‘Ego is the driving force in UTU, writer/director Daniel Freedman’s short film adaptation of Malachi Ward’s 2009 comic of the same name. Best known for his Image Comics series Undying Love and Burn the Orphanage, Freedman takes to the screen with the short-form epic. Adopting visual cues from Conan the Barbarian, 2001: A Space Odysseyand THX 1138, UTU tells the story of a near future scientist, Utu, who appears as a glowing god to an ancient human shaman with the intention of erasing a pivotal moment from human history: the first wide-scale human conflict.
Though the film is less than 22 minutes long and only features a handful of characters, including Thomas Szymanski as Utu, Giancarlo Ruiz as the beleaguered Shaman, Eileen Gonzales as the ancient queen Mun-Gal,and Love Johnson as the warrior/guard Kab-Ta, Freedman packs a heavy dose of high concept, morally probing classic sci-fi tone into its scenes. It’s not hard to imagine UTU as an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.
Ward, whose work on Image’s Prophet and Ancestor ponders similarly heady concepts, says UTU approaches time from a fantastical angle, opting out of physics in general in favor of a view more lyrical and exploratory.
Upon first reading Ward’s web comic back in 2016, Freedman was struck by its unique aesthetic. Even more, he was impressed by Ward’s inherent trust of the reader. He’d grown bored with science fiction TV and film telegraphing concepts and ideas at the expense of the viewer’s engagement. UTU offered “a real break away from those generic routine stories.”
After a successful Kickstarter campaign to complete the film’s visual effects, the short debuted on Vimeo earlier this year. Though the original UTU stories were published nearly a decade ago, its suggestion — that new technologies will never better our way of life unless we truly grapple with the immensity of human nature — rings out in an era that finds Americans breaking down the cost/benefits of social media’s influence in our lives.
Freedman and Ward have developed further ideas for exploring the world of UTU, expanding the short film into a potential full-length feature. For the creators, the concepts the film explores don’t seem in danger of becoming irrelevant any time soon.