The Theory of Chaos

Friday, February 08, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW - In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Full review behind the jump

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Director
: Uwe Boll
Writers
: Screen Story by Jason Rappaport and Dan Stroncak and Doug Taylor, Screenplay by Doug Taylor, based on the video game by Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games
Producers
: Shawn Williamson, Dan Clarke, Uwe Boll
Stars
: Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Matthew Lillard, Brian J. White, Claire Forlani, Kristanna Loken


There’s a sense of liberation in watching an Uwe Boll film, and that’s saying something, I suppose. He’s making an apparently-endless string of bad adaptations of mediocre video games (
Postal is next), and to watch one of them is to know that no one feels bound by logic, taste, or even the usual aesthetic ground rules of professional filmmaking. We could cut to any angle at any time, we might dash away from important scenes, linger forever in pointless ones, the camera might focus intently on the least important character, tone may shift from grief to goofy with no warning, comically-loud music stings might leap onto the soundtrack with no motivation…The lead characters’ skin tones might even change from reel to reel – that’s how much Uwe Boll refuses to be tied down. I have been aghast and bewildered in every Boll film I’ve seen (and this makes three), but I confess I have never been entirely bored.

His latest, the bulkily-titled
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, contains neither a dungeon nor a siege, but is based on a video game called Dungeon Siege which contained little in the way of story. This movie tells quite a bit of story, two bloated hours of monsters and battles and awkward costumes and magic spells, clanging swords and thundering horses and inconsistent accents. Its budget surpasses that of Boll’s previous filmography all in, and I must admit that for once he seems to be working with a crew that has picked up a camera before. On the one hand, this reduces the damage he’s capable of. On the other hand, it means he really has no one left to blame.

Most surprising to me in all of this is the presence of Jason Statham, our generation’s best guilty-pleasure action star, the man who makes bad movies ridiculous and ridiculous movies good. But beyond some dexterous sword-whanging he can do little to help this picture. One of the most reliable facets of the Uwe Boll aesthetic is to cast “names” who are utterly, clangingly,
wrong for their roles. Statham is far more upwardly-mobile, career-wise, than the usual Boll player, and the essence of his appeal is his contemporary growl and swagger. Making him a virtuous peasant in a fantasy epic is like, well, making Ray Liotta a diabolical wizard in a fantasy epic, or Burt Reynolds a stately warrior-king in a fantasy epic. So there you go.

Statham indeed plays the Little Villager with a Big Destiny in some Faraway Land that might be Ancient Vancouver. He calls himself Farmer, since, as his wife (Claire Forlani) explains, he believes that a man’s identity should become one with his work. This is a somewhat workable system in small hamlets, but in a modern city you’d have an awful lot of people answering to the name Muffler Specialist.

His wife is kidnapped (among other atrocities) by the Krugs, which are this movie’s catchall beast-monsters. They look like a six-year-old sculpted all the various evil creatures of The Lord of the Rings in Play-Dough, then smushed them together. Normally they aren’t given to weaponized raids, but they’ve fallen under the command of the wizard Gallian (Liotta), who is plotting to overthrow the King of Ebb (Reynolds), install the King’s fey and loutish drunk of a nephew Fallow (Matthew Lillard) in his stead, and rule the land. Surrounded by cutting-edge* computer effects (*if you’re in 1992), and with his voice comfortably in his Goodfellas cocaine-freakout octave, Liotta is trying to bull through his character’s lack of dimension with sheer crazy volume. He wears his spangly, collared longcoat and silk cravat like he’s at Comic-con, debuting his homemade concept for a new Dr. Who costume, and he’s very, very upset that people are making fun of it.

The movie is angling Gallian and the humble Farmer to a showdown, with intervening battle scenes of interminable length and a great deal of pointless intrigue involving the King’s mage Merick (John Rhys-Davies), Merick’s ambitious-but-naïve daughter Muriella (Leelee Sobieski), and a race of vine-swinging forest people who hate the violent ways of Man and don’t involve themselves in wars, except when they do. The actors soldier through all of it, and I confess a twisted admiration for them for believing that this would somehow make sense after it was all cut together.

Reynolds looks like he has no idea what a single one of his lines means, but that he intends to grimace his way to the end, even when, on the battlefield, he has to give the orders to dispatch his army’s ninjas. Ninjas?, you now ask incredulously…Yes, the Kingdom has exactly six of them, no more and no less, and the way their appearance decisively flings the movie across the threshold into total barking nonsense calls to mind that moment from the 60’s version of Casino Royale where the Indians dropped in by parachute.

One would think Reynolds has enough money socked away by now to not need to do this stuff, to not risk his dignity in a scene where he’s reclining on a pillow, and he shakes his head solemnly while his toupee stays conspicuously still. Not so Matthew Lillard, who gives himself to this trash with unrestrained glee. His performance is a riff on Johnny Depp’s boozy Captain Jack Sparrow, only without the wit, charm, beard, sex appeal, or timing.

It’s rare to leave a movie thinking that it could only have looked that entirely bad because someone intended it to, but in this case I could imagine Boll looking at the digital matte backgrounds of sprawling castles and rocky cliffs and demanding: “Grayer!, Blurrier!” He’s put a lot of stuff in front of the camera, we spend downright Wagnerian spans of time watching extras wave swords around with Statham in their midst, but to what end? Given that every character in this kingdom can seemingly walk to any other point in the kingdom in a brisk afternoon, how big a plot of dirt is Gallian really thinking to rule, here? The movie doesn’t know, and the movie doesn’t care. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale is content to pour everything it can out of the Generic Fantasy Elements Bucket, and hope that, maybe this time, the mad Uwe Boll will not exercise his uncanny power to inject Stupid into it. Guess what happens?

1 Comments:

  • wow, you have some very detailed movie reviews here. Great job!

    By Anonymous trench, at 2:06 AM  

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