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Film Threat presents
Frontier (2002)

"In the days following the Kornsthog Revolution, the Bulbovian government established The Expansionist Research Corp, dedicated to locating and civilizing any foreign territories."
- narrator

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 10, 2004

Stars: Wiley Wiggins
Other Stars: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Stephanie Wilson
Director: David and Nathan Zellner

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:21m:58s
Release Date: December 09, 2003
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C+ CB-B B-

DVD Review

Frontier is a curious little low-budget project from filmmaking brothers David and Nathan Zellner, and it is built around the history of the fictitious country of Bulbovia, allegedly a tiny Eastern European nation recovering from the throes of revolution. Two unnamed Bulbovian soldiers (Wiley Wiggins and David Zellner), part of newly formed governmental Expansionist Research Corp, have been sent forth to explore the uncharted hinterland, and in the process to document the assorted flora and fauna, all in the name of Bulbovia.

The entire film is "performed" in native Bulbovian, obviously a completely made up language. Getting past that joke can be a tough hurdle, and sometimes Frontier reeks of smart-guy pomposity, or worse yet, the feeling of being forced to sit through an improv exercise by a handful of theater nerds. It's hard to tell how scripted Frontier was versus how much was made up on the spot, and for all I know the actors were simply speaking in a fake language that was later assembled via subtitles into what passes for a story of exploration and discovery by the Zellners.

Weirdness abounds here, with Wiggins' wheelchair bound character finding mysterious healing powers in the new land, and David Zellner slowly degenerating into a deranged madman. I really wanted to like this film more than I ultimately did—I'm all about adventurous and bizarre—but Frontier often ventured too far into the realm of the unnecessarily quirky and absurd, with its well-hung,egg-throwing Bigfoot character and a boxing match using chicken carcasses as gloves. The result is something that isn't as much funny as it is broadly preposterous.

The Zellners seem unsure as to whether this is supposed to be mock-serious or wholly nonsensical, and this unbalance is what eventually derails things. I thought the film worked best during the first half hour or so as Wiggins and Zellner explored their new surroundings, but when Stephanie Wilson shows up midway through as the wife of Wiggins' character, she appears unable to even remotely act, and instead seems perpetually ready to burst into laughter any time she is onscreen, as if she was embarrassed to be there. I've seen 12-year-olds playing around with a video camera emote more naturally and with less smirking.

I could easily handle the phony Bulbovian language and backstory if the film hadn't completely degenerated into art school weirdness by the end.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Frontier has been issued in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer. The film was originally shot on video, and it was apparently made for very little money, and the presentation can't really mask that fact. Colors fluctuate, and occasionally look a little oversaturated, resulting in some smeary transitional moments. Though certainly rough around the edges, it is understood that this is low-budget filmmaking and the image flaws can largely be attributed to that.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in basic 2.0 Hi-Fi stereo, and it is a very rudimentary mix with a minimal amount of depth. Not much in the way of any kind of particularly robust dynamic range, but it is acceptable and suitable to the low-budget "foreign" film. No hiss or crackle, and no noticeable distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Esperanto with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Red, Agent 15, Plastic Utopia
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Wiley Wiggins, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Stephanie Wilson
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video
Extras Review: Filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner, along with cast members Wiley Wiggins and Stephanie Wilson, keep up the Bulbovian gag during the feature-length commentary, in which they pretend to be recording the track during a coup. Weird sound effects (helicopters, children laughing, etc.) pop up periodically, and the content is all built around phony Bulbovian history and background info. Similarly, the Zellners claim their film is "government funded" by Bulbovia.

There are two brief Deleted Scenes, one involving Wiley Wiggins character "murdering" a microwave (02m:59s) and a moderately altered ending (02m:32s) that cops Terry Gilliam's Love Conquers All title, à la Brazil. A Bulbovian War Bonds PSA (01m:05s) is cute and properly succinct, while the Bulbovian rock music video (01m:25s) for Nutella and Gummi Bear Sandwich from the fictitious band Precarious Warehaus Dwellars is rather funny, as well.

Bulbovia, Sweet Bulbovia and From Froktog To Frontier are a couple of text-based pieces that further elaborate on the Zellner-created mythos, and if you have stuck with the joke this far then you might mine a couple of laughs out of the material.

In addition to a few trailers, the disc is cut into 8 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, Spanish, French, or (ahem) Esperanto.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

To their credit, David and Nathan Zellner keep up the joke not only through the film, but throughout the extras on the DVD. They don't step out from behind the Bulbovian mythos for a second, and you either have to accept the gag or get buried by it.

Underneath the some of the more amateurish and absurd moments, there are a few genuinely intriguing sequences that show filmmaking promise that sadly isn't sustained by the film as a whole.

 


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