Social allegory and class divides are the central theme of all Neil Blomkamp’s Oats Studio’s output so far and Firebase is no different. In the second instalment of Oats Studios: Volume One, the Vietnam War provides the backdrop for a sci-fi exploration of the relationship between soldiers, ‘the enemy’ and those in command. Firebase ticks the usual Blomkamp boxes, so fans are sure to be impressed, but are the same themes and features starting to wear thin?
The best sci-fi is analogous, usually set far away, in the past or the future but it is always about the present. Two of this years biggest sci-fi blockbusters ape (get it) typical Vietnam films, showing how ripe the setting it is for exploring how we currently see and treat those we deem other and how ordinary people are manipulated into dehumanising an enemy. In Firebase, there is talk of a ‘River God’, ‘The Devil’ and ‘soldiers who were monsters in the shape of men’, to which a shady CIA operative responds with glee: ‘yes, I want your men to help us kill The Devil’. Watching Firebase you can draw your own conclusions as to what the commanders’ sheer contempt for those in his command and those on the other side implies.
Firebase’s visuals are exciting, terrifying and effective. They exist within the often ignored sweet spot between practical effects and CGI, where the latter is used to enhance the former. An ambiguous, mutilated corpse sets the scene. Is it human? Is it alien? Considering who we’re dealing with, is it some awful hybrid of the two? Grainy footage of archetypal ‘nam soldiers shows them peeling off the skin of these creatures thus we are placed in the familiarly liminal space where humans and aliens become one. It’s cool and it’s creepy but the impression that we’ve seen this before is apparent. The short is tense, mysterious and daringly graphic although Firebase should be as efficient as it is considering it’s similarities to previous works.
Minds and bodies are infiltrated, the line between humans and aliens, between us and them, is blurred in what is, in a stand-alone sense, an effective short film. It does however tread very familiar water. Hopefully Oats Studios’ future will draw from a deeper pool of themes and ideas. There is potential for Oats to be a springboard from which ideas leap although they will soar far if they are all the same idea. I look forward to seeing if the final part of Oats Studios: Volume One – Zygote, will break the mould.
Check out full reviews of Neil Blomkamp’s Oats Studio here.