After years of waiting for the chance, I was finally able to see Fanboys this past weekend via Netflix. If you’ve not followed the history of the movie, it might not be immediately clear why there had been so much anticipation for it by myself and some of my peers. You can see its Wiki entry for more gossip, but basically the movie had been torn apart by vicious studio heads who wanted an entirely different film after they saw a nearly finished cut. Fanboys essentially deals with a group of Star Wars fans in late 1998 who are determined to break into Skywalker Ranch so that one of their friends who is dying of cancer can see The Phantom Menace before he passes. The movie is essentially still that, but it unfortunately is a hollow shell of what it could have been.
I certainly get the feeling that it could have been much more than what this shallow description paints it as, but Fanboys is essentially Kevin Smith Lite. It’s a toned down combination of Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, however it’s clearly more tailored for Star Wars geeks than it is for geeks at large like Smith’s movies are. Being able to still clearly remember the run up to Episode I (before we all actually saw it), I can say that the feeling of giddy uncontrollable excitement that it conveys is eerily accurate. Having only experienced the original trilogy and its culture secondhand for so many years left a void in that community that was only going to be filled by a new movie. That period of early late ’98 and early ’99 was such a cool one, and I’m thrilled that Fanboys has been able to so accurately bottle it and put it in the time capsule of this movie for years to come.
Aside from that, the rest of the movie is a passable road trip comedy. If you are in on the inside jokes that most of the geek community will understand, you’ll be laughing throughout. Some of the bits work better than others that seem awkward, but it’s still a pretty funny ride. Again, much of the comedy and introspective bits seem like what a PG-13 Kevin Smith would produce, but that in no way means that it doesn’t produce a good movie. He obviously approves, as he and Jay both make show up for a pretty funny cameo. Perhaps it means that this script would have worked far better in his hands, but I suppose we’ll never know.
Unfortunately though, the movie is absolutely destroyed for everyone else. It’s a fun road trip movie with callbacks that will be warmly received by it’s target audience, but I can’t imagine this being that much of a memorable movie for just about anyone else. The sad part about this is that it clearly could have been. The character that eventually passes has a great line of dialogue in the last ten minutes explaining that the ride was never about seeing Episode I itself. A point that unfortunately seems to have been completely lost on the idiotic corporate twats that ruined what could have been a movie with unimaginable heart.
There are many, many scenes where it’s so clear that lines or entire conversations are being cut out. One of them so tackily edited that the sick character falling out of a van was supposed reason enough for him to visit the hospital as opposed to his terminal cancer. By the time he is the only one of the group able to see Episode I early, it’s easy to forget why he’s the only one able to do so. The ending scene is finally and fleetingly able to deal with his death, but it’s hardly touched upon. This completely leaves the thesis of the movie trashed, and you feel cheated knowing that you didn’t see the movie as the original writer and director intended.
I still recommend this movie, but only with the caveat that you watch it with an open mind. Just remember it isn’t entirely the movie that the writer / director intended. Perhaps even consider it a rough cut, as I remain optimistic that a Director’s Cut will some day surface. I know that’s when I’ll buy the DVD, not a second sooner.