Some independent productions are so well made that they can bypass several contemporary film-making techniques and still create a great series.
One example of this concept is The Mercury Men, which was released in 10 black-and-white six- to nine-minute Webisodes reminiscent of the serials shown in theaters during the 1930s and 1940s.
Normally, I put in a Spoiler Alert toward the end of the project I’m reviewing, but because of the format The Mercury Men uses, I’ll put an alert at the end of the first segment, and you can skip down to the end of this column and watch all 10 episodes if you want to.
The story takes place in Pittsburgh in 1975 and begins with a meek office worker named Edward Borman (played by Mark Tierno).
As Borman enters an elevator to leave work, he hears an odd sound and, curiously enough, decides to investigate. To his horror, he finds tall luminous aliens firing bolts of crackling energy as they attempt to kill everyone in their way.
When one of the aliens corners the terrified Borman, he’s saved at the last moment by a shot from a ray gun used by Jack Yaeger (Curt Wootton), who’s dressed in an old-style pilot uniform.
Spoiler Alert: If you want to watch the entire story, skip down to the link at the bottom of this review. If not, keep reading.
Edward helps Jack move to a safer spot, where they watch two other aliens absorb the body of their dead comrade into themselves.
“What are they?” Edward asks.
“Dangerous,” Jack replies. “Very dangerous.”
The two men make it to the parking garage, where they see a pair of Mercury Engineers (aliens wearing eerie outfits, especially their face masks) putting the finishing touches on an ominous device.
“They going to blow up the building?” Borman asks.
“It’s not a bomb,” Yaeger states. “It’s a gravity engine. It creates a focused pool of gravity, like a magnet. They’d have to have steel to magnify it.”
“The whole building is made of steel,” Edward says.
“They’re not trying to destroy the building,” Yaeger notes. “They’re trying to use it.”
“Who are they?” Borman asks.
“The first men. The men of Mercury,” Yaeger replies. “Made of a light so dense it became solid. And there’s only one thing on this planet that can harm them,” he says as he pulls out his ray gun.
“You’re a pilot?” Borman asks after noticing the goggles on the agent’s head.
“An engineer,” Yaeger responds. “An engineer with a gun?” Borman asks.
After a brief pause, Yaeger walks to a window and pulls up the blinds to reveal the enemy’s real target. “They’re going to pull the Moon into the Earth,” he states.
Jack then radios for reinforcements from a secretive group known as “The League,” but the soonest any help could arrive would be in several hours.
Suddenly, the whole structure begins to shake, and rocks and dust begin flying from the Moon toward the Earth.
“They’ve turned on the engine,” Yaeger says.
The duo then encounters what the office worker calls “a brain in a jar” that’s controlling the operation.
When Yaeger attempts to shut down the device, the human brain becomes active and threatens to kill him.
“That’s pretty bold words from a jar on a desk,” the agent replies.
The brain states that the moment Yaeger approached him, he called for assistance from the glowing aliens.
After a struggle, the agent is able to capture the device and exterminate the brain inside it.
Borman asks why the Mercury Men want to destroy Earth, and Yaeger states that humans left their planet and landed on the Moon in 1969, a fraction of the time that alien race existed without being able to do the same.
“They’re afraid of us,” he adds.
In order to reverse the gravity engine, Yaeger dons the uniform of a Mercury Engineer as a means to get close to the device, while Borman has to adjust three breaker switches.
The plan goes well until Edward helps a hidden woman flee the scene, and that move raises the suspicion of another Engineer and other Mercury Men.
Yaeger gives Borman his ray gun to hold off the enemy creatures while he reverses the gravity machine so the Moon will return to its proper orbit instead of continuing to head toward Earth.
“I got one!” Borman exclaims after he took out one of the aliens. “Only one?” Yaeger asks.
Suddenly, the gravity engine shuts down, and lighting bolts from a Mercury Man knock Jack out. When Edward tries to fire Yaeger’s ray gun, he discovers that it’s out of power just as the Moon enters Earth’s atmosphere!
Super Spoiler Alert: If you want to see how the series ends, click on the link at the bottom of the article. If not, keep reading.
The aliens charge Borman, who’s hiding behind a metal pole, and they fire bolt after bolt at the human. However, they don’t realize that Edward has connected jumper cables to the gravity engine, and their energy activates the device, sending the Moon back into space.
The Mercury Men then turn their fury on Edward, but he’s rescued by five men dressed and armed like Jack and who came from the League.
After the situation returns to normal, Jack turns to leave, but first he gives Borman a ray gun and states: “This isn’t over. Godspeed.”
When the exhausted and disheveled Edward returns to his cubicle, the clock hits 7:00 a.m. The office lights come on, and Borman’s co-workers arrive with no idea what had happened there during the previous 12 hours.
I’ve got my black-and-white Clint Eastwood hat on, so let’s get reviewing!
The Good: While many fan productions are broken down into several brief sections on sites like YouTube, The Mercury Men uses that format to its advantage by ending each part with a cliff-hanger. It’s also interesting to see a series in black and white, which adds to the program’s dark mood.
Also, both of the lead characters are well played. Teaming a timid office worker with a brave trained agent may have led to some friction between them, but in the end Borman learns something about heroism from the experience.
The Bad: Every good story needs worthy baddies, and the men from Mercury are scary folks indeed. I had to laugh when I learned that writer/director Christopher Preksta decided to use a “reverse silhouette” by filming myself (because he’s tall and thin) in all-black spandex on an all-white background.” The result of that hard labor was a unique set of villains that gave me chills throughout the series.
The Ugly: Back at the top of the review, I stated that there are 10 episodes of The Mercury Men, but I only covered nine. This isn’t an oversight on my part. The 10th segment features an awesome cliff-hanger, but I hear more episodes are in the works, so I’ll add that to the rest of the story when it’s released. Or you can watch it yourself and be on the edge of your seat for a while.
If you want to learn about the group behind The Mercury Men, point your Web browser here. And if you want to watch this excellent series, just go here, but be careful because the episodes are in the opposite order so you’ll need to scroll right to see the first one and go left from there.