A little under four years ago, Steve Green and Steven Sterlacchini made a splash with their 2000AD-inspired fan film, Judge Minty. At the time, I wrote that it would be nice to see them turn their talents to that other great 2000AD staple, Strontium Dog. So it was pleasing to see, shortly afterwards, the announcement that that was exactly what they were working on.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the team exhibiting props and promoting the film at comics events since then – but at last, Search/Destroy is finally here. So does it stand up as well as its highly-regarded predecessor did?
It’s important, of course, when looking at a fan film to consider it in exactly those terms – while Search/Destroy has an unusually high level of production values for this sort of thing (not to mention co-operation from many involved with 2000AD and Rebellion), it is still a fan-film, and so expectations can’t be that it would live up to a professional, higher-budget production. With Judge Minty, this was less of an issue – the relatively small, close focus of the story meant that the film was able to concentrate on its strongest assets, namely the costuming and performances.
And those same assets hold true again here – indeed, Minty himself, Edmund Dehn, pops up as the villain later in the story. Matthew Simpson is a suitably brooding and chisel-jawed Johnny Alpha (and, pleasingly, resists the temptation to give the Milton Keynes-born character an action-hero American accent), while Kevin Horsham has a lot of fun chewing the heck out of everybody’s favourite hammer-wielding Viking, Wulf Sternhammer.
And the costume and prop design, as on Minty, is excellent throughout – Johnny and Wulf really do look like they’ve stepped straight off the page, and it’s hard to imagine a proper big-budget adaptation skewing as close to the source material as this version does.
Where it tends to stumble are in the areas where you’d have to be particularly mean-spirited to criticise it too much – namely, the quality of visuals and other production values. Unlike Judge Minty, you can’t really get away with doing a closed-in Strontium Dog story, because what made Strontium Dog so great was often the outlandish characters, concepts, and visuals. So rather than staying small, Search/Destroy sets out to throw a lot at the screen – but this does mean that in any circumstance other than in an enclosed space (or putting camera filters on footage shot in a quarry), the film struggles slightly to convince.
In particular, the CG vehicles required to get Johnny and Wulf across the plot as quickly as possible are a little ropey, as is the attempt to convincingly convey a large military compound. But some of the little touches are neat – such as Johnny’s famously glowing eyes throughout – and the fight sequences are generally quite well choreographed.
The story is perhaps a little slight – and even a little rushed, especially in the latter stages – but that’s a natural consequence of attempting to condense what could feasibly be an entire feature-length narrative into a 20-minute running time (and indeed, is not entirely out of keeping with the way the original stories were told in 2000AD). You’ll get the most joy out of it if you’re already a Strontium Dog fan, as there are easter eggs and guest appearances galore – Middenface McNulty and Durham Red show up early on, various classic weapons (including Time Bombs, Time Drogues and Electronux) make appearances, and there’s even room for a Smiling Chukwalla.
In so far as bringing to the screen lots of characters and concepts that might otherwise never have made it, Search/Destroy does a fine job. If it doesn’t quite succeed entirely in its own right the way Judge Minty did, that’s only because its increased ambition means it’s reaching to do a lot more, and doesn’t always quite manage it. But it’s a hugely impressive venture all the same, and if you’ve any interest in classic 2000AD, it’s very worth twenty minutes of your time.
You can watch Search/Destroy for free now on Youtube and at the official website.