Director – Aaron Arendt, Screenplay/Producer – Mary McIlwain, Photography – Dallas Hallam, Music – Darienne Hetherman, Visual Effects – Maron Studio, Makeup Effects – Corbin Booth. Production Company – Märon Studio/Peter Clarke Productions
Jordan Ender (Dr Thadeous Price), Jonas Caine (Himself), Jon Cohn (Sam Shortridge), Pete Jarvish (Himself), Rob Poe (Sudsy/Pirate Captain), Takeshi Miura (Takeshi Sagawas), Tiffanie McQueen (Eva), John Knuth (R.O.N.A.L.D./Officer Knudson), Mason Hall (Officer Hall), Mary McIlwain (Vanda Vitale/Stripper Cop)
In Metro Valley, crime kingpin Jonas Caine has employed drug-addicted scientist Thadeous Price to build him an assassination tool. Price has constructed R.O.N.A.L.D. (Remote Operated Nocturnally Aggressive Lizard Device), a robot built as a toy lizard that can grow to giant size with the press of a button. After Thadeous meets Jonas’s dealer for his hit of drugs, he is shaken down by two cops. The cops take the R.O.N.A.L.D. toy from him and accidentally activate its button, only for it to become giant-sized and crush them. The R.O.N.A.L.D. is destroyed during the incident. In investigating, two detectives seek to pin the murders on Jonas Caine but Caine controls the gorilla mayor Percy Cole and gets him to quash the investigation. Meanwhile, Takeshi Sagawas employs Caine to get back the appropriated diamonds that once belonged to his family. Caine pressures Thadeous to construct another R.O.N.A.L.D. in time to conduct the heist on the jewellery story to obtain the diamonds.
The Diamonds of Metro Valley is a feature-film debut from Märon Studio, the production company of Aaron Arendt and Mary McIlwain who both wear a number of creative hats between them. The two had previously made a short film with Know Your Enemy (2005). Subsequently, both have been working in the visual effects industry.
The Diamonds of Metro Valley is a mind-boggling film. It is not easy to get a handle on what you are watching or what the filmmakers are trying to do. The plot ostensibly reads as a crime film but the entire film takes place on what are clearly painted and unreal sets that look like cardboard cutouts from a pantomime. The rest of the backgrounds resemble something like the optically inserted sets of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) – albeit on a B-budget level where all the optical inserts and blue screens are very obvious. It is a deliberately unreal setting – a big cardboard-looking active volcano hangs over the town throughout, for instance. The special effects are deliberately cheesy – the R.O.N.A.L.D. robot is intended to look a children’s toy dinosaur, while in the most bizarre effect, the town’s mayor is a gorilla hand puppet.
Everything is played as a deliberately cheesy conflation of cliches – the nearest equivalent might be to what Sam Raimi did with his bizarre flop Crimewave (1985) but having been uplifted and relocated into the world of Forbidden Zone (1982) or Repo Chick (2009). However, I am not entirely sure that what the filmmakers are trying to do works. For one, the opticals are very cheaply produced and only make the film look low-budgeted. Arendt and McIlwain try to compensate by making the toy dinosaur effects in particular look deliberately cheesy but not nearly enough. Secondly, the crime plot meanders and lacks much focus where it should either have been parodying cliches with cornball effect or playing them in surreal deadpan. Normally with effects that consist of toy robots and gorilla hand puppets, you expect the film to be a deliberate spoof of bad science-fiction films but this is not the case either. You look for a sense of humour or akilter weirdness in the playing out of these scenes but it is not always discernible. This sort of wackiness would work fine for a 4-5 minute music video clip for some indie band but never fully stretches to a feature-length film.
That said, the film finally finds itself in the last ten minutes, which turns into a surrealistic chase sequence as the robot lizard robs the jewellery exchange and flees amidst a car chase and pursuit by futuristic police helicopters – as the advertising states “you will see a lizard drive.” The cars are designed in the same cardboard cutout/crude model style as the sets – the lead vehicle is a muscle car with giant wheels that lift it up at a 45 degree angle at the back and a massive spoiler that covers the entire roof like a flame-belching rocket jet engine. The car chase sequence is where The Diamonds of Metro Valley attains a perfect sense of its own delirium and the section of the film that works the best.