Hello Interwebs! This week I break down TPM’s classic short film: Planet of the Beavers: Reloaded. This project marked the point when our company’s ambitions began to outgrow our capabilities. In fact, we still remember PoB 3 as the movie which pushed us to our creative breaking point. Enjoy some fun behind-the-scenes stories, detailing our many struggles, followed by a narrative analysis!
This is Part 3 of my PoB analysis series. If you haven’t checked out my first articles already (or if you want a refresher), begin with Part 1 here.
***Spoilers ahead for Planet of the Beavers: Reloaded***
Planet of the Beavers: Reloaded Behind-the-scenes Stories
By February 2016, the Planet of the Beavers franchise was in a sorry state. Our first sequel, Tower of the Beavers –a misguided attempt to fill in plot holes from the original installment–, remains a creative embarrassment to the TPM team even today. That movie’s main problem: we tried too hard to replicate the magic of PoB 1 without moving the plot ahead. So, instead of meaningful advancement, we just filmed a series of flashbacks.
Justin and I learned from our mistakes. PoB 3 was essentially a soft reboot of the franchise, tasked with reinventing our original concept and making the story worthwhile again. We called the film “Reloaded”, both as a reference to The Matrix and a promise of creative resurgence; we skipped the narrative forward multiple years; and Doc, in one of his first lines, declares the series’ motto: “Always forward; never back.” Now the real story could begin.
Things were also different behind the scenes this time around. Justin and I had equal creative control now. And –unlike the pre-production of PoB 2– we made certain to have cohesive vision for the story/ script before shooting began. That vision: to parody a new genre (or specific franchise) with each installment of the story. PoB 1-2 were comedic renderings of post-apocalyptic movies, and PoB 3 leaned heavily on The Matrix for inspiration. The idea was that– when all these blatant ripoffs were taken as a whole– they would constitute a strange and wholly original story, familiar and yet completely “us”.
I still think PoB 3 is the best film of the original trilogy from a technical standpoint. In fact, it remains Justin’s favourite installment. But it was easily the least fun to film. The majority of our shoot took place over one day. And, on said day, our crew pushed itself to ridiculous degree. We exhausted ourselves, took injuries, and generally annoyed each other. And the weather was terrible too. Why did we want to film it in winter? Hell if I can remember. The weather did lend a cool, dreary vibe to the locale though…
With the script in place, our next step was to get a crew together. Why did we pick the people we did? Well, back then we didn’t cast roles based exclusively on people’s acting ability. Practical concerns had to be addressed too– like transport. For Reese Kyle, we enlisted Derek because he was friends with Matteo, frequently available, and he had a car; Dylan was one of the best actors from our drama class, so he made a natural fit for Apollo; and Becca was a good friend of ours whom we felt suited the role of Serenity (she was also a solid actor from our drama class).
Our film shoot was far from a disaster but we didn’t get the best start. Our first big mistake was beginning at 11:00 AM. We grossly underestimated how long this thing would take to shoot! And it didn’t help that our crew was the biggest we’d ever assembled. PoB 2 technically had a large crew as well, but the majority of those jobs were stunt-related, and they were congregated in one short sequence. This film required at least 4 full-time actors on set for the entire day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the number was still intimidating for Justin and I.
Frankly, I was worried for this movie from our very first scene of the day: the Resistance base exposition dump in Justin’s father’s basement. The sequence was more bloated than intended, and it took far too long to film. Further– I feared this sequence would bore our audience and slow down the film’s pace. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but it wasn’t so bad as I’d feared either.
Part of the reason this scene took so long to film was the crew’s inefficient use of shot-lists. After our lack of planning on PoB 2, we felt it would be a prudent to form a game-plan for Part 3. But the lists just got us confused and inadvertently dragged out the shoot. We quickly gave them up and fell back on our old “shoot however we feel like” method. Ironically, I’m currently TPM’s biggest advocate for storyboards and shotlists, but I was the first willing to ditch them at the time. Oh well. I suppose that’s what we in the film industry call “character growth.”
