It’s so rare these days to recommend anything you find on Syfy, but I have to admit I enjoyed Mercury Men, a 10-part movie for the web that evokes the cliff-hanger serials like Commando Cody that inspired filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. And even more amazing is that there’s so much entertainment packed into these six- or seven-minute clips, all made for a mere $7,000.
The story is pretty simple: Men from Mercury plan to crash the Moon into the Earth by using gravity generators attached to the steel skeleton of a skyscraper. The props are pretty simple: a revolver turned “ray gun” fitted with glowing bullets, an old fashioned radio and a brain in a jar. The effects are simple: The nameless, faceless Mercury men are rather impressively shown as glowing, slinking human figures, made of light so dense it’s been made solid. The cast is beyond simple, essentially boiling down to just city government office drone Edward Borman (Mark Tierno) and action hero/aerospace engineer Jack Yaeger (Curt Wootton).
Actually the production is a little more complicated if you think about it and the complications, I think, relate to that budget. The story is set in Pittsburgh in 1975, which is definitely the wrong period. You’d think the 1930s (or the 1950s of the Commando Cody serials) would be more appropriate, especially since most educated people of the 1970s would have a hard time believing in a story about “First Men” evolving on the perpetually sun-baked Mercury. And Jack Yaegar’s aviator goggles look a lot more ’30s than ’70s. But I’d guess director Chris Preksta figured he could film a modern-day business office and sell it as being the ’70s, but he couldn’t afford dressing a set as a 1930s office. It would blow his whole budget. And the extremely limited cast — twelve actors are listed — is also a consequence of that budget, I’m sure. Another casualty of the budget are the scenes of the Moon being pulled down to the Earth. They’re decent enough computer generated images, but you’d expect some crowd panic shots — you know, people on the street pointing up at the Moon. But they just couldn’t afford it.
Luckily the limited cast and budget in no way affects the story of Mercury Men invading the city government offices at close of business day, killing a few janitors and offices drones with lightning bolts shot from their hands. Gorman escapes death with the timely intervention of Yaegar after a running fire fight amid the filing cabinets and pillars in the government offices. It’s a very exciting sequence that I enjoyed and it’s a lot of fun to watch Gorman, who plays the archetypal bureaucrat, being pressed into saving the world.
Director Preksta was lucky to get Syfy to show the webisodes on its website (it’s also available on Hulu and iTunes) and with luck there will be a sequel, certainly the final episode makes it obvious a sequel is planned, and then maybe we can learn more about The League, for which Jack works, and Doctor Tomorrow, the leader of the league. Although I’d like to think what Preksta could do with some real money, but not too much.