Saturday, June 17, 2017


Welcome to another installment of SHORT FILM SPOTLIGHT. This week, we continue our look at superhero fan films with a more unorthodox, lo-fi, and irreverent pick...THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN, written by and starring Max Landis.

Max Landis is a bit of a polarizing figure on the internet. Much has been said about his professional work, writing scripts for films such as the acclaimed Chronicle, as well as the less beloved Victor Frankenstein and American Ultra. Some people think he's a hack, some think he's at the forefront of a new wave of storytellers, and some just think he's an annoying hipster who got to where he is because of his father (acclaimed director of Animal House and An American Werewolf in London, John Landis). But what a lot of people can all agree on is that he was, at the very least, at the helm of one of the more famous, and one of the best, fan film projects in recent memory. The film, The Death and Return of Superman, has been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, easily qualifying under the nebulous title of having "gone viral." And I have to say, I don't think that's just because of the various guest stars Landis has in his cast, I think it's almost entirely down to the short's clever writing, irreverent sense of humor, Landis' enthusiastic narration, and a clear love for the material that shows throughout.  Check it out below:

Death and Return doesn't have a traditional narrative. It's framed as Landis telling us about the 1992-1993 comic storyline of the same name. While he tells this story, the film cuts to an extensive cast of Landis' industry friends acting the story out in homemade costumes filmed around the LA area. These sections are the real meat and potatoes of the short, and are incredibly enjoyable to watch for a few reasons. First, on the surface, it's simply great fun to play "Spot the Cameo" with the many friends Landis has brought in to play the various roles, including appearances from people such as Elijah Wood, Whitney Moore (famous for co-starring in Birdemic), Elden Hensen (Foggy Nelson from Netflix's Daredevil), Mandy Moore, Simon Pegg, and more. And while Landis does most of the voices, the performances on the actors' parts are incredibly amusing because, not only are they reenacting some very silly events, but they're doing so in some incredibly low-budget costumes. And Landis uses this to his advantage, getting a lot of comedic value from the low budget. One of my favorite moments like that is when Landis is positing what would've happened if Batman had fought Doomsday (and a moment I won't ruin).

But the other place where this short shines is in the writing and narration provided by Landis. Landis has always been known for his quick wit and loud mouth, and that helps him a lot in making this story even more entertaining. Landis makes it very clear throughout that he knows what he's talking about and that he knows comics. And that background means that he knows the exact things to make fun of for maximum comedic effect. His jokes, his timing, and how both interplay with the live action footage make for one of the most entertaining fan films out there. And, being a professional screenwriter, there's a great flow to the film that a lot of other fan films lack. It, of course, might seem a bit unfair in that regard, but the low budget nature of the rest of the endeavor, and the earnestness of the adaptation and of the genuine admiration for the subject material, more than make up for it.

The Death and Return of Superman is a prime example of what can be done with passion and with a love of the medium of both comics and film. It's also a lesson in the idea of thinking outside of the box, that any story can be told, you just need to find the best way to tell it. Not everyone has access to people like Elijah Wood and Simon Pegg. Not everyone has the connections to have a background in screenwriting. But anyone can be innovative, creative, and passionate.

If you have a short film or know of one you'd like to see featured on SHORT FILM SPOTLIGHT, please EMAIL me and don't forget to like and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!!

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