11/21/11

It Came From Yesterday (2011): Jeff Waltrowski's Killer Serial Tribute Brings The Past to the Future

One of the reasons I started The Lair (the one and only, accept no substitutions), was to throw the spotlight on some of my favorite films, and over three years ago, I got around to one of my all time favorites, Jeff Waltrowski's Project: Valkyrie. In that film Jim Cranston, a deadbeat who owes money to the mob, finds helpful hero robot Valkyrie while going through boxes of inventions belonging to his grandfather, Professor Jack Cranston. He keeps the robot, but to make some quick cash,  sells off a serum that causes the rise of the Fourth Reich. Thankfully, Valkyrie gets Jim into gear and they stop the rise of the mutant Neo-Nazis. Imagine my surprise when six months after my original review, Mr. Waltrowski commented on my post and teased a prequel to Project: Valkyrie featuring the adventures of Professor Jack Cranston. As I followed the production of It Came from Yesterday, I was very  impressed the the scope of production that Jeff was undertaking. He planned to film the entirety of his movie on green screen, a risk that could either really pay off, stumble over itself, or just create infinite comparisons to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. In the end, It Came From Yesterday captures a mixture of the past, present, and future, with mixed results.

It Came from Yesterday begins with a preamble in which Jack Cranston (Waltrowski) and his older brother James (Nathan Hollabaugh) take on one last menace together, a race of invading bug people. In the end, James succumbs in order to defeat the menace, and Jack is propelled to take up his brother's fight for truth and justice. He forms the Electric Club, and along with his partners Buddy (Noel Ripka) and Penny (Nayli Russo), they defeat the world's menaces. When the bugman menace rears its ugly head again, Professor Jack must overcome the pain of his brother's death if he is to save the world once again.

I purposely kept the synopsis very short because there's precious few people who've gotten a chance to see It Came from Yesterday, and the film is filled with twists and turns (and at least one Easter Egg for Project: Valkyrie fans) that I don't want to spoil. As the film is focused on the past, let me start there. Waltrowski's film, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, garners its inspiration from the movie serials of the 1930's and 1940's, but unlike those Lucus joints, It Came from Yesterday goes the extra mile patterning everything from themes to dialog off those films. That means that some of the lines sound forced, some of the social ideals are passé, and the situations are silly at best. Which means I loved all of that. Waltrowski clearly knows his source material and has great respect for it. There's also another part of the past showing up on screen as well. While most of the CG works and works well, sometimes so seamlessly that I had trouble seeing where the set decoration began and the CG ended, a few of the vehicle related shots looked like Bob the Builder was about to step on screen. Now these portions couldn't have accounted for more than 45 seconds of screen-time, so I'm kind of nitpicking, but the rest of it was so impressive that it momentarily jarred me out of the film.

Now let me move on to bigger, better, and more present parts of the film. Writer/ director/ artist/ producer /star Jeff Waltrowski impresses not only in his off screen role, but also in the expansion of Professor Jack, a minor player in Project: Valkyrie, into a full blown, heroic character. Noel Ripka also really shines as Buddy, Professor Jack's sweet but dumb sidekick. I rooted for him so hard that I almost wet myself. Nayli Russo's Penny was sadly underused, and I would have loved to see more of her. I could have also used more of Steve Foland's Samm Maxx, Professor Jack's benefactor. For one, he had the 1930's style patter down cold, but also there was something about his character that reminded me of Maxwell Lord from DC comics Justice League. Andrew Blood makes a great impression as Flyboy, and with only a limited amount of screen-time, he carved out a memorable and humorous character. While all of the players' characters were built out of stock archetypes, each brings something fun to the table without performing with a smirk or a wink. It Came from Yesterday is played straight, and by doing so, provides plenty of laughs.

Now onto the future. With the advent of digital cameras, indie filmmakers were free to film pretty much whenever and wherever they wanted. What Waltrowski did was break down the restrictions of location and budget. With CG technology hitting the home computer, there are no longer any restrictions on where and when a director can film because the setting can be placed in later. While I mentioned that a few scenes stumbled, the vast majority were astounding. There is an aerial dogfight scene that rivals anything in Sky Captain, and quite a number that come off with a Watchman-like brilliance. To sit back and imagine the labor or love that went into making It Came from Yesterday is astounding,and to consider that there's no studio or major effects house behind the film, is mind blowing. While it may not have been perfect, it truly shows off the future of film making in which there will be no restrictions beyond the artist's imagination.

It is my genuine hope that It Came From Yesterday is a film that I can recommend for you all to see in the future. Right now, it's looking for distribution after a four week premiere run in Waltrowski's hometown of Pittsburgh, and if I've seen an indie that deserves some company's attention, then it's this one. When it does reach the masses, I really feel like sci-fi fans and lovers of the classic serials will love what Waltrowski has done. While it might have "came from yesterday", it clearly has its eye on tomorrow, and I see great things in Waltrowski's future. (Hopefully some of them will include a return of a certain helpful robot.) Check out the trailer below for a sample of the film, and when I get more word on releases, I'll be the first to let you know.

Bugg Rating

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