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Harbinger Down Brings Practical Effects Back Into the Limelight

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The title may sound like a bit of a falsehood as they have never really left our screens.

But it is fair to say that Hollywood does like to utilize its CGI toolbox, with practical effects often used in conjunction, rather than relied upon them to solely support a film. Growing up in the ’80s, we were bombarded with a ton of amazing practical effects movies that came out in that era. It seems I am not the only person who feels this longing for movies with more emphasis on the practical. In fact, it would seem there are at least 3,065 more like-minded individuals also craving some practical effects action.

That number being the amount of people who donated in some way to the now ‘in production’ movie Harbinger Down. Successfully funded through Kickstarter in June of 2013, the team behind the film are committed to giving the best scares they possibly can using ample amounts of practical effects (including animatronics and makeup) and as little CGI as possible. Fans have gotten behind this project so much there is a dedicated Harbinger Down fan art page where the more artistic fan can show the type of things they would love to see in the movie!

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Here is a brief summary of the film and some of the poster art for the movie so you can get an idea of just what type of movie Harbinger Down will be.

A group of grad students have booked passage on the fishing trawler Harbinger to study the effects of global warming on a pod of Orcas in the Bering Sea. When the ship’s crew dredges up a recently thawed piece of old Soviet space wreckage, things get downright deadly. It seems that the Russians experimented with tardigrades, tiny resilient animals able to withstand the extremes of space radiation. The creatures survived, but not without mutation.

Now the crew is exposed to aggressively mutating organisms. And after being locked in ice for 3 decades, the creatures aren’t about to give up the warmth of human companionship.

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So far it sounds like your classic old school monster movie affair, but will it be scary? Well, the team involved certainly knows how to frighten movie audiences. Leading the way in the acting department is fan favorite Lance Henriksen, who has appeared in genre movies such as Aliens, Pumpkinhead, and The Terminator, as well as some great low budget movies like Stone Cold, Near Dark, and Monster Brawl. A versatile actor, Henriksen, while appearing in a few low budget stinkers in his time, still always makes them entertaining in some way. He was even kind enough to make a video for the backers of the project when it was successfully funded.

Some other interesting additions to the cast are Matt Winston, son of the late Stan Winston, who has been directed by David Fincher and Steven Spielberg in the past. Tom Woodruff Jr., who has done numerous suit performance works in films like The Monster Squad and Aliens is another interesting member of the cast.

However, the main thrust of this movie is the effects and the crew certainly knows what it means to create a truly stunning monster. Alec Gillis is the director and brains behind Harbinger Down. He is the creator of Amalgamated Dynamics; a company that has been around for 25 years creating some of movies most inspired creature creations. X-Men: First Class, Jack the Giant Killer, Spider-Man, The Thing (2011), AVP: Alien vs Predator, Starship Troopers, Mortal Kombat and Tremors are all movies ADI has had a hand in. This studio also loves to share the magic of film making with its audiences, making regular videos on Youtube.

This glimpse into the practical effects world is similar to the early ’80s when these effects first came into the limelight and blew some minds. Gillis, along with Tom Woodruff Jr., brought on board ten Oscar nominated effects artists including Pat McClung (nominated for True Lies) as VFX supervisor, Robert Skotak (Oscar winner for Aliens and Terminator 2) and Dennis Skotak (Oscar winner for The Abyss). As this film prides itself on its effects, it is a relief to see so many skilled hands behind the camera. If you still have an element of doubt then look at the promo bust below to see the level of craftsmanship that has gone in to the movie.

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If you wondered where the inspiration for the fan art came from, then look no further than the original concept art from the movie, which certainly shows the big plans that this film has in regards to creature effects. Some of the artwork below, if it appears in the movie, will be stunning to see especially as a visual effects creation.

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Comparisons to other movies will inevitably pop up, with similarities in design and story that can be seen in films such as The Thing and Virus. But body modification with practical effects is a truly awesome thing to see. John Carpenter’s The Thing inspired an entire generation of filmmakers to create their own creatures, and Alec and Tom are no different. Though the 2011 remake/prequel of the film was not to everyone’s tastes, the practical effects that were used (although many were replaced with shoddy CGI) were still fun to watch, and make a great foundation for Harbinger Down to build off of.

I will leave you with this quote from Alex himself, which really does sum up how important these types of movies are to the film genre as a whole:

Monsters are important. They’ve been with humankind since we became human. We’re going to do everything we can to keep them with us, and most importantly, to keep them real.

The film is planned to finish in May 2014.


Images: KickStarter, Amalgamated Dynamics

 

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