Reeling it in: Plenty to enjoy in Alaska-grown film

“Moose: The Movie”

2 hours

In addition to the several other hats I wear, a big part of my volunteer time goes toward co-managing the Triumvirate Theatre, where we offer community productions, mostly geared around performing arts education for kids, but with a few grown-up projects sprinkled in here and there. In the years I’ve been involved with the theater, I’ve gotten to be a part of a lot of strange endeavors, such as sailing a puppet boat in Kachemak Bay, and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of interesting people, like this week when Chad Carpenter, author of the comic strip “Tundra,” brought his latest project, “Moose: The Movie,” to Triumvirate for its Kenai Peninsula premiere.

While I was excited to have the show, I initially wasn’t going to review it. I had a couple of reasons — one, I don’t normally review local productions, and while “Moose” was made in the Mat-Su and not on the Peninsula, it definitely counts as a hometown low-budget, made-with-love movie. It’s hard to be critical about the kind of art produced in a small community, because there is, relatively, so little of it. This isn’t New York where a hundred new stage productions are opening every season. As well, I wasn’t planning on reviewing the film because, to be honest, I wasn’t sure when or where my readers were going to get to see the film. Sure, eventually, it’d be released on DVD, but who knows how long that would take?

That you’re reading this now suggests that I was wrong on both counts. As to the second point, I didn’t take into account Carpenter’s tenacity. The man is a brilliant self-promoter, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. He, along with an equally dedicated distributor, has managed to get his “Tundra” comic strip into more than 600 newspapers world-wide, and they are working equally hard at promoting this latest project.

At the same time “Moose” was showing here at scattered theaters in the Valley and on the Peninsula, it was also opening in Colorado, Utah, and Los Angeles. And now that tenacity appears to be paying off as an agreement with Regal Cinema will indeed be bringing the movie to a theater near you.

And as far as my reticence to critique local projects for fear of discouraging the artists, I can tell you that Carpenter and his production team, including impressive young director G. Logan Dellinger, have created something remarkable, a film that can easily stand up next to projects with ten times the budget. Sure, the movie has its problems, but no criticism from me is going to dampen the enthusiasm of Alaskan audiences who, if the sold-out crowd at Triumvirate is any indication, are in love with “Moose.”

The story begins in the strange little Alaska town of Gangrene Gulch. Think “Northern Exposure” meets “Twin Peaks.” Our hero, Zack, is new in town, having just taken the recently vacated job of park ranger. He’s about to find that Gangrene Gulch isn’t like other towns, instead housing a bizarre collection of characters including a chicken as mayor, puppets working the diner, and an over abundance of mimes. “They’re from the mime college in the next town. They use our town as their spring break — hanging around, not talking to anyone,” explains Zack’s new boss Mike.

As it turns out, however, the crazy characters aren’t going to be the hardest part of the job. No, that would be the 8-foot-tall moose monster that has recently risen from the underworld and begun dismembering the locals. Luckily Zack has Samantha, the plucky and attractive coroner’s assistant, to help him solve the mystery of the mighty Moosetaur.

As I said before, “Moose” is most certainly a small-town production. It was made on a shoe-string budget by mostly volunteers and actors who aren’t bad so much as that many aren’t really actors. First-timer Zack Lamphier, playing our heroic park ranger, however, blows that theory out of the water, as he completely owns his character and makes the most out of every comedic beat.

And there are plenty of them. “Moose” shines in a place where local productions often falter, and that is in a sharply written and cleverly constructed script. Chad Carpenter and his brother Darin have tapped into the same kind of humor that is prevalent in the comic strip — a “Far Side” non-sequitur kind of comedy that we haven’t seen much of since the days of “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun.”

The other place where “Moose” is head and shoulders above most low-budget films is in the spectacular production design and photography. The film looks remarkable, the cinematography making the most of the state’s incomparable scenery. But it’s not just pretty — the palette it is purposely over-saturated to mimic the live-action comic book this film truly is.

As far as the production, I was consistently surprised at what the filmmakers were able to produce with next to no money. Without spoiling the joke, there is a brilliant pop-up book that appears later in the film that made me laugh harder than just about anything I’ve seen in quite a while. I want that book.

The film is crammed with little gems like this and it would require multiple viewings to catch them all.

Crammed is, unfortunately, also where the film’s problems lie. The movie clocks in at 2 hours, almost exactly a half-an-hour too long. There’s just too much on screen that should have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s especially hard, on a project like this, where so many people have come together to give of their time, to not give everyone their moment on the big screen, I understand, but hard choices have to be made and there is easily thirty minutes of fat that could be trimmed. Often, jokes land perfectly, only to have the scene continue for a beat or two too long, deflating the punch line. There are plenty of diversions from the plot that work hilariously, but there are also several that don’t, and excising them would make for a leaner, snappier film.

Luckily, coming out of the gate so strong, it’s almost a certainty that Carpenter and crew will try this again, and experience is the best teacher. “Moose: The Movie” is very funny, and beautiful to look at, if somewhat overstuffed. It’s a B-Movie from proud tradition of B-Movies and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Grade: B+

“Moose: The Movie” is unrated, but Carpenter has declared it PG-10. That’s about right, maybe on the conservative side. There’s some comical, but bloody, violence, and a slight bit of gore. The 7-year olds I know stuck it out and loved it, but at least two 5-year-olds had to escape to the lobby.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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