We Lost Our Gold (YouTube “movie”) review…

We Lost Our Gold (YouTube “movie”) review after the break…

We Lost Our Gold (YouTube “movie”) review…

Money, it is said, is not the root of all evil; Desire for money is.

Treasure hunts have been around for centuries. People have dedicated their lives to find gold, silver, jewels of all types… One of the first successful “modern” submarines was built in part to harvest oysters for their pearls. People like getting something for nothing, even if that sometimes means working really hard inadvertently to get it.

“We Lost Our Gold” is a viral series of episodes on YouTube which chronicles the fictional tale of four “pirates” (one of them is a ninja) who have forgotten where they buried their gold and are now retracing their steps to find it. The only concrete clues that one is given is that the treasure is buried somewhere in New York City and that it is not buried in Central Park.

There are four pirates: The Captain, possibly the closest thing to a main character in this series; Crothers, an accident-prone pirate who keeps losing limbs and other body parts as the series progresses; Mulligan, a hapless first mate with an obsession for wanting to be in the Crow’s Nest; and Tom, a ninja who speaks the same way that “Kenny” from the television series “South Park” mumbles. A parrot and other miscellaneous characters round out the cast.

The series is split into eight videos, most of which are roughly 8 minutes long. One video was less then a minute long and a few of them stretch to 10 minutes or longer.

The draw for these videos is that there really is $10,000 dollars buried somewhere in New York City and that, if you study each of the videos carefully, you can discover where it is buried and claim it sight unseen. As of today, the treasure has not been found although, to be certain, the series of videos made are a tough sell to watch through all the way to the end.

I watched these videos not with an eye towards solving the riddle but simply for the entertainment value. Unfortunately, what I saw did not compel me to rewind the videos to catch every last possible clue. If anything, I could understand how the video views start at 15K for the first episode and dwindle to just above 1K by the series’ end.

The series tended to go for contemporary humor, with one episode satirizing the “Larry King Show,” a popular show on the cable channel CNN which will be ending it’s run soon. Another episode appeared to be a parody of television shows featuring poker tournaments. A third was made mostly in the style of a modern comic book with little actual puppeteering. It would have been nicer had the series stayed away from contemporary humor for the episodes that were less topical seemed to have more entertainment value.

The series, strictly for entertainment, seemed to have hit it’s stride within the final two episodes, since these two episodes are more connected with each other then earlier episodes and could even be merged into one full segment with some minor editing.

From a puppeteering perspective, there is some legitimate concern with the puppeteering for the Mulligan character. Whether intentional or not, the mouth and head movements of the Mulligan character, when speaking, seemed amateurish with both parts of the head moving dramatically whenever the mouth opened. With other characters having more reserved speaking movements, Mulligan’s looked legitimately out of place at time.

Another area of concern was a minor character named “Mario,” briefly seen in Episode 3. The character simply did not theme well into the series and the physical differences in style with the Mario puppet and the pirate puppets was distracting by nature. Was Mario an earlier-made puppet by the puppeteers that was shoehorned into this series simply to avoid additional cost? Other puppets, such as the “Larry King” puppet, also broke the thematic style of the main puppets but Mario stood out from the others in both style and delivery. It was as though someone poured some cut-rate Sesame Street skit into a Muppet Show episode.

There was no firm ending of the series in terms of story resolution and this dampened the overall entertainment value of the episodes. Crothers is eventually killed in a mishap and his spirit is brought back through a seance when his soul possesses a parrot. Mulligan is electrocuted after a brief stint in the crow’s nest but both the electrocution and the subsequent fall is not fatal. Beyond these events, I didn’t feel any sense of conclusion of the series and this was disappointing. With a bit of editing, the series could have extended indefinitely since I never got the sense that there were any significant character arcs: Does the captain let go of finding the treasure? Remorseful for being a pirate in the first place? Does Mulligan, in the role of a traditional servant, ever grow as a character into a more firm and resolute character with more confidence to resolve situations? Does Tom do anything other then mumble in what I presume to be a legitimate foreign language?

To be certain, there were several nice aspects to this series. It is clear that the makers of this series have some competent puppeteering skills. The set design (such as the inside of the pirate ship) was very well made and accentuated the illusion that one was watching a pirate movie instead of a puppet show. The special effects were adequate for what the series set out to achieve (lightning, water, video effects, etc. so forth), along with sound effects and dubbing. The main puppets all exhibit a nice, consistent style to them that made the series more believable whenever they were the only puppets on the screen. Even brief character like the crabs and the monkey were stylistically similar enough to maintain a sense of illusion that puppet productions need to maintain a certain level of entertainment.

Yet one can’t shake the feeling, having watched the series as a whole, that the contest came first and the entertainment became an afterthought. In my opinion, elements such as morse code, asian languages, Larry King and poker tournaments all diluted a competent set style of classical pirates that could have been the foundation for a very compelling series. Imagine the Larry King episode (which, besides the clues for the treasure, only establishes a brief sub-plot that the pirates stole the treasure originally) if it had been re-themed to remain consistent with the classical pirate backdrop. The creators would have made a far more compelling story without the use of contemporary and dated elements.

The treasure hunt went beyond these eight episodes with spin-off videos featuring the minor characters Mario and a beaver, twitter accounts, a MySpace page and a facebook page. The characters were even featured momentarily during a broadcast on the cable channel MSNBC to promote the treasure hunt beyond the YouTube crowd.

It is often said that getting there is half the fun but, in the case of “We Lost Our Gold,” getting there was a tedious exercise mostly hampered by an inconsistent theme and the main distraction of hiding the clues to the treasure hunt within the series of videos. I’d love to see what these puppeteers could do when they drop the gimmick and produce a competent story. That, in my view, would be a real treasure that everyone can enjoy. As much as I’d like the dough, I’ll leave the $10,000 dollars to someone who wants to feed their inner Da Vinci Code craving.

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