Pac-Man

Pac-ManDeep in a secret underground facility in the Nevada desert, a small team of American scientists has created an amazing artificial life form. Capable of neutralizing any toxic spill, and potentially capable of eliminating almost any man-made hazard, the polymorphic autonomous compound manipulator – Pac-Man for short – could be the future savior of humanity. But first, Pac-Man and his creators must impress a military VIP with the power to shut down the project. Does Pac-Man stand a ghost of a chance?

Watch this shortscreenplay by James Farr
directed by James Farr
music by Joshua Peterson

Cast: Cheryl Kimiko (Reporter), Jason Yang (Dr. Iwitani), Gloria Patton (Sue), Eric Barber (Colonel Midway), James Farr (R. Kade)

Notes: There are numerous in-jokes from the world of Pac-Man hidden in the short; if you give up on spotting them all, check “additional notes” at the end of this review.

LogBook entry and review by Earl Green

Pac-ManReview: A clever proof-of-concept short that rethinks Pac-Man as a round yellow pedestrian at an intersection between Tron, The Matrix and Stargate, this project from Tulsa-based Steelehouse Digital was envisioned as a kick-ass production demo to be sqeueezed in between the “paying jobs” (Steelehouse’s commercial clients include Sonic, Honda, Mazzio’s Pizza and Hasbro) as well as a valentine to the filmmakers’ childhood icon.

But the resulting Pac-Man short does more than that. The Pac-Manmovie rights for Pac-Man have been in play for years, with virtually no forward motion to propel it any closer to getting greenlighted. By comparison, this short movie – hyped under the name Project Yellow Sphere – was written, shot and completed within a year, in Tulsa instead of Hollywood. Furthermore, the story – all six and a half minutes of it – hangs together about as well as anything could using Pac-Man as its framework.

As the project’s own web site points out, “What the heck is a Pac-Man? What are the ghosts? And how exactly can a hungry yellow ball exit on the left side of the screen, and re-appear again on the right? On the surface, it was absolute, utterly random nonsense.” Farr’s script Pac-Mananswers all of these questions without “breaking the universe” of the game, does it with an economy of dialogue and jaw-dropping CGI effects for a something that lasts all of six minutes and change.

The cast – all locals for whom playing Pac-Man isn’t a full-time gig – are credible in their roles, and likeable enough that I could see sticking with these performers as these characters for a full-length movie. (Writer/director/actor James Farr has fessed up that he’s got a feature-length story mapped out for Pac-Man, of which this is just a small slice, and it’s probably the closest anyone’s gotten to piloting Pac-Man out of development hell.)

Pac-ManThat’s all easy to say when this short had no official input from Namco and didn’t have to wait for a yea-or-nay vote to go into production, but I hope that won’t deter the filmmakers from keeping this project alive on the back burner. Maybe crank out the entire story as a series of webisodes of roughly the same length. Or maybe pitch the completed short to Namco in a bid to snag the movie rights above-board. It’s fun, it’s inoffensive, and it doesn’t damage the brand, so why not? And in over a decade, it’s as close as we’ve gotten to someone actually doing a Pac-Man movie.

Here’s hoping the folks behind this don’t forget that after level one comes level two.

Additional Notes: Not even running to seven minutes, Pac-Man is loaded down with easter eggs for Pac-Man and old-school video game fans:

    Pac-Man

  • The “newscast” opening is on the fictional station “KLYD”; appropriately enough, the station’s graphics package is orange like Clyde the monster. (The newscaster, on the other hand, is genuine: she works at Fox 23 in Tulsa.)
  • The scrolling “ticker” in the newscast scene includes blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em mentions of other Namco games, including Time Crisis, Rally-X, Tank Battallion, Assault, and Pole Position.
  • Project Yellow Sphere tech Sue is wearing a pink bow, a la Ms. Pac-Man.
  • Sue has a necklace inspired by the “cherry” graphic in the arcade game; her fellow controller, “R. Kade,” has a coffee mug with a pretzel on it (another of the “fruit” prizes from the game).
  • Namco’s logo can be spotted on Sue’s touch-screen display console, reformatted as “Nam Co.”
  • Pac-Man

  • The character of “Dr. Toru Iwitani” is named after the designer of Pac-Man. “Colonel Midway” is named after the arcade manufacturer that brought Pac-Man to the English-speaking world.
  • The “underground tunnel” through with Iwitani and Midway walk at the beginning has numbers painted on the walls; these numbers (200, 400, 800, 1600) are the point values for eating ghost monsters after chowing down on a single power pellet in Pac-Man.
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