In 2003, two years before Batman Begins and a full year before Aliens vs Predator, design artist Sandy Collora turned from a nobody into a geek god. He released Batman: Dead End, a fan film that showed Batman facing off against the Joker, against Predators, and Aliens. The 8 minutes long short seen above premiered at the San Diego Comic Con and quickly became an internet sensation. It was pretty much everywhere, everyone in the industry wrote about it, and as it had been six years since Batman & Robin had killed its cinematic franchise, people really embraced the grimdark approach. That, and of course, the fun crossover aspect of it.
12 years later, Sandy Collora is back to obscurity. He did not become a famous studio director, and he didn’t even expand his portfolio of expensively made fan films. So what had happened? This documentary takes a look at Collora’s quick rise and fall. Which means it obviously has to be a terrible vanity project, right? A desperate last try to get back into public consciousness. I mean, look at the one-sheet below. “Visionary”, “Iconoclast”, “Rebel”, and a tagline that claims Collora “made history”. Here’s what I expected to see: an overly cocky and delusional Collora bashing everyone in the industry for not having believed in him, a preview of a Kickstarter project that – promise – will soon become a super successful blockbuster, and of course, a personal claim that it was him who inspired Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy.
I gotta admit I was wrong about most of that. For a project that was probably both inspired and started by Collora himself, it’s not much of an ego fest. Collora still does have a big ego, and it shines through, but you do get that most of it is broken by now. And he surprisingly doesn’t blame anyone else but himself for it.
The first third of the documentary takes a look at Collora’s first steps, and yes, it is kinda groan-inducingly schmaltzy to have his father say that he was always interested in comic books. But then we get to see Collora’s talent at work, and it really is impressive. One of his first jobs was at Stan Winston Studios where he got to work on several big movies. He quickly became a great designer and the work of his that is shown throughout the movie is really amazing. Demanding more creative input on his projects, he got fired, but then wound up working with legends such as Henry Alvarez, Rob Bottin, Rick Baker, and Steve Wang. He also managed to start a toy company that worked with both Lucasfilm and Marvel. But, having witnessed both Steven Spielberg and James Cameron (on The Abyss) it’s no wonder that he eventually wanted to hit it big himself.
I’m not going to comment much on the actual Batman: Dead End shoot, but there’s one amazing claim. Collora says that he nearly got Sylvester Stallone for Batman and Mark Hamill for the Joker. He said that he had met with Sly who actually wanted in on it – remember, Stallone had a poor decade between Cop Land (1997) and Rocky Balboa (2006) – but when his agent noticed that it was to be an inofficial Batman movie and not the real deal, he was out, and so was Hamill.
What’s strange is that the documentary omits two important things. For one, it never reveals that his Joker actor Andrew Koenig has already died by suicide which, honestly, should be part of a feature-length documentary on what was probably that guys most known work. They also omit the fact that Collora did a second Batman fan film, with the same Batman actor and most of his original crew. World’s Finest premiered in 2004, but simply wasn’t as popular as the original. It got praise as well, but people got impatient. Enough fan films, they were thinking, do a feature already. While he admits that he never got an actual offer to direct a big studio movie, he says that he had had a lot of projects on his table, among them Shazam, a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake, xXx 2: State of the Union, Snakes on a Plane, and John Carpenter’s Vampires 3. He doesn’t really elaborate on why he never got signed, but it seems that he demanded a lot of creative control the suits weren’t ready to give him. Studio friends told him to just go with it and over time just earn a position that would give him the control he longed for, but he insisted. Soon, the negotiations dried out and his career went on to hit a, well, dead end.
Probably still a giant egomaniac, he went on and did an original low-budget science-fiction movie titled Hunter Prey in 2010. It wasn’t released theatrically, and while he claims that it was rather successful as an overseas DVD release, every movie fan of course knows that no one ever talks about Hunter Prey. Today, it’s not an underground recommendation, and it’s neither a Terminator nor a Duel kind of debut. I haven’t seen it myself, mostly because the trailer makes it look like a dull Star Wars: Republic Commando rip-off, but this documentary makes one observation pretty much clear. While Collora’s fall has humbled him quite a bit, to this day he doesn’t seem to have noticed that he isn’t much of a storyteller. During the documentary he talks about two unmade projects called The Circle and Shallow Water, and although he does have amazing illustrations for it, and an inspiring enthusiasm for everything that has to do with designing aliens and monsters, there’s never a fascination for great heroes, tales, or adventures at display. The Predator for example has a great design, but it didn’t became an icon just because of its look. It became an icon because it was an element of something greater. The movie had unforgettable music, great directing, a lovable supporting cast, and Arnold at his peak.
I gotta praise Erid Dow who made a really interesting movie out of this. There are many interesting comments by friends and colleagues of Collora who don’t shy away from indicating Collora’s faults, and Collora himself is just interesting to listen to. The documentary looks great, has solid editing and whether you liked Batman: Dead End or not, it’s a fascinating look at an eccentric man who was geekdom’s king for a day. If only Collora realized that he is a masterfully gifted illustrator, designer, and sculptor first, and that he should only do that and let storyteller giants do the writing and directing, he could already be among greats like Rick Baker, Robert Kurtzman, and Ray Harryhausen.
So, will we have seen the last of Sandy Collora? I don’t know, and he doesn’t seem to know either. As he says, he’ll always work on new stuff, and he even directly addresses the Weinsteins to give him a call, but as I said, it doesn’t appear he ever really got why it never lifted off. I don’t know whether it’s pure coincidence or great moviemaking, but the final image of the documentary is just brillantly fitting. It shows Collora on a boat catching a fish and reeling it in. He looks at it proudly, then throws it back into the water. Perfectly sumps up his own story.
No official rating, but if you’re into documentaries about moviemaking in general, I heartily recommend it.
Watch it for free on HULU.