Sequelitis is a common problem in franchises; where gags and concepts that were good once aren't necessary good a second time. Or for that matter, a third. It's rare to find a sequel that's better than the first installment; The Empire Strikes Back springs into mind. Finding a threequel that exceeds the quality of the first two is like finding hens' teeth.
Ladies and gentleman, we have a toothy hen.
For those of you who haven't seen the first two Clear Skies animations, I would strongly recommend you watch them before you watch this. You can find all three here. You won't regret it.
The Clear Skies series is set in the universe of EVE Online, the space-based MMORPG developed in Iceland and with a larger player population than that country. Probably a stronger economy too. You don't need any familiarity with the game to enjoy this - although there are plenty of insider jokes for those players. There are some key changes from the game universe, most notably the lack of "clones".
Using EVE for external shots and the Source SDK (the modding kit of the engine used for Half-Life 2 - before you ask, Garry's Mod has never been used in this) for interior scenes, the series follows the crew of the Minamatar Tempest class battleship Clear Skies, as they travel through New Eden, trying to make ends meet and keep their ship together. This is not an easy task.
In this third instalment, the mysterious Mr Smith asks them to give back a piece of technology he gave them in the previous story. Things aren't what they seem, though.
Ian Chisholm, who plays captain John Rourke and generally heads up a high-quality team of voice actors and other crew, has spent close to five years of his life on the trilogy. Most machinima are basically music videos or comedy shorts. This is a full-cast, action-packed drama that runs to a total time of 73 minutes, 23 minutes longer than the second movie, I believe - this might even be some sort of record. It's also extremely funny, which I'll get to.
The plot is excellent, with believable characters, villains with convincing motives and great performances by all involved - nearly all amateurs (with the exception of Francis Capra, a professional American actor with a rather impressive listing of guest roles in US drama). There are some wonderfully moving scenes, including self-sacrifice (and the aversion thereof). The ending is lovely and wraps everything up in a great manner.
The dialogue is up to the superb standards of the series. CS has created a number of catchphrases among its fans ("HOW MUCH?", "top-wingy bit", "Get that interdictor!") and this will add some more. Wait until it's "Hot drop o'clock". The humour is better than many sitcoms and will remind you of Red Dwarf or Firefly in its style, as well as its quality.
The visuals of this have been spruced up considerably, with help from CCP, EVE's developers. Ian and his crew had access to a motion capture program that allows for a fist fight to occur at the climax, something not previously possible. The HD, 1080p graphics may make the download a whopping two gigs, but it's worth every bit. The excellent set design remains and we get some wonderful new sets, including a Caldari fighter hangar that gets only a few shots, but would be worthy of at least a short in its own right. There are plenty of sight gags - including the explosive charge labelled "Plan B". I may well have missed some.
Then there are the spaceship battles. CS2 featured an 80-ship four minute gate fight. This tops that in nearly every regard; with a chase through a station that owes some resemblance to the "Death Star Trench" scene, but only some.
The sound is crisp all round and the incidental music, which includes things from Coldplay to Mike Oldfield and EVE music fits perfectly. The choice of "Fix You" for one battle scene is arguably just as good, if not better, as the use of "Far Above The Clouds" for the gate fight in Clear Skies 2.
Ian Chisholm has stated he will not be making another movie - he wants his life back and I understand that. I'm sure that many fans would want to carry on this story, with his blessing of course.
There are some minor flaws that could make me lower this if it were a professional production. However, since this is an amateur production, I see no reason to. Achieving something of high professional standard when you're largely self-taught it is worthy of the highest praise.
Congratulations to all involved. Mr Chisholm, even if you don't make a fourth one, you've gained immortality in this business.
10/10. It's a true Titan of machinima.