Over the past few weeks, you may have already heard the name Oats Studio. The studio has uploaded some head-scratching 10 second clips, like one of Air Force One or a Presidential Motorcade. Only in the past few days has information started trickling out. The studio is Neill Blomkamp’s new pet project, releasing independent science fiction short films. What makes the whole situation interesting is its choice to upload these short films on YouTube and Steam. In a two minute video, the team reveals that they partnered with Valve not only to release on their platform, but also for funding. It was perplexing to think Oats Studio would be willing to make no direct income from any of their work, until the release of their first short, Volume 1 - Rakka. Under the link to watch on Steam is a $4.99 piece of DLC. Yeah, DLC for a short film, but this isn’t the darkest timeline. In it are assets from the film: concept art, scripts, 3D assets, the video file with 5.1 surround sound mix, and more to come, like dailies. Under that list, “We want users to engage with our content and hope that by opening up resources like these, we inspire young filmmakers.” What better way to help aspiring creators than giving them every fundamental piece of a seemingly high-budget short? Even I’m feeling compelled to drop the $5 and rummage around in the files. But also to their credit, what a great way to monetize this content if you’re on YouTube, where you’ll probably be served an ad if YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t automatically deem it non-monetizable, or on Steam, where the bundle is right next to the watch link, not to mention all the navigating you have to do through the storefront and its many deals.
Now, none of this would matter that much if they couldn’t deliver quality content.
If you’ve seen the Animatrix, Rakka’s structure will certainly feel familiar. Not every short from the Animatrix is worth watching, buts it’s to the two part short The Second Renaissance that Rakka draws comparisons. In the first half of the twenty minute short, we explore an invaded Earth and see humanity on its knees. Narration guides us through small city streets looted and dirty or towering terraforming megastructures, the recognizable and the not. It’s far from an original plot, seemingly done once a year in Hollywood. Something I always admire in any alien film is the design of the invading species, and Rakka’s snake-headed beings are chilling as they twitch into action with fluidity, even in slow methodical processes like integrating their technology into living subjects. It’s horrifying, graphic moments like these where similarities to other properties start to wash away. If you’re starting to think about the use of CGI and how that would look on the budget of a short film, don’t worry. The creatures are strikingly detailed and textured. In other words, it looks like Blomkamp is using the same team from his other works.
The later half follows an organized resistance group who find one of the very few people to survive the aliens’ brutal experiments and utilize the foreign technology fused to him. The sohrt stumbles in trying to push such heavy exposition and such a broad view of the world, partly due to mediocre dialogue. Given the time constraints, it's like Blomkamp and Thomas Sweterlitsch were aiming for functionality over subtlety, leaving us with a ton of cliche lines. Sigourney Weaver carries her scenes when the script fails, although it does pull together for the finale, a tense confrontation between the resistance and a cornered alien.
Rakka, if nothing else, shows hope for the studio’s future. As far as short films go, it's pretty good. It’s visually appealing, and even if you roll your eyes at the dialogue, the film is almost over by the time it gets bad. It's hard to say how Oats Studio will do, but considering Valve has their back and are offering the option to buy a ton of extra content, I don’t see why they wouldn’t continue charging forward. Rakka may not be among my favorite short films, but it’s likeable, and there's more than enough reason to want to follow the studio’s future work. It may even worth the $5 for the extras.
- Alex B.
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.