After that basement scene, the crew was glad to get out and do something else. I’ll bet we looked ridiculous walking through suburbia in black leather, wearing shades and carrying a broadsword– plus some BB Guns for good measure. But you can’t have any shame while making movies! Otherwise you’d never even leave your house. Our crew stopped in a park (nearby Justin’s house) for our “debriefing” sequence. This was Becca’s final scene before leaving us for the day. For her first film, I think she did a solid job!
Next up was the big Apollo vs Alex fight scene in the parking lot. Fun fact: we made up this choreography on the spot. It was a happy coincidence I wasn’t on camera for this part. Staying behind the scenes allowed me to concentrate on directing the others. Still– this sequence took a ridiculously long time to film as well. I blame that on our lack of planning, but also on our lack of directorial skills. There were more folks on hand than we were comfortable handling. And some people (I won’t name names) distracted everybody else. But did we at least improve our direction from that disastrous “tower blitz sequence” of PoB 2? Yes. Most definitely.
Following our kung-fu match, we returned to Justin’s house, tied Dylan up to a chair, and got him to play “captive”. By this point in the day, he must have thought we were crazy people… Dylan was a great sport though! His performance as Apollo is one of the most memorable aspects of PoB 3. The character was the right kind of strange, intriguingly mysterious, and had a potentially fascinating backstory. More than that– he was the most interesting new face in the franchise. Of our new cast members, Dylan was easily the best-utilized. I just wish we’d used him more… Justin, Matteo, and I had plans to bring Dylan/ Apollo back at some point, but I’m afraid that ship sailed a long time ago.
Dylan left us soon after we “freed” him, and our team moved on to its next scene: where Mortimer’s programming kicks in. If you’ve watched all the PoB films, it’s obvious that my Gorn persona was a work in progress here. I was still finding the character’s voice– literally. I hadn’t figured out how to deliver my lines yet…
Our next stop was a local field so we could shoot PoB 3’s introductory sequence (“Stayin’ Alive”). Derek was kind enough to give us a ride there. Now that we had less crew, a change of scenery, and some new costumes, our team got its second wind for the day! Not that the feeling lasted long, but it was refreshing while it lasted.
This was actually our first time visiting that “field” location. We thought the view was so pretty, we decided to return there when we shot the western installment of PoB (which we ultimately did, by the way). There’s two things of note which happened in this sequence: 1) An early clip features Justin falling down a hill and knocking me over (used in the final cut). That actually happened by accident, but it was so funny we left it in… And 2) The PoB 3 trailer (using bloopers from this scene) featured the origin of a dance move known as “the Matteo”. It’s that little moment where he bobs up and down on his heels. “The Matteo” actually became quite popular amongst our friends. Heck– we even got a bunch of people to perform the move at our Prom (a year later) when the DJ happened to play “Stayin’ Alive”!
NOTE: That trailer is no longer publicly available on YouTube because a copyright claim took out the music. So I can’t show you the glorious move…
Here, the camera died. This was back in the days before we had spare batteries, so we were forced to take a break. The crew went back to Justin’s place for a recharge (that’s both literal and metaphorical). We grabbed some dinner and played video games till the camera was ready again. By this time, it was already dark outside. But we still had multiple major scenes to get through. This probably should have been the end of our day, but we pushed ourselves back out nonetheless. In retrospect– that was a big mistake. Our evening got a lot harder from this point forward…
The crew’s next stop was a downtown alleyway to perform PoB 3’s first kung-fu sequence. Luckily, Main Street was quiet that night, or someone probably would have called the cops on us… I’m glad I actually choreographed something in advance for this scene because, otherwise, we would have wasted more time. Everyone’s tempers were already short. Any more delays would have resulted in a crew mutiny…
Even then, the process wasn’t as simple as it ought to have been because we still hadn’t planned how to shoot the combat. Though we tried to film the fight multiple ways, it looked bad almost every time! And to make a frustrating situation worse– my whole body quickly grew sore from slamming against that wall (for a stunt). I’m no stuntman, so I actually injured myself. My shoulder didn’t hurt so much at first, but it got worse as the night wore on. Eventually, we left well enough alone and moved on.
