We’ve seen a lot of science fiction short films here at GFR — good, bad, and forgettable — but every once in a while one will really capture our attention. That’s absolutely the case with C: 299 792 km/s, which you can watch in full above. We don’t want to spoil anything, so if you haven’t already watched it, do so before you read any further.
Honestly, there is nothing about this short flick that I don’t love, and that begins with the low-tech retro aesthetic that instantly sets it apart from many modern shorts which utilize CGI to flesh out their world. In a case of style working hand-in-hand with frugality, C creators Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier set out to create an original sci-fi short film without using any CGI or greenscreen — all the effects were created in-camera. As the film’s official website explains:
To build the future, we looked to the past. No CGI or greenscreen was used in the making of the film; all our sets and props were built by hand and filmed in-camera. Combining new advances in digital camera technology with traditional special effects, we sought to create a unique, timeless look through lighting design, camera tricks, miniature photography, split-screen, and stop-animation. We believe that this approach allowed us greater creative possibilities on a low-budget science-fiction film.
The result is one of the best science fiction short films I’ve ever seen, one which evokes the look and feel of films like Ridley Scott’s Alien, or Peter Hyams’ 2010 and Outland. From the simplistic computer interfaces to the use of models and perspective tricks, C looks like it could easily be a rediscovered relic from the era of classic SF flicks I grew up loving. Even the soundtrack is perfect, a synth-heavy track that immediately sends me back to childhood memories of wearing out my dad’s VHS science fiction movie supply even faster than I burned through his closet full of books by Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and the rest.
But it’s not just the effects that impress. The storyline, following a coup aboard a military vessel in pursuit of a more noble goal, is brisk and perfectly paced, and tells the story without having to fill every character’s mouth with expository dialogue. There are several very cool little touches such as the moment the ship shifts to high acceleration, tossing the crew against a wall — and then rotating the camera to establish the new “down.” That’s a brilliant nod toward how arbitrary notions of direction become in zero-g, and it’s accomplished without needing any of Gravity’s cutting-edge technical wonders. Even the framing narrative, a faux educational filmstrip of the sort many of us watched countless times in school, is a conceit that wasn’t strictly necessary, but which adds another layer of context to the story.
The cast also deserves praise. Low-budget films sometimes suffer for not being able to find actors as good as their concept, but everybody here does a fine job. I especially have to single out Caroline Winterson, who plays Lieutenant Commander Malleck, the leader of the mutiny. Her “steely badass” performance would make Ellen Ripley proud.
You can read more about the making of the film, which achieved its funding goals via a successful Kickstarter campaign, over in this Wired write-up.