The hardest part of criticism of any kind is evaluating a passion project in which undeniable talent and love were poured into every minute of the piece. It becomes more frustrating when the art that is being assessed does not work as a whole piece. Space Detective is one such title. Taking roughly a decade to complete, the animated noir tale is written and produced by Antonio Llapur and Matt Sjafiroeddin, and directed by Llapur, while Sjafiroeddin stars as the titular star-faring private investigator. Moreover, while their talents and love for the project are evident throughout, the movie is let down by its rather terrible rotoscoping.
Shiro (Matt Sjafiroeddin) is a private eye who gets hired by his old flame Jinks (Angela Rysk) to retrieve a data disc. Said disc is on a planet rife with gambling, gangs, and widespread corruption. In his attempt at locating and nabbing the disc, Shiro gets into a scuffle at a club. However, he walks away triumphant and gets back to Jinks unscathed. Soon though, the truth of what is on the disc and what Jinks plans to do with it is unveiled. Shiro now fears for his life and the galaxy as a whole. Will the Terran private eye discover who is ultimately responsible for trying to take over the universe? More importantly, will he be able to stop whoever that may be?
The black and white character animation coupled with the noir sensibilities recalls to mind the vastly underrated Christopher Volckman directed Renaissance. The 2006 French-British co-production used motion capture for its stylish look. Considering that Renaissance barely made a dent at the box office and even less of a blip on the pop culture radar, I doubt this was an influence at all. However, the similarities are intriguing to ponder.
“… the truth of what is on the disc and what Jinks plans to do with it is unveiled. Shiro now fears for his life and the galaxy as a whole.”
Antonio Llapur’s direction, for the most part, is serviceable. He, rather wisely, lets the animation and production design take precedent. Llapur is able to keep the action flowing, and the convoluted end goals of everyone involved never gets too hard to follow. Equally as good is the entire cast. Sjafiroeddin handles the stoicism of his role believably, while still crafting an empathic human (I mean that literally, as Terrans aren’t commonplace in this universe). Portraying Jinks, Angela Rysk is having a blast as the femme fatale type. Shiro’s artificial intelligence is named Abbey and voiced by Stephanie Reynolds. She does an excellent job and gets some hilarious one-liners to boot.
The screenplay is a more of a mixed bag though. The femme fatale, who shares a past with our hero, the MacGuffin, and false clues are all here. This is a detective story after all, so such things existing within the confines of this story is expected and welcomed. However, the script gets easily distracted from its main plot.
There is a music video featuring an alien version of the Insane Clown Posse, and we see the majority of it. It is as obnoxious as it sounds. There are also some commercials present that are making fun of modern-day ads. This instantly dates the movie, as what it is mocking can only stay in the pop culture sphere for so long. While annoying, and often coming across as nothing more than filler, it is not a dealbreaker.
“…what brings Space Detective down below average is the animation; the character animation to be specific.”
No, what brings Space Detective down below average is the animation; the character animation to be specific. It is not that the black and white characters and the colorful backgrounds clash. On the contrary, the juxtaposition works well and is quite pleasing to the eye. No, the issue is that the characters move awkwardly and there is a lot of ghosting around the edges of each person.
The way the shadows continuously change on any given person when they make the slightest movement is unnatural. It is this constant shifting light and odd flickering that makes the visual design of the characters so hard to stomach. That does mean that most of Space Detective is embarrassing to watch, at best; at worst, it is just plain ugly.
The blood, sweat, tears, and dedication that the cast and crew poured into Space Detective is evident throughout. While the story is nothing new, it is still intriguing, and the actors are all pretty good. Despite solid background work, the character animation is awful. Since film is a visual medium, piss poor visuals make for a bad movie; especially when it is an animated one.
Space Detective (2019) Directed by Antonio Llapur. Written by Antonio Llapuur, Matt Sjafiroeddin. Starring Matt Sjafiroeddin, Angela Rysk, Stephanie Reynolds, Rico Lee Junior, Steed Corulla, Antonio Llapur.
4 out of 10 Spaceships