The only positive that resulted from everyone’s lack of patience: the sequence’s jokes turned out better than in my script. Notably– one part I wrote saw Doc ramble through a long speech about whether or not Reese Kyle could be trusted. But, in the interest of moving the night along, Matteo chopped out my monologue entirely and improvised the “majority consensus” joke. It was way better.
Tensions between the crew ran high by this point in the night. It had been a terribly long day already, but we still had one more big scene to go: the Back to the Future homage. Just the idea of moving on to this scene was enough to give me my third wind! BTTF is my all-time favourite movie. And, once again: new costumes, new location, and a new vibe (“Genre switch”) helped the sequence to feel fresh. I think the others had their moods boosted a little too, but not for long. Everyone but me was long past ready to wrap up for the day.
So we moved on to a local parking lot, got ourselves changed and… realized we left one of our BB guns in the alley downtown. We sent Derek to get it because he’s the one who left it there. That was enough to delay the shoot another 20 minutes. Ugh. But Justin, Matteo, and I tried to make the most of the situation. We wandered around the area– popping into grocery stores, fast food places, and coffee shops– performing little skits in our costumes (talking about how disappointing 2016 is; looking to get back to 1985, etc). Not many people were even out at this time of the day though, so the jokes were mostly just for us…
Nobody really gave a damn by the time we shot that final scene. We skipped multiple lines, half-assed others, and generally rushed to get it done. And we were all annoyed with each other too. It looked pretty good though!
All in all– we had a productive day, and a decent shoot (all things considered) but it took WAY too long. The crew didn’t disperse till 11:00, meaning we slogged through an 11 hour shoot! I’m sure many film crews go through worse. But nobody was paying us for this. We didn’t have to put ourselves through that. In any case– Justin and I agreed that we would never do a day that long again. And we never did… Well, not THAT long anyway. Our biggest lesson from this PoB shoot was learning to spread things out.
Oh yeah! There were also the injuries we took. Justin fell down multiple hills and took some solid hits in our kung-fu choreography. And my arm was punched so hard in one of the fights that it hurt to make a fist for the next few days. My whole body also hurt from throwing it into that wall over and over.
I wish that one shooting day could have been the end of it, but there was still more to do. About a week later, Justin and I got together to finish the rest of our shoot– just the two of us. By this time, our town was covered in a blanket of snow… So I’m sure you can imagine how fun that was to film in. And our luck didn’t fare much better this time around either. Right at the start of the day, we wasted time waiting around because Justin didn’t have his own car. We couldn’t get going till his mother returned home for the day.
And of course this afternoon also featured the most embarrassing moment of our film-making careers… In order to pay homage to The Matrix, Justin and I wanted the final showdown between Alex and Gorn to be on a rooftop. It just so happened that a friend of ours lived above one of the houses on Main Street and had a roof we could get access to. We even planned a date with him for our visit! But, when we showed up to the guy’s place (dressed in full costume no less), the guy’s mother opened the door in utter confusion and turned us away. We looked like absolute fools…
So we had to find another roof. Luckily we happened upon one which was easy to access. Were we technically supposed to be up there? Probably not, no… But nobody turned us away or even seemed to care. It’s a huge perk of living in a small town. The roof was covered in snow, so we had to brush it off, but it worked well otherwise… The ledges scared me a tonne though. Railings weren’t enough to quell my fear of heights.
To save time, Justin and I ripped off the exact fight choreography of The Matrix. For anyone wondering: we actually hit each other during these scenes. Our punches were pulled– but still. The only close call we had was when I had to headbutt Justin and my face came a little too close to his nose for comfort. This shooting day was solid! We got quite a lot done!
