Over the last ten years, 1980s nostalgia has seemingly invaded various aspects of pop culture, with many iconic 80s TV shows, movie franchises and video games receiving remakes and reboots designed to appeal to the original fans and reach a new audience. This fascination with the 80s has also inspired many artists that create works that are intentional throwbacks to that era and are designed to feel nostalgic whilst also having an identity of their own. These include video games such as Hotline Miami (2012), Shovel Knight (2014) and Hyper Light Drifter (2016), films such as Drive (2011), Turbo Kid (2015), Kung Fury (2015) and It Follows (2014) just to name a few examples.
On April 23rd, 2016, at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival, saw the premiere of the Canadian animated film, Nova Seed. It was produced by Gorgon Pictures, and is the feature length debut of Nick DiLiberto, who had previously has previously worked on the short films Vampires (2010) and Medusa (2010), and was an animation director on cut scenes for the video games Asura’s Wrath (2012) and Mass Effect (2007).
The story takes place in a distant post-apocalyptic cyber-diesel-steampunk world, akin to Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), with civilisation at the verge of collapse, thanks to the tyrannical Dr. Mindskull. The film starts in a coliseum where a human gladiator fights the “Golden Demon Beast from Hell” a Neo Animal Combatant (NAC) called Lion Man, who pretty much looks like Lion-O from Thundercats (1985-1989). He then brutally defeats his opponent and attacks the spectators. Having proved his strength, the Lion Man, like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), is tasked with a mission by the government to fight against Mindskull, a decision that is met with much scepticism and concern. Whist infiltrating Dr. Mindskull’s lair, The Lion Man discovers a pod with the titular Nova Seed, utilizing the Girl in a Box trope.
She is an unconscious female being who has the ability to create flora and fauna. The Lion Man rescues her and runs away across the “Toxic Wastes”, in an attempt to save the world from the reign of Dr. Mindskull.
While there is some world building done to present various ideas and concepts, the film is mostly devoid of dialogue and over-explanatory exposition found in Hollywood films. Instead, the film is a science fiction action adventure that slowly reveals remnants of the past through visuals, which works given the short running time of 60 minutes. Television news broadcasts do a good job at highlighting the collapse of society and moving the story forwards. The cast of characters are well presented though little scenes highlighting their personality, and much like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the film does a good job at presenting their motivations through expression and visual storytelling, rather than dialogue. The pacing is also solid with a lot of interesting and dynamic story revelations, handled with care and good timing, keeping the viewer engaged.
However, while the running time allows the film to never outstay its welcome, it left me wanting more. So it would have been much appreciated to have added another 15 to 20 minutes to flesh out certain aspects of the world and certain characters to make Nova Seed’s narrative feel a little more complete.
The film was crafted almost entirely by animator and director Nick DiLiberto over the course of 4 years, and the film ended up having around 60,000 frames of animation, giving the film an in-house personal touch. The film’s designs and animation are like a mix between Fire and Ice (1983), Heavy Metal (1981), The Maxx (1995), Aeon Flux (1991-1995) and Kaiba (2008). The animation is wobbly and imperfect, and gives the film a playful loose quality. This creates a refreshing feel that provides a nice change of pace from the overly shiny and polished, yet forgettable and bland styles of the big corporate juggernauts. The character designs are very vibrant and colourful, with Dr. Mindskull looking like a more twisted Rene Laloux take on Skeletor. The environments are dirty, grungy, yet also have a lived in quality that is coupled with beautiful landscape shots that make the world feel tangible and believable.
One thing to note is the level of violence, with some sequences that are quite unflinching in terms of brutality and intensity. This is evident within the opening ten minutes, which tell you that the film is gonna be quite the ride. If this film gets a UK release, I wouldn’t be shocked if it got a 15 rating from the BBFC.
The soundtrack was composed by Canadian Musician Stephen Verrall, in his first movie score. It is a mix between Vince DiCola’s soundtrack for Transformers: The Movie (1986), and Vangelis (Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire), with a bit of Detroit techno and synthwave thrown in for good measure. It does a good job at creating an ambiance and atmosphere for the the world, while also working as a stand alone listening experience outside of the film.
The voice acting is done by a team of 6 people, including the director himself and his brother, Joe. It is an amateur cast, but they do a solid effort at making the characters believable, and honestly, it lends a nice home made touch that works for the film and provides a change from listening to the same overused voice actors. The recording as well is a bit rough around the edges, which actually makes it quite charming, even if its mixed a bit quiet sometimes for the dialogue to be really clear.
The sound design and foley was handled by Jeff Styga and Ben Spiller, who both previously worked on the video games Watch Dogs 2 (2016) and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015). Its quite clean sound design with lots of use of quirkier sounds and at times even human voices used to punctuate the action. This gives the film’s sound a playful and creative quality.
For a feature length directorial debut, Nick DiLiberto has done a really solid job with Nova Seed, creating memorable visuals and ideas, with nice character and world designs. He has created a small but well chosen team to handle the soundtrack and sound design. While it has some kinks that could be ironed out, the film overall left me excited to see what DiLiberto comes up with next.