Monday, January 27, 2014

Slamdance ’14: Wizard’s Way

Some legends might stand eternal, but no server last forever. When the one hosting one of the earliest surviving fantasy MMO’s is finally decommissioned, it causes great angst for two of the most dedicated players. A pair of snarky documentary filmmakers intend to capture the resulting drama, but the story evolves beyond their control in Metal Man’s Wizard’s Way (trailer here), which screened at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival.

Although nothing could upstage Christopher Nolan receiving the inaugural Founder’s Award at this year’s Slamdance, news that Jack Black plans to develop and executive produce the American remake of Way was still pretty big stuff. He could probably star as well, in nearly any of the scruffy roles. Joe Stretch and Chris Killen (played by their namesakes) are recent film school grads, who somehow received early notice of the impending demise of Wizard’s Way.  Recognizing a good opportunity for cinematic exploitation, they seek out Julian “Windows” Andrews, a stockroom prole by day, who is the undisputed top gun amongst Wizard’s Way’s dwindling ranks.

As his schlubby roommate Barry Tubbulb explains, Windows is the only player to get married “in-game” to Elin, whom he has never met outside of Wizard’s Way. When the plug gets pulled, Windows is understandably distraught, because he has lost his “wife” along with his life’s passion. Somehow Stretch convinces the gamers to stick with their film, but he has some rather cruel manipulations scripted out for the lads. However, Andrews and Tubbulb might not be as dumb and pathetic as the would-be-documentarians think.

Frankly, Wizard is exactly what Zero Charisma should have been, but wasn’t.  There is no question in the culture war between geeks and hipsters, Metal Man, a.k.a. co-writers Socrates Adams-Florou, Chris Killen & Joe Stretch, line up solidly behind the geeks. Their sympathy for Tubbulb and Andrews is genuine and the eventual comeuppance is satisfying.

As Tubbulb, Adams-Florou lets loose with a fair amount of shtick, but Kristian Scott is surprisingly grounded (and rather reserved) as Windows.  While Killen largely avoids the spotlight (which is definitely an issue for his character), Stretch’s slow, creepy evolution into outright villain is frankly quite impressive. This is obviously a zero budget affair, but everyone in front of the camera gamely holds up their end.

You do not often see movies at festivals that tell documentary filmmakers to sod off, which is why Wizard is so refreshing.  Similar in tone to Electric Man, David Barras’s affectionate ode to comic readers, Wizard defends geek culture in general, while gently encouraging the addition of an offline component.  It all works quite well. Highly recommended for gamers and fans of eccentric British comedies, the news-making Wizard’s Way should have plenty of festival screenings in its future.