The Film: The Diamonds of Metro Valley
The Principles: Jordan Ender, Jon Cohn, Robert Poe, and Mary Mcllwain. Directed by Aaron Arendt. Written by Mary Mcllwain.
The Premise: A ruthless gang lord wants to use a violent lizard-robot named R.O.N.A.L.D. to steal a batch of priceless diamonds. But when the prototype is destroyed, the brilliant, cocaine-addicted scientist Dr. Thadeous Price is forced to build a new one at once. Everything comes down to a huge diamond heist, followed by a wild rocket-powered car chase and shoot-out through the streets of Metro Valley.
Is it any good: If you’re into little handmade no-budget epics like the incredible Rat Scratch Fever, you’ll probably get a kick out of this face-meltingly bizarre sci-fi-noir-comedy from the minds of Aaron Arendt and Mary Mcllwain. It tells the tale of a genius drug addict named Dr. Thadeous Price (played with bug-eyed sincerity by Jordan Ender) who has created a lizard-robot toy that can change from small to gigantic with the push of a remotely activated button. It’s a Remote-Operated, Nocturnally Aggressive, Lizard Device (R.O.N.A.L.D.) and it’s uncontrollably violent.
When Dr. Price is shaken down by two corrupt Metro Valley beat cops, R.O.N.A.L.D. is unleashed and brutally kills the officers, forcing its creator to destroy the prototype with his remote detonator fail safe to avoid further calamities. Unfortunately R.O.N.A.L.D. was created for the notorious gangster Jonas Caine, who plans on using it to steal a batch of special diamonds as part of a deal with a Yakuza crime boss. Dr. Price is forced to make a new R.O.N.A.L.D. in record time or he’ll be killed. This propels all the characters into converging on the big diamond heist that results in a spectacular climax featuring an elaborate chase sequence with rocket-powered muscle cars and Metro Valley police airships shooting it out through the city and far into the outskirts.
This backyard-blockbuster was made for very little dough, but the scope of the story and the effects are pretty huge. The finale features a lot of really lo-fi digital effects shots that are incredibly intricate and edited together in such a kinetic manner, it’s as exciting as anything you’d see in the new Resident Evil movie, only it was made for a small amount of bus fare change in comparison to that fim’s budget.
The design of the vehicles is as if a Monty Python-era Terry Gilliam directed a Mad Max movie. They’re big, clunky machines mounted with cannons and equipped with rocket thrusters that propel them at ridiculous speeds. The overall look of the film is very cheap, but also very stylized, with a retro film noir mixed with a futuristic post-apocalypse aesthetic. There are lots of styles going on here at once.
The script is full of some genuinely funny and bizarre moments. In one amazingly WTF!? scene we are introduced to the city’s Mayor, who happens to be played by an “F” bomb dropping puppet named Percy Cole. It’s an unexpectedly odd choice that really works, as the puppet has some of the funniest lines in the movie. I also love one scene where two thugs have an existential conversation about the scope of the plot’s events and how all the characters pertain to each other, as they viciously beat a man repeatedly.
Okay, so the look of the movie is very z-budget. It was shot entirely on green screen for very little cash. Also, there was a problem with the sound recording when it was shot; so all the dialogue was done post. This happy accident, combined with the general look, tone and plot of the film gives it a kind of live action anime feel that’s a shit-load of fun to watch!
Is it worth a look: If you’re like me, and you have a sweet tooth for independently released garage-made exploitation flicks that are really off the radar, I recommend you find yourself a copy of this one and prepare to have your brain roasted. It’s an offbeat sci-fi adventure/crime movie that has a lot of charm and it’s about as indie as you can get. Anything that features a giant lizard-robot ripping off people’s heads has got my attention.
Random anecdotes: The budget for this film is estimated at $50,000. That seems rather high to me.
Cinematic soul mates: Sin City, Repo Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Southland Tales, if they were all made for peanuts and featured a giant lizard-robot ripping off people’s heads.