You’d think this film would have gotten easier after we wrapped on production, but you’d be wrong. The post-production process on PoB 3 was so arduous that Justin refused to edit anything else for most of the next year. Of particular concern was the abysmal audio quality of certain scenes. We had to try our hand at a rough version of ADR to correct the problems (in case you don’t know– ADR is the process by which recorded voices are synced up with video).
PoB 3 Narrative/ Film-making Analysis
I’m going to break down the movie a little differently than usual. Instead of covering the entire story all at once, I’ll explain each character’s individual arcs and how they tie in to the bigger picture.
Now let’s discuss the Resistance and PoB 3’s new characters… We’re introduced to the Resistance early on in the film when Reese Kyle (a super clever spin on “Kyle Reese”: the protagonist from Terminator) attacks our main trio. Because the majority of humans in this world are either Agents of the Beavers, Manimals, or in the Resistance, Reese made a judgment call that these strangers had to be Agents. He quickly realized his mistake when they showed him mercy.
Realizing they could be of help to his movement, he leads them to the Resistance’s base of operations: a suburban basement. This group is literally an underground operation. Though presented as “good guys” (we have to assume the humans are good and Beavers are evil because that’s what we’ve been told), this Resistance is– for lack of a better word– sketchy…
Firstly, they look like they’d be villains. All of them wear black, and mask their eyes, and their leader Apollo conducts himself like a tribal dictator rather than a freedom fighter. There’s also the matter of their vaguely defined prophesies and dedication to this strange wasteland religion which worships Alexander.
And then there’s the way they operate. For example: Apollo offers an unwitting choice between cyanide and candy as a test of loyalty. He’s willing to murder complete strangers if they aren’t instantly on board with his cause. In the same scene, Apollo randomly attacks Alex with a broadsword to test his reflexes. Then later, he commissions the development of Doctor Kennaugh’s genocide weapon. The Beavers might be the series’ greater threat, but this Resistance isn’t exactly on the moral high-ground.
Though Apollo and his motivations are at least touched upon, Reese and Serenity aren’t too well defined in this installment. Serenity is tough and loyal to the cause; and Reese is more of a jokester. Both of them are dedicated Resistance soldiers. Their opinions differ on Alex. Whereas Reese seems to like Alexander and Doc, Serenity treats both of them coldly and carries disdain for their sense of humor.
Reese Kyle’s surprise attack (at the start of the movie) triggers an unconscious response in Alex. He instinctively remembers combat skills he’s never before shown. What makes his martial artistry all the more impressive is that, up to this point, Alexander was his team’s biggest hindrance. From scene one we’re shown him literally tripping up the group (multiple times). Doc and Mortimer also must carry him into town on their backs. Further– Mortimer insists Alex is incapable of using firearms, and that he’s needed “protecting” for three whole years. Alex even admits that his only real contribution to the group is “moral support” which, as Mortimer rightfully points out is a useless skill in the wastelands.
Still– Alexander remains cheerful as ever, and oblivious to his own shortcomings. Mortimer’s annoyance with him is understandable. I wouldn’t want to look after this guy for three years either. Once the cute “Manimal shtick” wore off at the end of PoB 2, he just became dead-weight.
Already overconfident, Alex’s ego worsens when he learns of his destiny as a prophesied hero. Perhaps my favourite concept in the entirety of the PoB franchise is our subversion of the “chosen one” trope. This “hero” is one of the least worthy saviors ever put to screen. Mortimer is the obvious choice to be the Wanderer: he’s an action hero, stands up for the weak, and possesses strong leadership qualities. Alexander, meanwhile, is– to put it bluntly– the exact opposite of all these things. He can’t even get his own love interest to care about him! By all action movie standards: Alex is a failure.
Speaking of the romantic subplot: Alexander’s unrequited love is an intentional subversion of genre tropes. Serenity is not just a tough girl playing hard to get. She couldn’t care less about Alex, other than what his destiny might mean for her future. Even then– she neither respects him, nor likes him. Her unceremonious off-screen death carries far more dramatic weight in Alex’s mind than anybody else’s. To him, she was the great love of his life, cut down in her prime. But he never even knew her. Still, he was willing to risk a suicide mission just to get her attention. And his personal acceptance of “the Wanderer prophecy” was almost entirely tied to her approval. That’s important for later.
