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Captain Blasto

on Mon, 02/21/2011 - 00:00

Captain Blasto
Like a vast majority of high school students, Christopher Preksta dreamt of being a superhero. “I guess, like a lot of kids, I was thinking that every day seems like the one before and just wishing for something exciting to happen,” he explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 2005. “In high school it was the same—alienated, bored, wondering what it would be like to be a superhero with important things to do.”

Fortunately those thoughts never escaped Preksta’s mind and he eventually turned them into a screenplay called Captain Blasto. He quickly discovered, however, that filmmaking could be just as complex as being an actual superhero but persevered nonetheless as he navigated the challenges of raising the necessary funds, directing as well as acting, and the arduous task of post-production editing. A road that began in 2002 thus never reached fruition until 2005 when Captain Blasto premiered at a local Pittsburgh movie theater. While most stories of independent film endeavors end with that one-off screening, Preksta was later able to reinvent his labor of love into an award-winning and successful web series in 2008.

In many ways, Captain Blasto is perfect for the budding online medium. The storyline, for instance, naturally divides into eleven short episodes while retaining its overarching narrative. In fact, it’s hard to believe that Christopher Preksta did not specifically write Captain Blasto as a web series. And while the creator’s use of low-tech equipment—the project was filmed with a Canon XL1 and edited with Adobe Premier Pro—could potentially appear noticeable on a big screen, the final product comes across as professionally polished on a computer monitor.

Quality production values of course mean nothing without a good story and Preksta delivers here as well. Colin (Preksta) is an eighteen-year-old high school student infatuated with an old 1930s comic book collection centered on the fictitious Captain Blasto. Colin’s walls are filled with posters of the character and he even listens to vinyl album recordings of an old radio show about the superhero.

“In school, nobody pays any attention to me,” Colin confides. “Most of them don’t even know my name. I walk past them every day, I sit in class with them, I eat lunch with them and it’s like I’m not even there.”

He eventually comes up with a solution for his isolated existence by staging fake crimes with the help of high school janitor Daryl (Aaron Kleiber) and then arriving in the nick of time to save the day as Captain Blasto. With Daryl dressed as a silent film era villain—a mask that only covers his eyes and a black and white horizontally striped shirt—the “bad guy” steals toy cars and lemonade from little kids only to be thwarted by Colin’s cape-wearing Captain Blasto and a furry of fake punches and kicks.

Colin further advances his fantasy by donning Clark Kent-style glasses and applying for a job at the local newspaper, renting an unused warehouse as his lair and outfitting a phone booth with curtains to allow him to readily change into his superhero outfit. Daryl’s Hamburglar-esque costume, meanwhile, gets swapped for a Reservoir Dogs-style white shirt, tie and sunglasses as the crew itself expands with other bored and lonely citizens from the local community.

“We’re going to be doing something that’s never been done before and it’s something fairly dangerous,” Colin explains to the group. “And you’re all here because you want to do something exciting.”

With a larger ensemble, the criminal capers inevitably grow larger as well with fake robberies of small stores. Colin in turn writes about the superhero antics of Captain Blasto for the local newspaper, giving their escapades a level of legitimacy. It turns out to be too much legitimacy, however, when a local police detective starts sniffing around and connects the dots. Still, Colin insists on raising the stakes even further by casting a supervillain.

“Every great hero has their villain,” he rationalizes. “Superman has Lex Luther, Batman has the Joker, Green Lantern has the color yellow.”

Unfortunately the guy chosen to play the role of Professor Fandango, Evan (Curt Wootton), has his own plans that conflict with those of Colin. His first appearance, for instance, ends with him walking out on the caper because he considers the quilting club that has been targeted as too smalltime for a villain of his stature.

A movie theater heist, meanwhile, goes awry when the crowd abruptly exits the building before Captain Blasto can save the day and the gang accidentally leaves with the stolen money. After high school janitor Daryl starts to experience financial problems, the “bad guy” role-playing becomes a little too real and Colin finds himself having to stand up against his self-created band of criminals.

Although this leads to a darker undertone in later episodes, Captain Blasto is still a fun and funny romp that brings to mind an older period of storytelling. Christopher Preksta’s use of split screens mimics the graphic elements of actual comic books while the chase and fight scenes are reminiscent of Keystone Cops-style slapstick and other black-and-white era Hollywood classics. The musical score, meanwhile, is filled with jazzy riffs that add to the Saturday matinee “serial” quality.

Despite such old-school tendencies and its comic book inspired narrative, Captain Blasto also serves as an inspirational tale about the triumph of the human spirit. “We’re all so quick to grow up, to become an adult, then we spend the rest of our lives trying to feel the way we did when we were a kid,” retired taxi cab driver Sam (Sam Spiegel) tells Colin. “Look at these guys, look at Mike. He was dead. The whole world was walking all over him. Tom? Angry, frustrated. And myself—never had so much fun in my whole life. You’ve given these guys something they’ve been looking for their whole lives.”

The police eventually catch up with Colin and his crew in the end, but their lives do indeed take a turn for the better nonetheless. Computer technician Mike (Mark Tierno), for instance, loses his job but decides to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an architect in the aftermath. Although Daryl has to put his house up for sale because of financial troubles, meanwhile, he finds a deeper love and appreciation for his kids. Even “supervillain” Evan is transformed by the experience when he decides to abandon his self-destructive alcoholic ways. As for Colin—needless to say he has finally been noticed by his fellow high school classmates.

Captain Blasto may have started out as an independent film produced in Pittsburgh in 2005 but it found a second life of its own when creator Christopher Preksta re-imagined it as a web series in 2008. Lead character Colin only wanted to be “noticed” and thanks to the Internet, Captain Blasto continues to live on—serving as both a testament to the staying power of the medium and the evolution of the web series into an alternative narrative device as well.

Anthony Letizia

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