It announced itself as "The film that will put Philippine animation in the world map!"
My initial reaction? "Yeah, right."
There have been a few attempts in the past to produce full-length Philippine-made animated films, and the results would usually fall short in certain areas. And now comes RPG Metanoia, which aims for even bigger ambitions as the Philippines' first 3D-animated film.
As the opening scene unfolded, I was unimpressed. The animation was kinda choppy, and the quality of the graphics looked too much like a video game's. As it turned out, it was supposed to look that way.
The film has 2 main settings: the online game world of the title (thus simulating the feel of computer game graphics), and the "real" world. As soon as the movie shifted to "reality," the animation went a lot smoother. But what struck me was how, well, real the film's portrayal of the real world looked. The colors were not too different from the world outside my doorstep, and the setting was unmistakably Filipino. As for the game world, once my initial skepticism subsided, I came to appreciate the imagination and attention to detail that came in creating it.
It's often been said that Filipino artists possess the talent to create a world-class animated film, it's just that we lack the support to do it. Personally, I think a big part of the problem is finding the right material. Usually, we end up with pale imitations of the western animation formula. Think of Adarna: The Mythical Bird from 1997, which was pretty much a badly-made Disney-wannabe, and 2008's Urduja, which felt too much like a pinoy Pocahontas. Then there was Dayo: Sa Mundo ng Elementalia, a noble effort, but basically a "kiddified" interpretation of Philippine mythology. And that's another thing, locally-produced animation tend to be geared too much to children. And when I say too much, I mean that it's really what grownups think is entertaining to kids rather than what might actually appeal to them. Instead they'd be too cute, too wholesome, too silly, too preachy, too bland-- basically, too much of the wrong things.
Now, make no mistake, RPG is definitely a movie for kids, but it doesn't condescend to its audience. It's edgy and quirky, with a premise that is perhaps relatable to today's generation. The story deals with Nico, a young boy who immerses himself in the online role-playing game Metanoia to escape from mundane reality. Eventually, he realizes that there is more to life than just playing computer games and he learns to enjoy his childhood in the real world with his friends and family.
The film tells the story in such an engaging way that if this was all there is to the plot, it would still be a pretty good movie. But it soon becomes apparent that Metanoia is more than just a game, and an evil force lurks within it that threatens to take over the real world. What surprised me was that they introduced a hard science-fiction element into the story that one might think would be too heavy (and too dark) for a kids' movie, but they managed to make it work. And even when the story shifts to action-adventure "let's save the world" mode, the theme of not getting too lost in a fantasy world remains in play.
While the main draw of the film is its graphics, it's the storytelling that really grabbed me. There's good character development, the dialogue is natural, the humor is actually funny and not forced, and the plotting is very tight. I love films where every single element, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is relevant to the story, and that's certainly the case here. Also, at a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, it's actually pretty short, but they somehow packed so much story into such a short amount of time that it didn't feel that way at all. I could've been watching an exciting 3-hour epic for all I knew!
And the music-- GODDAMN, the music! Rarely (hardly ever) have I watched a Filipino movie (let alone an animated one) with such a kick-@$$ soundtrack. Really, to me a great superhero/action-adventure soundtrack should make you feel like leaping out the window (kids, don't try this at home) and charging into battle, and they just nailed it right here. I also give it points for using the APO Hiking Society song Bawa't Bata, the ORIGINAL version, instead of cookng up some lame-@$$ R&B version like most local movies tend to do these days.
Appropriately enough, RPG Metanoia has won Best Theme Song and Best Sound Recording in the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival. It was also given the Gender Sensitive Award (hmm, interesting...) and the 3rd Best Picture award. Personally, I think it's THE best film in this year's MMFF, and I haven't even seen the other entries yet! I don't usually judge movies before I even see them, but honestly, what are the chances the other films aren't the same old $#!+ they've been dishing out each year?
(I'd also like to commend RPG for not succumbing to that annoying bane of most recent MMFF entries: blatant product placement. Even the last animated filmfest entry, Dayo, suffered from this. There are actually a few places in RPG where they could have easily snuck in product placement, but thankfully, they didn't give in to the temptation.)
It remains to be seen if RPG Metanoia will indeed make an impact on the world stage. As a Filipino-made film, however, it is truly unique, and it imparts good moral values, but not at the expense of its entertainment values. It has deservedly been given an "A" rating by the Cinema Evaluation Board. As far as I'm concerned, it may as well be an "A" for "Astig."
RPG Metanoia is produced by Ambient Media, Thaumatrope Animation, and Star Cinema. I am in no way affiliated with them. I just like what I like, okay?