From Future Shock To Batman: How Matt Reeves Evolved From His Student Film

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Whatever your thoughts on it may be, director Matt Reeves has inarguably delivered a critical and commercial home run with the DC Comics film "The Batman," the eighth solo outing for the Caped Crusader. For those that only know Reeves from his two blockbuster "Planet of the Apes" flicks, or maybe the original "Cloverfield," you might want to check out the man's short film debut to get a better idea of how he has evolved in his three decades as a director. 

Unlike some student filmmakers, Reeves got lucky and had his short film incorporated into a legit (or at least semi-legit) release, the anthology film "Future Shock" released in 1994. This is a movie that features not only a Batman director, but a Fantastic Four director as well! It is available to view right now on Amazon Prime Video, while the original unedited version titled "Mr. Petrified Forrest" is also viewable on Vimeo. What does this impressive short tell us about Reeves as a fledgling filmmaker and how he has evolved in the ensuing decades? Are there any clues to what he would eventually bring to "The Batman"? Read below and find out!

Warning: Minor spoilers for "The Batman" are mentioned.

Future Shock (1994)

"Future Shock" was an opportunity to create an anthology movie based around previously-made short films, but with the participation of the three leads from said shorts in wraparound segments to make the whole thing feel cohesive. These bumpers between the three films feature none other than "Karate Kid" bad guy Martin Kove as a psychiatrist who utilizes a special virtual reality probe (which looks like a novelty item purchased from Spencer's Gifts) to treat three patients (the leads in all three shorts) dealing with traumatic events. The concept is a bit like "The Lawnmower Man" meets "Good Will Hunting."

The three segments are very uneven, with the worst appearing at the start directed by overall "Future Shock" producer Eric Parkinson, who had previously produced and co-written the infamous MST3K entry "Soultaker" (1990) opposite that film's lead Vivian Schilling. In this segment (titled simply "Future Shock") Schilling plays a woman home alone experiencing haunting visions of her own demise by wild dog, and whose rich husband is played by character actor Brion James. The next piece is "The Roommate," a short made in 1989 by music video director Oley Sassone before he made Roger Corman's infamous "The Fantastic Four." This short stars Scott Thomson of "Police Academy" as a meek guy who gets a roommate from hell in the form of Bill Paxton. Both actors would later reunite for 1996's "Twister."

The third and final segment is "Mr. Petrified Forrest," a masters thesis film made by Matt Reeves at the University of Southern California during the 1991-1992 school year. It involves a talented photographer named Steven Forrest (Sam Clay) who becomes neurotically obsessed with the idea of his own imminent demise after a friend dies by choking on an olive while having lunch with him. His preoccupation with being killed by anything and everything including LA earthquakes, a plane crash, and even his own alarm clock leads to him nearly sabotaging a fledgling relationship with a quirky computer programmer named Paula (Amanda Foreman). The twist of the story is that this all plays out in Steven's own personal afterlife, giving the otherwise charming romantic comedy a bit of a "Twilight Zone" flavor, and also harkening to Tim Robbins' journey between life and death on the medical table in "Jacob's Ladder" (1990).

Critics at the time were kind to first-time helmer Reeves. In a review of the video release of "Future Shock" from a January 1994 edition of The New York Daily News, they write that, "Best is episode No. 3, another tale of phobias run amok, written and directed by Matt Reeves, who opts for a subtler and ultimately funnier approach to a life-after-death theme."

Mr. Petrified Forrest (1991-1992)

While the direct-to-VHS Hemdale release of "Future Shock" provided a more mainstream delivery system for "Mr. Petrified Forrest," and even had its own chintzy comic book adaptation, the 26-minute short in its original unedited form is a more satisfying experience. It opens roughly the same, with the image of Steven bleeding out on the pavement to the tune of Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk," but it includes a few more moments at the tail end (including a shot of an olive in a martini glass) hinting that he has been revived successfully by paramedics. The inclusion of the song "Let's Face the Music and Dance" by Fred Astaire harkens back to a conversation between Steven and Paula about going on a date to see an Astaire movie, a nice button missing from the "Future Shock" version. In the anthology we simply see Sam Clay get up off the couch after experiencing his "vision" of the movie, saying he's all better now and leaving. 

Matt Reeves himself with long hair and a plaid shirt, looking a bit like Kurt Cobain (whose song "Something in the Way" bookends "The Batman"), appears in a short making-of featurette on the original video release of "Future Shock" discussing his inspiration for the short, which he got partial funding for by selling a spec script to Warner Bros. that eventually became "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory":

"I was having my own sort of nightmarish visions as I was going through daily life. I would be cutting cheese and imagining myself falling on the knife. So suddenly I was plagued with the idea of nightmarish images, seeing the potential for danger in every single situation, and I thought, 'Is there a movie?'"