Circling back to Alex’s overconfidence now… His hubris literally leads to his downfall when he spars with Apollo. He easily beats the Resistance leader through raw strength, but celebrates too early and gets knocked down the hill. One of Alex’s biggest problems is that he’s a slow learner. After a few more months of being lauded as a hero by the Resistance, Alexander feels untouchable. It’s partially why he agrees to fight Gorn one-on-one. Though Alex should know he’s no match for Gorn/ Mortimer–a man with far more training and ruthlessness– his own prophesy blinds him to his limits.
Alex enters the combat situation acting as if he’s got the upper hand, even though Gorn quickly pins his throat to a door-frame. Even then, Alex goes through the motions of a hero, casually asking Gorn to switch sides again and join him. But at the least bit of resistance he switches his tune: “then I have to kill you.” Alex is only doing what’s expected of him. Gorn knows exactly what he’s dealing with: “You don’t have the stomach,” he declares while tossing Alex like a rag doll. The only thing Alex has ever killed is a small, defenseless dog for survival. Gorn is a killer by nature (even before the apocalypse, as we learn).
Sure enough, Gorn keeps Alexander on the run for their entire duel. He forces him onto the roof, punches him over the railing, throws him into a wall, and then choke-holds him on some train tracks. Alexander only survives the encounter because of one lucky sucker punch. And he knows it, too.
Alexander might return to the Resistance base full of bravado (“Superhero landing”) but his self-confidence has been shattered by the fight with Gorn. Though Gorn ultimately lost, Alexander was proven weak and undisciplined. And to top it all off– Alex returns from this emotionally crushing defeat only to discover that Serenity died as well. Here’s the part I said would be important (a few paragraphs ago)! The hope of Serenity’s affection was the only reason Alexander even tried to be the “Wanderer”. With her gone, along with his ego, Alexander has no reason to continue his fight against the Beavers.
Though Alex remains overconfident (at least on the surface) by the end of PoB 3, he’s still a coward at heart. When given the chance to go back in time, he’d rather run away and “bail on this timeline” than save his world. Some hero. The early part of PoB Reloaded sees Alex tap into a potential he hadn’t yet realized. But he refuses to put in the effort and hone said skills to do anything useful. He just assumes that, because he’s a prophesied hero, everything will come easily for him. He was only motivated to fight with the Resistance because he had a misguided crush and they treated him like a God. But in the face of an actual challenge, Alexander decides to escape his responsibilities instead.
Mortimer’s character arc is substantially deepened in PoB 3. PoB 2 strongly hints that Mort’s friendly Australian Adventurer persona shielded a deadly personality, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out he was never the “Australian Adventurer” at all– but an agent of the Beavers, conditioned to murder the Wanderer and sent out into the wild with a fake backstory.
But that’s just a part of it. Gorn might have been pushed towards murder by his brainwashing, but he and Alexander were already at odds. For one thing: Gorn never expected, when he first rescued Alexander, that he’d be forced to play caretaker for three years. He begins the story convinced that Alex is taking him for granted. Gorn’s feelings are only intensified when Reese bests him in combat and Alex of all people swoops in to finish the fight. To make the situation worse– Alex is immediately hailed as a hero by the locals, even though he only had his first ever fight a few hours previous.
Beyond a belief that Alex doesn’t deserve to be called a hero– Mortimer overvalues his own importance to the world. He assumes, based on Apollo’s description of the Wanderer, that it must be him. That the Resistance assumes Alexander is this person instead offends Gorn to the extreme. There’s a good chance Gorn and Alex were heading for conflict even before Gorn’s programming took over. Gorn had already come to believe that his world would be better off without Alex, for the reasons described above, but now he had an excuse to be rid of Alex.
