As JURASSIC PARK is rereleased in 3D next week, it’s nice to take a look at just how much the film’s imagery has influenced an entire generation. Today saw the premiere of the new episode of KYLE SANDS: RAPTOR HUNTER, a bizarrely-fascinating and truly unique webseries about a man who hunts Velociraptors for a living. The series, written and directed by Zack Abramowitz, is a also testament to what we can accomplish in the digital age.
The first episode, made in 2010, introduced us to Kyle (Zack Abramowitz) as he is interviewed by reporter Grace (Erica Camarano). This episode is a simple setup that is reminiscent of an SNL sketch. Throughout the interview, Kyle discusses his strange job and bizarre theories of raptors enacting a worldwide conspiracy against humanity while Grace reacts awkwardly, unsure if he is crazy. All the while we cut back and forth between the interview and footage of Kyle hunting raptors in the very urban setting of Union Sq, Manhattan. It’s a straightforward little YouTube skit, which met extraordinarily good fortune when Roger Ebert, one of the most followed personalities on Twitter, tweeted the video to the masses. The result was over 87,000 hits!
Abramowitz immediately wanted to keep the momentum going, but how does one make a sequel to such a small-scale video? The second episode, entitled WINTER EDITION, premiering in 2011, went in a completely different direction and reinvented the series. WINTER EDITION is a spoof of action thrillers with a bit of sci-fi thrown in. Whereas in the first episode, Kyle had been presented as an object of ridicule to us, someone we laughed at and believed was crazy, the second episode shifts focus and makes Kyle an action hero whose raptor theories are revealed to be apparently true. He is now fighting against very real villains and taking down a worldwide conspiracy. His team is also extended to now include Roland Strife (Joe Cummings), a straight-edged detective who is grounded in reality and serves as a good foil to Kyle’s outlandish comments and melodramatic dialog. Grace was shown to have completely changed as a character, having come over to Kyle’s side. I felt Grace served as a nice metaphor for the audience of the series, communicating to us that Kyle is no longer the crazy figure but the hero. Finally, there is Matthew Rappaport as Jonah, Kyle’s overeager sidekick, who gets the funniest moment in the entire series when he attacks one of the henchman by biting his neck off. I like the dynamic between these four heroes and could see them being developed into a strong team of characters. WINTER EDITION is clearly the most ambitious outing of the series, featuring a great score and strong fight scenes, though it suffers from choppy editing and some noticeable jump cuts, which may have been a result of being filmed entirely handheld.
The newest episode, RAPTOR LOG, once more reinvents the show, being told entirely from Jonah’s perspective as he records a log entry. Although this episode, numbered as 2.5, is intended more as a teaser for what’s to come than a stand-alone piece, it shows a new direction and I would argue features the strongest directing and cinematography of the entire series. The score is also even better this time! All three episodes, as well as everything RAPTOR HUNTER related, may be viewed here on the series official YouTube page.
So what’s next for this franchise, whose three episodes have each been so remarkably different in form and content? Personally, I would like this premise to be turned into a television pilot as I think there’s enough material here to be fleshed out over an entire season. I also would like to see the story take a more serious turn as I think Abramowitz is a stronger actor when in dramatic roles. In the first episode, Kyle mentions experiencing the death of his parents caused by what he believed to be raptors, leading to a traumatic childhood. I think that’s a strong backstory that could be further explored as a springboard for the character’s development. He has never actually seen a raptor aside from this one occurrence, which may not even have been a raptor; could his entire life’s mission be a misguided attempt to give meaning to the loss of his parents? I’d love to see that question get addressed. Abramowitz and Rappaport both do a good job, though they have the advantage of playing the most colorful characters. I’d like to see Grace be developed more, as well as have more female characters.
Finally, there is one major issue I have been wondering: how much longer can this series go on without actually showing a Velociraptor? I feel it will HAVE to start showing them eventually if it means to keep developing Kyle’s adventures, and I’m curious how such a low-budget webseries will handle that when the time comes. Speaking as an audience member, I would definitely feel let down if a series called RAPTOR HUNTER never featured any actual raptors.
On the surface, RAPTOR HUNTER may not seem like any groundbreaking work of art, yet it has been allowed to reach many audience members through Twitter, and as Abramowitz himself states in a video introducing the second episode, it is a work that is definitely unique and has an audience, with a certain comic book style camp to it that makes it fun! It’s the sort of web-series you might not take too seriously at first, but soon find you secretly enjoy, and pretty soon begins to attract cult audiences. I’d certainly love to see Kyle and Jonah at a booth at Comic-Con! Hopefully Roger Ebert will tweet this series into the ether, and with every new hit, Abramowitz may grow more all the more as an artist.