Rotor DR1 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Cinema Libre
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th November 2015).
The Film

In a world where a mysterious virus decimated ninety-percent of the population, the immune survivors hunt down the autonomous drones that once delivered the ultimately ineffective antidotes to trade in the only viable post-apocalyptic currency: power sources from a mysterious mineral known as arc pellets. Like other young "Fringers" orphaned Kitch (Christian Kapper) provides arc pellets with at least twenty-percent remaining power to scuzzy barterer Hashtag (co-writer Steve Moses) who supplies video game arcade-dwelling kingpin 4C (Tom E. Nicholson). When Kitch comes across an unusual-looking drone labeled DR1, he recognizes it as the prototype that his long-lost father Dr. Mitchell Scott (Scott Davis) was developing before the government hustled him away at the start of the outbreak. With the possibility that his father may still be alive, Kitch takes to the road in the company of 4C's runaway niece Maya (Natalie Welch) as the drone leads them eastward in the direction of his father's several cities away. When 4C realizes that his niece is missing and learns from Hashtag that she and Kitch bought some sleeping bags and supplies off of him, he sends thugs AJ (Patrick Casteel, who also edited and scored the film) and Greg (Ryker Marsh) to retrieve Maya and the DR1. On the road, Kitch learns from one of his father's former colleagues (David Windestål) that his father refused to build more DR1s for the military and discovers that many people hold his father and his company SkyMed responsible for millions of deaths because the antidotes did not arrive in time. Besides AJ and Greg on their tail, they also face danger from strangers on the road including a sinister commune whose leader (Rick Montgomery Jr.) feel the virus was beneficial in weeding out the weak.

Promoted as the world's first drone community-collaborated feature, Rotor DR1 may overestimate how interesting drone culture is to wider audiences; and yet it is a fascinating experiment. Director Chad Kapper founded the DR1 forum for the project, seeking input for characters and situations from the drone community after uploading the first episode. The series lasted ten episodes that were first available on the internet before Kapper and crew (including some of his cast pulling double or triple duty) got involved with distributor Cinema Libre to put together a feature version for Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD. The finished product still feels fragmented because of the way in which the story and characters were conceived and shaped and the filmmakers efforts to then reshape the series into a feature with reshoots, inserts, and the pruning of some material (including some entire characters). Although I have not seen the original episodes, the feature seems to have been undertaken when the filmmakers had enough footage to create a feature-length product with an anti-climactic open ending of the sort that only really works when the viewer knows that there is more source material for a follow-up (especially of the "part 2" direct continuation type). Kapper the younger gives a relatively good performance when one considers that he had to continually build and modify his character with each episode; and it sort of works since he starts out in a sort of emotional stasis born out of fear and, in a sense, his search for his father is an attempt to recover some sense of continuity with who he was before (he ponders throughout what sort of teenager he would have been had the outbreak not occurred). Where he grates is in the redundant and monotonous narrations which occur at intervals that suggest they might mark the start or end points of each of the original episodes. The supporting performances are wildly uneven with Davis and Casteel most consistent while Moses and Welch are awkward but certainly have their moments where they hit the right notes (co-editor Casteel was also responsible for the anaesthetizing techno score, a job that probably should have been approached with fresh eyes and ears). While the final product is imperfect, it may be interesting to see what the filmmakers learned from the series and the experience of reshaping the story in the feature edit when taking on a continuation or unrelated follow-up either as another web series or a feature.


Cinema Libre's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode is a consistent presentation of a film that is sometimes inconsistent in its visual slickness, which is to be expected with a low-budget series in which some scenes are improvised and some grabbed when the location inspires or when the actors are available.


Despite the film's emphasis on the high-tech, the disc's audio options are lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks. The sound design is often sparse because of the post-apocalyptic setting. The surround mix is rather rough around the edges and could have used some refinement from an experienced mixer but gets the job done. English SDH subtitles are available.


Cinema Libre's Blu-ray is stacked in terms of extras starting with an audio Commentary by director Chad Kapper, writer Megan Ryberg, and actors Christian Kapper & Steve Moses. While a number of the video extras were shot during production are are more concerned with promotion and behind the scenes tidbits, the commentary allows the filmmakers to reflect on their working methods. In between jokes and pointing out cameos, they describe not having a finished script for the series when the first episodes were filmed and edited, and the challenge of "finding" character when they were not fully developed (pending input from the community). They point out scenes that were shot off-the-cuff before production and in between setting up other scenes, how improv impacted coverage in editing since different takes and angles varied wildly in tone and energy, reshoots and inserts as they put the feature version together, as well as characters that were completely removed from the feature version because they could not get the actors back to flesh out their characters (Davis was cast because he and Kapper the younger had done a commercial a decade earlier from which the childhood photographs and dream footage was derived). The series was edited by Patrick Casteel and the feature put together by Christian Serge Nelson after which Casteel gave it a polish (the filmmakers mention that Cinema Libre also did some additional editing).

The deleted scenes include four alternate versions of existing scenes, although it is not specified if these are the scenes as they appear in the episodes or just alternate assemblies and three actual deleted scenes, two of which feature a character played by Bruno Gunn (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) whose character was in the series but eliminated from the feature because he was not available for reshoots (as mentioned on the commentary track). A handful of featurettes look at the Rotor DR1 community and how they shaped the series as "community collaborated entertainment" after the first episode was made available. Coverage of the Drone Race sequence and a segment on the first and last days of shooting highlight the participation of the crew and forum members as cast and extras (in addition to providing props and resources) while another featurette attempts to explain to us the real technology behind some of the futuristic weapons. Also included are screen test footage and test footage (not of the drones but some rudimentary visualization of the tone and atmosphere with Kapper the younger wandering desolate snowy landscapes and playing with an earlier version of the drone). The extras are rounded out by two storyboard timelapse segments, jokey outtakes (2:49), and three trailer variations.


Rotor DR1 may be merely passable low-budget science fiction, but it is also a thoroughly fascinating experiment in collaborative filmmaking with an expanded notion of community.


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