Tommy Battles The Silver Sea Dragon, aside from being a mouthful of a title, is ambitious as hell. A musical drama written, directed, starring, produced, and scored by Luke Shirock; it is very clear that this man desperately needed to tell this story and that, despite some issues, he’s quite the talent to watch.
Tommy (Luke Shirock) is led into a courtroom that appears to be straight out of a 1950s TV show and is accused of murdering his brother when he was younger. But, as the defense attorney (Michael Kostroff) is quick to point out, Tommy doesn’t have a brother. This news stuns the prosecutor (David Andrew MacDonald), and he questions the nebulous relationship between a memory and the perception of reality versus the actual truth. Tommy is next accused of ruining his longtime significant other, Carolyn’s (Celine Held), life by allowing the guilt over the truth of his brother gnaw away at him and let his self-loathing for himself keep her at a distance.
“…Tommy…is accused of murdering his brother…But Tommy doesn’t have a brother…”
Every new accusation or revelation brings the audience into Tommy’s memories of those (roughly) present-day events. This is achieved through a brilliant set and art design, as the bailiff sets up a projector and screen, then attaches it to Tommy’s head. Thus the bulk of the movie is a reality as filtered through his memories. This leads to some delightful, whimsical touches, such as Carolyn putting red yarn around Tommy before he heads off to work so he will always find his way home. In their apartment, on the bus, in the street, there are pulleys that retract and spool out the yarn as needed. Since this is a memory and their unreliable nature has already been established, it doesn’t break the reality of the movie. Instead, it adding to the beautifully mesmerizing look of the film. Another standout set-piece comes as the two leads are singing on the bed together, only for the apartment to fill with water, making the bed their only lifeline. Lauren Crawford, the set designer, along with production designer Maki Takenouchi, make the absolute most out of their limited means and the musical is all the richer for it.
Shirock brings a kinetic style to everything at hand, with great editing, sweeping camera shots, and ingenious shot composition. Carolyn sings about how Tommy just works, works, works and ignores her, but how if she leaves, they’d both be lost at sea and the way this is shot is awe inspiring. Carolyn is standing in the hall and Tommy is upstairs writing away, but there are no walls or floors separating them, so it appears that he is suspended in mid-air. It looks great.
Of course, a musical, no matter how great other aspects of it may be, is dead-on-arrival if the songs were lackluster (see the recent The Greatest Showman for a perfect example of this; or, rather don’t). The songs are all catchy, tie in perfectly with the characters’ emotional lives, and are excitingly choreographed by Celia Rowlson-Hall. The acting from the entire cast is also quite good, with Celine Held being the standout. She has a tricky role but pulls off stunningly. Shirock has a beautiful singing voice and shows it off to great effect.
“…songs are all catchy, tie in perfectly with the characters…and are excitingly choreographed…”
Tommy Battles The Silver Sea Dragon does take a few missteps. Given how involved Shirock was with every part of the production, it might have served him well to get a trusted friend to give some feedback. After the revelation that the brother doesn’t exist, the brother angle is not mentioned again for over half an hour. Since Tommy’s self-loathing and guilt stems from him having killed his twin in the womb (or, at least, that is how he perceives it) and his mother died in labor, that is a long time to go without coming back to these ideas. At an hour and fifty minutes long, some songs or sequences feel repetitive. The song referenced above that Carolyn sings is great, but it is so similar to the one when they break up for the first time, it feels unnecessary. Occasionally cutting back to the courtroom works when there is a whole scene there, but when it is just for the defense attorney, prosecutor, or judge to say a line or two, it slows the momentum considerably.
Tommy Battles The Silver Sea Dragon drags a little in the middle and doesn’t quite carry its thematic ideas throughout its runtime. But Luke Shirock is a talent to watch, proving himself a visual stylist of the highest order, a remarkable actor, and excellent lyricist/ musician. He is aided by a stellar cast, breathtaking art design, and the grand ambitions of his first feature-length movie.
Tommy Battles The Silver Sea Dragon (2018) Directed by Luke Shirock. Written by Luke Shirock. Starring Luke Shirock, Celine Held, David Andrew Macdonald, Michael Kostroff. Tommy Battles The Silver Sea Dragon premiered at the 2018 Cinequest Film Festival.