Journey to Planet X: Tribeca Review

Doc about hapless amateur filmmakers offers likeable underdogs and hilarious production values.

Documentary follows two aspiring filmmakers as they create their low-budget science fiction films.

NEW YORK — Journey to Planet X is certainly not the first film to document the quixotic ambitions of filmmakers whose visions far exceed their skills. But it does so with a refreshing empathy for its subjects, two men motivated by sheer love of make-believe. Some of the footage presented here would have been far more novel in a pre-YouTube world, but even so, Journey is a well put-together crowd pleaser.

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Florida geologist Eric Swain has been making DIY versions of Hollywood epics for years -- a short but tremendously entertaining montage shows the not-so-special effects he's used to make himself a fighter pilot, astronaut and sword-and-sorcery hero. Then he met Troy Bernier, an eager collaborator with a scientist's eye for detail. Intent on raising the production values of their output -- "I don't want to make anything that is sub-standard," he says with endearing confidence -- Bernier sets out to make Swain's next sci-fi opus festival-worthy.
Documentarians Josh Koury and Myles Kane have enough film-world experience to see that Swain and Bernier are unlikely to produce anything releasable in the forseeable future, but there's never a sense of mockery in their film: Even as we see the auteurs auditioning ridiculously untalented actors (Bowfinger comes to mind here and elsewhere) and struggling with their own mishmash of a script, the tone is one of bemused admiration.
Swain and Bernier do, after all, take some steps to produce better work. They wisely hire a comic-book artist to storyboard their project (a read-through of that storyboard, complete with sound effects, suggests what Planet X could become), they procure a refrigerated warehouse to film scenes set in the freezing depths of outer space, and they even bring a little Zenith TV to their green-screen soundstage, so they can see what they're shooting as they go.
Most viewers will conclude that, if making a career of filmmaking is their goal (as the pair's wooing of film-fest organizers seems to suggest), these guys are throwing their money away. But they're having so much fun doing it, you have to hope they don't let failure make them stop.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, Viewpoints
Production Company: Brooklyn Underground Films
Directors-Editors-Directors of Photography: Josh Koury, Myles Kane
Producer: Trisha Barkman
Music: Jonah Rapino
Sales: Steven Beckman, Cinetic FilmBuff
No rating, 77 minutes

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