Broken Saints: The Animated Comic Epic

Broken Saints: The Animated Comic Epic (2001)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Interviews, Fan Videos, Still Galleries, Trailers, and More

From 2001 to 2003, thousands of internet surfers were hooked on a 12-hour series called "Broken Saints." Part Flash cartoon, part comic book, part cinematic event, the series focuses on four unconnected characters from around the globe who are brought together by a spiritual force. A concoction of Canadian video game producer Brooke Burgess, "Broken Saints" held viewers spellbound with its dense storyline, captivating visuals, and provocative musings on contemporary politics and spirituality. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has now released a souped-up, four-disc edition of this series, with brand new sound effects and a unique visual presentation.

The story of "Broken Saints" is far too complex to describe in such a brief review. Multiple layers are broken away as it progresses, and to give them away would be to deny viewers of their true power and profundity. I will do my best to sum up the basic premise of the series. Shandala, Raimi, Kamimura, and Oran have never met each other and have no prior connections. Shandala is a young woman with strange powers on a Fijian island. Raimi is an existential security software programmer in Canada. Kamimura is a Japanese mystic, and Oran is an Iraqi Muslim left in charge of a prison bunker. Each of these people has bizarre visions of the apocalypse, which prompt them to make a personal journey to discover the truth about the world around them and the darkness that awaits in the future.

Throughout this series, there is a clear sense of spiritual hunger that is in desperate need of fulfillment. While it does not represent the beliefs of any established religion, "Broken Saints" is a deeply evangelical venture that calls viewers to ask questions about their own existence and what they mean to the world. The passion with which Brooke Burgess and his team of creative assistants conceived this project and got it off the ground is an inspirational tale, to be sure. Divorcing themselves from the heavy commercialism that plagues the internet, the group offered the series free of charge with no interruptions during its run, raising money by giving concerts and receiving donations from benefactors who believed in their message.

The visual appearance of the series is breathtakingly beautiful, like images from a dream. The characters are drawn in anime style, and like a comic book, there is little movement. Instead, scenes just seem to fade into one another, sometimes with slowly moving backgrounds, via Flash animation. The visuals are accompanied by haunting music that adds to the dreamlike quality.

Unfortunately, the deliberate pace of the series may make it difficult for new viewers to get into the DVD. Following the series over two years, one chapter at a time, on the internet might have been one thing. Watching the entire thing at once on DVD is quite another. In spite of the beauty and thoughtfulness, it is sometimes a chore to stay with it and keep going. This is where the differences between computers and television come into play. Television is a medium that depends more significantly on sound than on image and is not meant to hold viewer interest for prolonged, uninterrupted periods of time. In contrast, people can spend literally hours sitting at a computer, which is why such a series could be a success there. For viewers who are new to the series, it is highly recommended that they break it up, watching only a few chapters (or even just one) at a time, in order to fully appreciate it. The density and length are simply not practical for a one-sitting viewing.

On the bright side, 20th Century Fox's DVD is a thrilling achievement. The program is presented in a letterboxed, 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The visuals take center stage here, with vivid, often warm colors that look stunning on screen. Black levels are consistently strong, and contrast is excellent throughout. The animation is rendered with great faithfulness, and there are no artifacts or noticeable flaws.

Audio is offered in two distinct tracks. The first is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which offers new voiceover narration for the character dialogue (which appears in comic book-style bubbles). This was a fantastic idea, as the voices not only add further depth to the characters but also give viewers the opportunity to pay more attention to the visuals. The track sounds just wonderful, with nice surround effects and clear, natural voices. The second track is a 2.0 stereo mix that preserves the original style of the series, with no voiceovers. While understandably not as aggressive as the 5.1 mix, this one is nonetheless impressive.

Starting off the supplemental material with a bang, all 24 episodes of this series are accompanied by audio commentaries by Burgess and (sometimes) other members of the crew. These commentaries are extremely involved, providing a lot of information about both the content of the series and the making of it. This is indispensable for die-hard fans.

In addition, the four discs in this set are loaded with hours of special features that are sure to intrigue the fans of this series. Disc 1 contains a 19-minute production featurette that is essentially a video diary kept by Burgess as they prepared the series for its DVD release. Next up is a 24-minute voiceover and audio featurette that plays basically the same way. A panel discussion given by Burgess and some of the "Broken Saints" team at the Art Institute of Vancouver follows, running approximately 50 minutes. There are also trailers and several credits slideshows.

On Disc 2, viewers are treated to a model of the Biocom website from the story. Next, we have footage of Burgess giving a lecture for the Walker National Art Series. This is one of the most interesting features, as Burgess bares his soul about the creation and personal meaning of "Broken Saints." Several press interviews are also included.

Disc 3 gives us interactive Tarot readings for each character and a collection of fan-created parodies, tributes, and short films. These are all quite entertaining and sometimes hilarious. Some DVD-ROM features also pop up on this disc, including wallpapers, links to relevant websites, MP3s, and, most interestingly, 12 classic chapters (as they were originally shown on the web).

The features on Disc 4 include a 9-minute "Broken Saints" documentary, a 29-minute Sundance Featurette that chronicles the team's trip to the Sundance Film Festival where the series was honored, a 3-D face test, splitscreen intro, two photo galleries, footage of principal composer Tobias Tinker at home and at work, the classic intro, interviews with the crew at the 2005 Comicon festival, and the classic version of Chapter 1. Whew! That's a lot of stuff, and it's all worth your while.

I can think of nothing to compare with "Broken Saints" in appearance, originality, or artistic depth from any medium in the past few years. It is unique in every way, and there is no question as to why it has developed such a devoted following. 20th Century Fox has done a spectacular job of ensuring that this series gets all of the attention it deserves on DVD, and viewers are now able to view it at their own leisure. This is not a lighthearted cartoon for frivolous entertainment. When you sit down for this, prepare to be challenged, both emotionally and spiritually, and to be mesmerized by the visual splendor.