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A Can Of Paint (2004)
Director: Robi Michael

review by Christopher Geary

This great little 24-minute film is based on A.E. van Vogt's short story, first published in the September 1944 issue of John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction magazine. It concerns the misadventures of interstellar junk scavenger Kilgour (Aaron Robson) when he incautiously opens a mysterious container salvaged from a derelict alien spaceship. The canister explodes in his lab and sprays weird blue stuff around his spacecraft, and onto his right hand. Disturbingly, the 'paint' appears to be alive, and very soon it begins spreading up his arm...

Adapted by Winston Engle, A Can Of Paint is a fine example of how traditional SF can be made to work as screen drama. The interplay between protagonist Kilgour and his talkative, female-voiced computer (Jean Franzblau) is wryly amusing, provides an engaging way of discussing this movie's offbeat 'first contact' scenario and, despite Kilgour's choice of the lone spacer existence, the highly imaginative plot clearly accentuates human qualities. We sympathise with Kilgour's quite alarming predicament as his ship's fuel is contaminated (rendered inert by the energy-absorbing paint), and life support systems begin to fail. Seemingly doomed by inexplicable events, our solitary hero must reply on his intelligence, wits, and tenacity to survive and escape death. It's a very well told story in the classic genre manner; kudos to director Robi Michael for generating such electrifying tension, and superb character-based comedy, in a format of perfect brevity.

Contributing to the extraordinary quality of this film are classy production values, with impressive sets and technical designs, judicious use of amazing 3D animation and some flawless 'green screen' visuals. In particular, the space effects are superb and equal to anything you may have seen in the major sci-fi TV shows or Hollywood movies. In an era when literary SF has moved on to nanotech, biotech, and cyber-tech, it's a credit to the ingenuity of the filmmakers, and a tribute to the timelessness of van Vogt's work, that a 60-year-old story can still be made into a marvellous entertainment such as this. A few nifty in-jokes, and a scattering of familiar items of genre-related merchandise (models of TV Trek's Klingon warship, and a 'Colonial Viper' fighter - from BattleStar Galactica - adorn the meticulous clutter of Kilgour's ship) only add to the charm for long time, eagle-eyed fans of SF media. Happily reminiscent of John Carpenter's cult Dark Star feature (though without so much hysterically theatrical comedy), A Can Of Paint is terrific drama and thought-provoking screen SF that sincerely deserves your attention.

The unrated NTSC region-free DVD from Invisible Films is in widescreen format (aspect ratio is approx 1.85:1), with a Dolby digital stereo 2.0 soundtrack. Disc extras include deleted scenes from the work-print, the trailer, behind-the-scenes photos and a gallery of storyboards and some concept art in slideshow format with musical accompaniment, plus isolated score (by Gordy Haab) option. This is a good package of extras, but it's a shame they couldn't have included the text of van Vogt's story, too.

Related item:
tZ  Oh, the Humanity of A.E. van Vogt's Monsters:
Reorienting Critics and Readers to the van Vogt Method

A Can of Paint

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