SFC5|’Timeless Thief’ Critical Analysis

‘Timeless Thief’ is an animated action short produced by Australian Source Filmmaker short film creator, Mark Palmer, which follows two characters on a chase through time as they fight over a mysterious briefcase. Produced in 2016, it was the overall winner in the Saxxy Awards for that year. Mark Palmer is known on YouTube and throughout the SFM (source filmmaker) community as, The Winglet, and has a well established following based around his animations using the SFM animation software. He has amassed over 100 million views on his YouTube channel alone. I feel like, ‘Timeless Thief’ is a good example of how effective animation can be at delivering a story quickly and how to pack a lot of information into a shorter time frame. The purpose of this film seems to be to demonstrate the creators tight animation skill rather than produce a strong and evocative story, and this could be due to the nature of the Saxxy Awards as they seem to award pieces based on technical animation proficiency rather than skilful storytelling. This leads me to assume the primary objective for Palmer’s film was to win the Saxxy Awards. He has entered these awards every year since 2013 winning ‘Best Action’ in 2015 and finally ‘Overall Best’ in 2016.

Palmer’s films often contain violent themes with a comical aspect which is very inline with the style of the videogame ‘Team Fortress 2’ (TF2). This online multiplayer FPS (first person shooter) game uses the same character and location models that are available within the SFM animator. The software essentially allows creators to use this video game’s characters and locations in their own films which has led to a lot of SFM films being based almost entirely around established themes and stories within the game. ‘Timeless Thief’ plays on the capture the flag game mode that is available in TF2 as it uses the same briefcase that is associated with this game mode, and the characters have the same objective as they would if in the game.

As a result, I find that this film has a very basic narrative. A person steals a briefcase and the other person must chase him to get it back. This is essentially the entire conflict we are presented with, but it is enough to keep a viewer engaged for the duration of the film. The twist at the end reveals that all the events take place in a time loop which is delivered as a punch line to the film allowing the audience to learn the endless cycle the briefcase goes through. The briefcase itself acts as a MacGuffin, meaning it is a plot devise with little to no explanation as to why it is important to the characters and the narrative. I think the choice of ending to this film is clever in the sense that Palmer has managed to create something with a surprising and neat ending, but I find myself frustrated with the idea that the plot will never be  truly resolved, and ultimately the ending will always take us back to the beginning making it very difficult to be satisfied with the story. Perhaps this is the point of this film, to make us laugh at how sometimes the things we do never have a clear or lasting result, but I think there is a lack of connection with the audience to make this meaning shine through enough to create a lasting impact. Instead, the outcome of watching this short feels a little underwhelming for something that involves all this action and time travel.

This film tells a simple story with a twist, and it does so effectively and efficiently in exactly 3 minutes. The amount of information that is packed into this tight timeframe is impressive, and I feel the creator has managed to use every second to its full advantage. No time is wasted on unnecessary details or pointless dialogue, in fact, there is no dialogue whatsoever which reinforces the simplicity of the film. We are presented with just the information we need at the right moments, and the result is a fast moving and engaging piece, which keeps us interested. A pace like this works perfectly for an action chase sequence, and snappy, efficient editing like this seems to be a lot more present in animated short film rather than live action.

With animated films, every frame can be adjusted to exactly how the creator sees it in their head, and they don’t have to worry about losing time in shots which take too long to show important information. They can get straight to the point. ‘Timeless Thief’ certainly entertained me, and I found myself enjoying the twist it enough to re-watch numerous times, however I feel that being familiar with the videogame TF2 had just as much impact on my enjoyment of the film as Palmer’s story did. To an audience who had no idea what TF2 is, I imagine this film would have much less entertainment value due to its lack of character development  and notable plot points.



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