This DEUS EX Short Looks Like DEUS EX

Luckily, that's all fan films have to do.

There’s a wonderful moment of emotion late in this Deus Ex short whose subjugation under layers of heavily fetishised cyberpunk aesthetic and slow-motion badassery speaks a lot to the state of “fan” filmmaking. It’s a moment where a dying Adam Jensen (the protagonist from Deus Ex: Human Revolution and a character who mostly fights things here) confronts the nightmare of his transformation from ordinary cop into technological augment, and it’s got some real pathos behind it. There’s a body-horror sensibility to that moment that shows a lot of promise.

But then the film gets back to its robo-chic action, and it’s all lost again.

The "fan" lines on this Machinima Prime short are blurred - the game's developers Eidos Montreal have been promoting it as hard as its creators - but it’s still a fan film. Central to fan films’ nature is their tendency to focus on the surface-level elements of their source material rather than telling a story. Thus, the metric for success, then, is how well the property in question is replicated. This YouTube comment says it all: “The actors seems perfectly cast and look like their respective characters! This is how you make a video game movie!”

Here, Human Revolution is translated to live-action in great detail, down to the inclusion of Michael McCann’s score, a spiky-haired leather cybergirl and first-person shots mimicking gameplay. It’s all technically well-achieved, but what’s the point? What reactions do these callbacks provoke other than those of recognition? That the best section of the short happens to be the most distinct from its source material can’t be a coincidence.

Director Moe Charif (who also plays Jensen) is clearly skilled in his craft, and capable of creating cool moments in his action sequences, but in this short, those moments don’t serve anything other than themselves. At least in a video game, you’re the one doing the cool stuff - here, it’s mostly empty style. I guess Charif is aiming for this to be a showreel of sorts, and it might work for him. In a way, fan films are a little internet microcosm of the entertainment industry at large. Internet citizens love familiarity dearly, and filmmakers can get more attention by making a Superman fan film with a GoPro than by making something original. That’s just how the internet works, and Hollywood leans on existing franchises in a similar way. I understand that. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.