The Theory of Chaos

Friday, October 26, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Bloodrayne

Originally published 1/9/06
Full review behind the jump


: Uwe Boll
: Guinevere Turner, based on the Majesco videogame series
: Shawn Williamson, Dan Clarke, Uwe Boll
: Kristanna Loken, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Matt Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Will Sanderson, Billy Zane, Meat Loaf Aday, Udo Kier

I’m not sure if I can handle this becoming a tradition, but here we are for the second consecutive year with a movie adaptation of a video game, directed by Uwe Boll, released into the box-office hinterlands of early January. Boll has for video games the same tragic enthusiasm Lennie had for small animals in
Of Mice and Men. He’s already filmed The House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, and more are on the way. In mounting these productions so quickly Boll may be trying to ape the career of B-movie legend William “One Shot” Beaudine, who directed gaffe-infested cheapies like Billy the Kid versus Dracula and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and whose shooting technique needs no further explication.

The best I can say about
Bloodrayne, today’s exhibit, is that it is not, from first frame to last, as staggeringly incompetent or incomprehensible as Alone in the Dark was. Most of the time it is simply silly. For Boll this is progress – though not always in sensible order the scenes which seem to belong near the start of the movie do so and ditto the end. From there it’s hard to find positives: the visual effects are forgettable, the combat unremarkable, the story derivative when you can actually follow it. The costumes are Ren-Faire hand-me-downs and the sets look ready to collapse if bumped into; the budget is listed at $25 Million, and I suspect $22 Million of it was smuggled away in laundry bags. You can’t expect much bang for your buck in early January. You can still ask for more than this, though. A lot more.

The game, by Majesco, is only middlingly-popular and not too highly regarded, though it sold well enough to merit a sequel. I suppose the box cover made the case for adaptation – a bosomy redhead in black leather with vampire fangs and two giant blades. It reminds me of the scene in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood when the cult filmmaker is applying for a job, asks “Is there a script?”, and the distributor snorts, “F*** no! But there’s a poster!

The background is not much more than Blade with mammaries: Rayne (Kristanna Loken of Terminator 3) is a dhampir – half-human, half-vampire – who allies with a secret group known as the Brimstone Society to combat evil. Because sucking blood is okay, even kind of hot, if you’re doing it to bad people. The games took place in World War II and modern times – inexplicably, this version is set in an unnamed Eastern European country in an unidentified but sort-of-swashbuckling era: call it Romania-esque in the 18th-or-maybe-early-19th century. Most of the characters speak American-inflected English, they just drop the contractions and hope we’ll consider it refined.

Anyway, far outside some village in Romania-esque, the orphan Rayne (wearing the kind of bustier and lowriders-with-lace-up-crotch combo you see models wearing at Comic-Con) is an unwilling participant in a carnival freak show, tortured so she can display her amazing ability to heal after drinking a few drops of animal’s blood. Her vampiric side hasn’t awakened yet, but will when she finally tastes human vintage. And, at some point while she’s off camera, she decides that she only wants to kill vampires and their allies.

The blank spots in her life story are filled in by a gypsy fortune-teller played by, of all people, Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie. When asked why she’s providing all this exposition, the fortuneteller replies – “It’s my purpose!” At least she’s honest. Rayne, it turns out, was conceived by the master vampire Kagan (Ben Kingsley), who raped and murdered her mother and is just this very moment hatching a scheme for world domination that involves collecting magic doodads that will make him invincible...or something to that effect. Kingsley spends at least 2/3 of his screen time sitting very still in his throne while underlings enter with announcements like “I have brought the Talisman!” To which he’ll bark “Excellent!” and the scene ends. I’m thinking they knocked out all the throne scenes in about a half-day, but he does have time to add a subversive touch or two: I like the wanly-reassuring smile he offers a girl brought to him as lunch.

This is a pattern for the movie, wherein people of dubious celebrity appear very briefly with self-contained opportunities for scenery-chewing. Billy Zane ponces around in a wig for a few minutes in a role which, if you think about it, has nothing to do with anything – the opening credits announce it as a “Special Appearance”, like an episode of The Love Boat with spraying wounds. And Meat Loaf Aday ups the ante with an even bigger wig and a harem full of naked women. I did laugh at his domicile, where peasants are chained to the ceiling and their blood is drained into mugs like the office water cooler, but poor Loaf proves what isn’t but should be an old adage: creatures who melt in sunlight shouldn’t include so many windows in their house.

None of them look like they know what’s going on, or that they care – they are in the movie not because they can pass themselves off as citizens of Romania-esque, but because they matter to some foreign-financing calculus. At least they exit stage left fairly rapidly, Michael Madsen must navigate the whole movie as Vladimir, vampire hunter and local head of the Brimstone Society. Members wear easily-identified necklaces but are, nonetheless, very very secret. He pauses after every fourth word, like all his dialogue is coming through an earpiece from a UN interpreter. He finds Rayne, decides she can be trusted, and takes her to Brimstone HQ for training. The movie needs him since Rayne spends most of the movie walking into stupid traps or being captured or knocked unconscious.

There’s umpteen shots of horses thundering across landscapes. Left to right, right to left, sometimes kind of diagonally-upwards. Sometimes it takes a second to remember who it’s supposed to be on the horse, since they vary in number and thunder through landscapes of the most bamboozling randomness – mountains and cliffs and plains. What’s remarkable is how consistently un-breathtaking any of this scenery is; though filmed in Romania, which you’d presume has an evocative angle or two, most of it looks like it was shot just off an interstate.

Not much of Bloodrayne makes sense. In one scene, a monk (Udo Kier) tells Rayne it’s not safe for her to leave, since Kagan’s army of followers are searching for her. Then that army pillages the monastery, and the monk realizes his suggestion had a downside. Vladimir’s sidekick Sebastian (Matt Davis) takes great care to bring a bottle of “holy water” with him into battle, although this movie suggests vampires are averse to all water, so I’m not sure to what greater use holy water’s supposed to be put. Sebastian has the great fortune to happen upon Rayne when she’s feeling a different sort of hunger, and they go on to prove what should be an old adage that any sex scene which spends more than a minute trying to look passionate ends up looking funny instead.

Maybe I can come to an inner peace over the career of Uwe Boll – he puts people to work who might otherwise be loafing around the house, and his movies are easy to review because they contain so many clanging “What the Hell?” moments. They’re an entertaining sort of awful, at least to a masochist geek like m’self. But I also passionately enjoy both movies and videogames, so I must hope that he doesn’t apply his uniquely-destructive aesthetic to too many more. Pitfall Harry has suffered enough.


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