A talented crew

Shot on 16mm, "Mr. Petrified Forrest" has a lot of aspects that place it one level above your average student film. For one thing, there are some solid actors in the cast, including David Bowe fresh off of his co-starring role in "UHF," J.J. Abrams' pal Greg Grunberg as a limo driver, and Amanda Foreman, whom Matt Reeves later cast as Meghan in the TV series "Felicity." Shortly after making Reeves' short, Foreman was cast in the Abrams-written 1992 film "Forever Young," and became a regular for the mega-producer in projects like "Alias," "What About Brian," and "Star Trek." 

Abrams himself had a big hand in "Mr. Petrified Forrest" as well, including making the music (credited as "Jeffrey Abrams"). The creation of the plane that crashed on the front lawn of someone's house as Steven drives past in a limo is partially credited to Abrams as well. The fabricated tail of the plane was mistaken for an actual plane crash by passersby during filming, according to the film's featurette. Kathleen Kennedy, who would later make two "Star Wars" movies with Abrams, is credited with providing "generous support" to the short alongside Amblin Entertainment and Aaron Spelling. Kennedy famously once hired a high school-age Abrams and Reeves to restore Steven Spielberg's childhood Super 8 movies, and clearly continued to support both of them into their careers. 

James Gray, the acclaimed director behind "The Lost City of Z" (starring Reeves' future Batman, Robert Pattinson) and "Ad Astra," edited the short with Reeves when they were both students at USC. Gray was making his own debut short around this time, "Cowboys and Angels," and later re-teamed with Reeves who co-wrote and co-produced Gray's 2000 drama "The Yards." 

A crooked road to The Batman

So how did Matt Reeves go from making "Mr. Petrified Forrest," a silly little Woody Allen-esque LA slice-of-life comedy about mortality, to making mega blockbusters? He graduated to feature directing with 1996's rom-com "The Pallbearer" starring David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow. That movie, which takes place at a funeral, has a lot of similarities to the debut short, which also featured a scene where the lead is at a friend's funeral and meets a love interest. 

From there Reeves and J.J. Abrams re-teamed to co-create and showrun the female-centric WB drama series "Felicity," also featuring Greg Grunberg as a cast member. That story of a young woman's trials and tribulations over her four years attending an NYU-esque college was a moderate success and lasted four seasons, with Reeves helming several episodes including the pilot. After that he dabbled in episodic TV helming for anonymous fare like "Gideon's Crossing" and "Miracles." 

It wasn't until his return to features after over a decade absence with 2008's "Coverfield" that Reeves got to truly embrace the genre muscles he only hinted at in "Mr. Petrified Forrest." The giant monster invasion movie told found footage-style was a big hit for both Reeves and producers Abrams and Bryan Burk (who also made his producing debut on "Petrified Forrest"). The film launched a loosely connected franchise, and scored Reeves the opportunity to write and direct "Let Me In," a 2010 remake of acclaimed Swedish vampire movie "Let the Right One In." The horror flick was a box office disappointment, and led to several years of Reeves developing projects that went nowhere, including a failed "Twilight Zone" movie. It wasn't until the back-to-back triumph of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" that Reeves got enough clout to take on The Dark Knight, scrapping WB's planned Ben Affleck-led DCEU movie in favor of a fresh take on the superhero. 

So is there anything of the filmmaker who made "Mr. Petrified Forrest" in "The Batman"? Arguably, yes. There are two separate scenes in "The Batman" where Robert Pattinson's title hero has a near-death experience and is photographed from overhead lying on the ground, not unlike the opening shot of "Forrest." Also the awkward romance between the stoic Batman and take-charge Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) is similar to the budding relationship between Steven and Paula in the short. It seems all these years later Reeves cannot resist injecting a little shy-guy romance into a Batman movie. The plane crash in "Forrest" certainly foreshadowed the massive amounts of destruction Reeves would oversee in his blockbuster phase, particularly in the third act crisis of "The Batman." Finally, all the scenes shot with a strobe in virtual darkness as Steven clings to life while paramedics try to save him (with Paula looking on) showcase a dark side to Reeves as both visualist and storyteller. It's almost as if the short was designed to deliberately showcase his versatility by running the gamut from comedy to drama to action right up to the supernatural. Turns out the seeds of the filmmaker Matt Reeves would become were always there.