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Case Number 01473

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Thumb Wars - The Phantom Cuticle

Image Entertainment // 1999 // 29 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // October 25th, 2001

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All Rise...

The Charge

If there were thumbs in space, and they got mad at each other, there would be…Thumb Wars!

Opening Statement

Ever since its first release in 1977, Star Wars has been seen as a target ripe for parody. From the original Hardware Wars to "Pigs in Space" on The Muppet Show, parodies have taken a number of affectionate jabs at the "Holy Trilogy." Now, with the new Star Wars episodes making their way to the screen, there has emerged a new crop of parodies, including the excellent George Lucas in Love, as well as today's feature, Thumb Wars.

Thumb Wars is a product of the warped imagination of Steve Oedekerk. I'm not sure what sort of bizarre fixation makes him to do it, but he has made a series of short parody films where the plots of well-known movies are reenacted with thumbs in all the main roles.

Facts of the Case

As you might expect, this is the story of a young farmboy drawn into an epic struggle against the forces of evil. Our hero, Loke Groundrunner (writer/director Steve Oedekerk) wants to run off and join the Thumbellion resistance against the evil Thumbpire, using the power of the Thumb to fight Black Helmet Man (Mark DeCarlo) and his mastery of the Nail side of the Thumb. Along the way he meets up with Oobedoob Benubi (Rob Paulsen), an aged warrior with special skills in the power of the Thumb. He meets up with Hand Duet (Ross Schaefer) and his hairy, unintelligible pal Crunchy (Jim Jackman), a pair of shady smugglers. They rescue Princess Bunhead (Andrea Fears) from the Thumb Star. I think you get the idea. Oh yeah, and all the characters are thumbs, dressed up to look like people, with faces and mouths inserted through the magic of special effects.

The Evidence

This is probably not the weirdest thing I've ever seen, but I'm having trouble topping it right now. The appearance of these thumb-characters is amusing, and at the same time downright creepy. However, I am amazed at their effectiveness; once you get past the lack of noses and the fact that they all have thumbnails on the backs of their heads, they seem strangely believable. It is a tribute to the hard work of Oedekerk and his crew that these thumbs take on such distinct personalities.

I am also amazed at the attention to detail that went into the sets, costumes, and special effects. Oedekerk and Co. really paid a lot of attention to getting the look and feel just right, creating a universe eerily similar to the one occupied by Lucas's space fantasy. This extends to details like ship designs as well. There are also a lot of CG special effects shots that are surprisingly good and copy shots from Star Wars with surprising accuracy. The cantina scene is surprisingly effective, with all sorts of body parts and mixed vegetables playing roles. The attack on the Thumb Star is also surprisingly good, with great CG effects of the space battle and, of course, the final trench run.

The actual humor in the "filmette" is all over the map. There are some implied criticisms of Star Wars that make you scratch your head and think, "Oh yeah, why didn't I think of that?" On the other hand, there are plenty of scenes that we have seen over and over again, such as the familiar baked-goods-as-hairstyle bit that every parody feels compelled to use. Of course, I've never seen a parody where a Rebel pilot, instead of calling out his callsign or asking for cover, yells out "Hey! I'm naked!" As with most parodies, the humor ranges from inspired to asinine, but I'd say the balance is above average.

Thumb Wars is an Image DVD release. Image is not necessarily known for their outstanding video transfers, but this disc is a cut above their efforts I have seen in the past. Picture quality is quite mixed. I was surprised by the clarity of the picture in the CG scenes; however, when things reverted to live-action the picture was quite a bit more disappointing. Background textures tend to shimmer and strobe, especially in darker scenes with darker colors. Character outlines tend to blur a bit and "smear" into the background. Fine textures are sometimes quite good, but often very soft and fuzzy. In fairness to Image, some of the difficulty probably resides in filming such small objects at such close range and trying to keep them in focus. On the other hand, there are plenty of problems that are DVD-related, such as the background in an opening sequence with Odekerk that looks as though he is in the midst of an army worm infestation.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The Dolby 5.1 track is not terribly impressive and is very front-centered, with almost no use of the rear channels or directional effects. In my opinion, it was not appreciably better than the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. Both tracks are reasonably sharp and clear, with no notable hiss or distortion, but are basically nothing to write home about.

Which, fittingly, brings us to the extra content. There are trailers included for Thumb Wars, Thumbtanic, and The Blair Thumb. These are fairly amusing and do a good job of showcasing Oedekerk's work. Still, I can't imagine watching any more than a trailer for each of these films, including Thumb Wars. The trailers are short, effective, and probably the right length for this concept. Also included is a storyboard gallery with 38 images which play in sequence, each one appearing for 4 seconds. There is also an interview with "Gabba the Butt," a minor character from the cantina scene. This runs for 2:35, and is a well-done spoof of a "Masterpiece Theater" type presentation, where "Gabba" speaks with a cultured British accent about his childhood, life, and acting career. Also included are nine "Thumbographies," faux bios of the characters in the filmette.

Finally, there is also a commentary track featuring Steve Oedekerk and producer Paul Marshall. The commentary is mildly amusing at times, but is probably one of the least worthwhile commentaries I have ever heard. I assume this is by design.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I pretty well laid out above my mixed feelings about Thumb Wars. My main gripe with the filmette is its length. It is amazing how tediously complete this parody is, going through much of Star Wars scene by scene. It is only half an hour long, but winds up feeling a lot longer. A trailer would have been sufficient.

Other than that, did I mention that this whole concept is just plain weird?

Closing Statement

In the words of Red Green, "I'm not sure what this is, but there's a lot more of it." If you are intrigued by the idea of your favorite movies reenacted by thumbs, then you owe it to yourself to check out Thumb Central and see for yourself all the work that goes into making a "digit"-al epic. Oh yeah, and you can register to win a Kenwood DVD player and other cool prizes there as well, so make sure to stop on by and check it out.

The Verdict

I…ah…yeah. Well…ummm, okay. Erm…case dismissed.

We stand adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 63
Audio: 71
Extras: 72
Acting: 84
Story: 67
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 29 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Short Films

Distinguishing Marks

• Feature Commentary
• Trailers
• Gabba the Butt Interview
• Storyboard Gallery
• Thumbographies


• IMDb
• Thumb Central

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