel movements).

Plympton's creations are like the mutant aliens: grotesque, yet oddly endearing and loveable. Literally, if we take Earl's example. Just don't try to mate with your DVDs; this film is weird enough already.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: IndieDVD has released Mutant Aliens with a fairly decent nonanamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. Many traditional transfer criticisms don't apply, as Plympton's animation is so stylized, things like edge enhancement and color blooming wouldn't be noticeable, were they present. Colors do seem fairly muted (the transfer has an hazy look about it, as if a light film is covering the camera), particularly in comparison to the shots of the animation cells in the bonus documentary, but I think the dull tones are a product of the low budget. Otherwise, this transfer seems an accurate representation of the original source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: Mutant Aliens doesn't sound great. The stereo mix is thin, with some distracting background hiss. The sound design isn't very impressive—I didn't notice any panning or separation, and the dialogue comes off flat and muffled. I can't really fault IndieDVD, as the audio was obviously recorded on the cheap, but nevertheless, this track isn't the best.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Pop, Anarchy TV, The Devil's Keep, Hair High
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Bill Plympton
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Alien Mutations Game
Extras Review: IndieDVD provides a great service to the DVD community, creating excellent discs for films that otherwise might never be released to the format. Mutant Aliens is certainly a fine example, and I can honestly say I learned more about the animation process with this release than I have with any two-disc Disney extravaganza.

That's due, in large part, to Behind the Drawings: The Plympton Diaries, a 90-minute documentary that follows the animation process from conception to completion. Filmed with a handheld camera, the piece is segmented into weekly diary entries from Plympton, who starts with concept and character design, and continues with segments on drawing, cell painting, background design, animation filming, voice and music recording, and release (cameras followed the film to its midnight premiere at Sundance). Plympton does most of the talking throughout, providing access and insight into the process of creating Mutant Aliens. It was nice to see it in such detail, to actually watch someone go through the steps of painting a single cell of animation, and to demonstrate how they are filmed by the camera. This bonus is actually more interesting than the feature, and worth the price all by itself.

Plympton also gets his say with a feature commentary. There is very little repetition of information from the documentary, and though his laconic tones have a lulling effect, he imparts some good trivia about his art, pointing out his inspirations for each scene and explaining how the film developed over time.

The Alien Mutations Game is a nifty diversion, played using your remote, that allows you to mate two animals to create your own "mutant alien." It's a little buggy, and took forever to load on my Toshiba player, but the mutant drawings (all by Plympton) are pretty cute.

Also included are trailers for IndieDVD releases Pop, Anarchy TV, and The Devil's Keep, the forthcoming Plympton theatrical feature Hair High, and a 15-second promo spot for Mutant Aliens.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

If you're into bloody eviscerations, animated nudity, crude violence, intergalactic sex, and bestiality, then by all means, watch Mutant Aliens. Just... don't e-mail me, please.


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