Short of the Week

Sci-Fi Jake Armstrong

The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9

A grizzled spaceman comes to Alpha-9 to hunt down a vicious monster.

The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9

Directed By Jake Armstrong
Made In USA

The setup arrives immediately within the short. News clippings trumpet the menace—Monster claims 40! Scourge of Tiny Planet! Slaughter Continues! This lures our spaceman into landing on the planet in a quest to take the Terrible Thing out. Of course with a reputation like that, such an endeavor is no easy task…

And so begins The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9, the second of back to back weeks of Flash-animated goodness! Of course for varieties sake we’ve got two divergent aesthetics on display. Andrew’s review of Tarboy introduced us to the titular character via a very modern short, filled with fast cuts and stark graphical elements. This week’s film from director Jake Armstrong, places its feet squarely in two nostalgic camps—pulp sci-fi and classic Looney Toons.

The whistling theremin of the title screen coupled with the retro-futurist laser and spacesuit of the bounty hunter, clearly establish the film’s affinity for 60’s sci-fi. However there exists some modern grit as well. Armstrong’s facile drawings of the spaceman, in particular his leering, greedy smile when he first sets eyes upon the beast, distance the character from the jocular pulp heroes and idealist scientists of sci-fi past. Perhaps the this is the influence of the director’s noted love of comics, where such sleazy characters have long enjoyed a playground for their amoral pursuits. Armstrong however also points to TV shows such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone as being strong references for him throughout the project, and those programs, The Twilight Zone in particular, are famous for examining imperfect protagonists. Certainly the surprising revelation in the middle of short is clearly reminiscent of those program’s notoriety for pulling the rug out from under audiences.

In an odd pairing though, it is the influence of classic Looney Tunes that shapes the most memorable moments of the short film both in mood and animation. The eventual appearance of the Terrible Thing, due to my limited knowledge of classic cartooning, certainly did bring Gossamer to mind, though according to Armstrong the film in sections is a reimagining of the 1961 short The Abominable Snow Rabbit. A more detailed description of why however may prove spoiler-ish, therefore let’s move to the animation itself. The quality movement displayed certainly is a strenght of the film and does credit to those bygone masterpieces, bringing a surprising amount of detail and depth to a Flash work. Shadow details look gritty and hand drawn, which I think distinguishes the work from the clean flat outlines we normally associate with Flash.

Such profiency is surprising from what was a student work. This short premiered online at Cartoon Brew in June of last year shortly upon its completion. If I’d seen it would have made a fine addition to the Student Film Series we ran not long afterwards. Armstrong followed up the strong response to the film by landing a job at Cartoon Network working on the forthcoming Regular Show. CN is a perfect home I would think considering his tastes as demonstrated by The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9. I look forward to him working his way up and providing us more gems such as this one.