The greatest tragedy of Gorn’s brainwashing is that it turned him against his best friend, Doctor Kennaugh. Though Gorn and Alex had a tense relationship, Gorn and Doc always had a healthy respect for one another. Gorn even tried to spare Doc’s life when the programming took over his mind. However, Doc sealed his own fate when he chose to stay with the Resistance. Gorn couldn’t help but brutally shoot Doc in the chest when Doc attempted to cover Alex’s escape in the T.A.R.D.I.S. This action effectively sealed Mason Gorn as the series’ main antagonist and abolished the notion that “Mortimer” still remained within him.
DOC’S STORYLINE (NOTE ***Spoilers for PoB 4 Ahead*** )
Speaking of Doctor Kennaugh: PoB 3 solidifies “The Doc” as Planet of the Beavers’ most entertaining character. Well, he’s my favourite, anyway… His quick wit and propensity for meta-humor enlivens even the most dull of moments. But all his jokes hide a complex character underneath.
Though PoB 3 doesn’t make this point clear, Doc led Mortimer and Alex to this town. It’s no coincidence that Doc lived in this very place back in the 1980s. Though Doc still appears to have amnesia, like Mortimer and Alex, he clearly recalls more about the pre-apocalypse world than anybody else. From the very first scene, he quips that the gang will “soon… be in another decade”, and he just so happens to find a DeLorean somewhere in this town (the town he happened to live in). Is this simply a meta-joke? Or an admission that he remembers his own past (which we’ll see in Part 4)? It might be that Doc didn’t happen upon that car at all; that he stashed it away in this place sometime before the Apocalypse. Whether Doc knows all this consciously, or whether he’s acting on instinct is still unclear.
He also seems to have a selective memory. References to pop culture and science come easily, yet his personal history appears to be lost. But, if he is acting like an amnesiac, then that veneer drops when he claims to remember Mason Gorn: a “world famous” assassin from before the apocalypse, as if there’s “world famous” assassins. I assume that profession would deal in secrecy. So how does Doc know about Gorn? Did he deal in a world of espionage? Or maybe he just confused “Mason Gorn” with “Jason Bourne” in a misguided pop culture reference (about an assassin who suffered memory loss). That would track…
There’s also the matter of that faux British accent he puts on, as if he’s trying to convince everybody of his intelligence. How do I know it’s a fake accent? Because he doesn’t have it in PoB 4 (which is set before the apocalypse).
And, besides all this, Doc creates a bioweapon in this movie which implies he tried to commit a “Beaver genocide”. So much for the friendly scientist who cracks a lot of jokes… Fact of the matter is: there are a lot of strange coincidences surrounding Doctor Kennaugh, and almost everything we know about him comes from his own mouth. Though Doc presents himself to the world one way, he’s an unreliable source with a backstory clouded in mystery. Just who was this guy before the apocalypse? We’ll find out in Part 4.
OTHER WORLD-BUILDING ELEMENTS
-“Manimal” has become an insult
-Radiation gave some humans superpowers, like super speed (and bulletproof skin, as we’ll later see).
-Beavers are the ones operating transportation like trains in this world.
-“Beavers” and “Queen” are used in place of “God”. Examples: “Oh Beavers!” “Queen almighty!”
-There’s an alternate timeline where robots rule the Earth instead of Beavers.
-Alex’s instinctive knowledge of martial arts hints at his pre-apocalypse backstory.
-July 3rd 1985 (the day Doc said he came up with the idea for time travel) is the day Back to the Future was released in theatres.
Looking back on PoB 3, it’s clear where we went wrong: our ambition outweighed our skill-set. We took on a far bigger project than we were prepared for and made it harder than it already was. But our team learned some valuable lessons which we carried over to every project we’ve done since. Planet of the Beavers: Reloaded successfully rejuvenated the franchise and laid the groundwork for everything to come, including my personal favourite installment: Forward From the Past. Stay tuned for that breakdown!
What are your theories on the cause of the apocalypse? And is Doc hiding something? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,