Sunday, October 21, 2007

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2007: "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale"

(Germany/Canada/USA, 2007)
Written by: Doug Taylor
Directed by: Uwe Boll
Cast: Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Claire Forlani, Lelee Sobieski, Matthew Lillard

What’s this? Yet another video game adaptation by a man who might well be the most hated director in the world right now? What’s this doing at a horror film festival?

TAD founding father Adam Lopez admitted in his intro that while he was concerned that some within the fan base (a fickle lot at the best of times) would feel violated, “we really liked the movie”--hence, its inclusion (in the major Saturday night slot, no less).

Admittedly, there is a lot to like here if you’re in a forgiving mood, and let’s face it, if you’ve consciously lined up for a film where an evil “Magi” named Gallian commands and army of “The Krugs”, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (which I will refer to as Dungeon Siege from this point onward) isn’t nearly as bad as you’re likely to hear—Dr. Boll (he holds a PhD in German Literature, seriously) is fandom’s fashionable whipping boy right now (Brett Ratner must be relieved), so nothing he makes is going to be given a fair shot.

That being said, no one’s going to be offering Boll “The Hobbit” either if Jackson ends up passing (but he’d probably be good for those “Sword Of Shannara” books by Terry Brooks). A perfectly competent, and, by his Q&A comments, serious-minded director, he lacks a distinctive style that after a half-dozen plus films in a variety of genres (admittedly, all revolving around the subject of videogames), you think he’d have developed a signature by now. If anything, his chief qualities are his tenacity and rare lack of ego as he goes from project to project, by now psychologically equipped to deal with the sh*tstorm of glib putdowns from the IMDB message board lackeys waiting in the wings of their parents’ basements.

Jason Statham of The Transporter and Guy Ritchie fame headlines as Farmer, a simple salt-of-the-earth whose passion in life is his turnip farm, which he runs with his wife Solana (Forlani) and son Zeph. His friend Norick (Perlman) arrives to ask if he’s considering joining the King’s army in its offense against the Krugs, Statham expresses his doubt in royalty’s ability to keep the kingdom safe. Norick admits he didn’t join either because he doesn’t like the uniforms.

Solana takes Zeph to visit her parents in a nearby hamlet, which is attacked by the Krugs, under Gallians’s command. Zeph is slain. Solana is taken prisoner.

King Konreid (a feeble and leathery Reynolds) has problems within his castle walls as well, as his idiot nephew Duke Fallow (Lillard, fopping it up) shows little leadership ability being heir-to-the-throne and unbeknownst to his uncle, is in cahoots with Gallian. The king’s advisor, Merick (Rhys-Davies, still channeling Gimli) would rather his daughter Muriella (Sobieski) stay put, instead of offering to help the crusade. Besides, she’d been romantically involved with Gallian (for reasons never disclosed) and now craves revenge.

When Farmer learns of his family’s fate, he and Norick, joined by Bastian (Sanderson) march off to rescue his wife and topple Gallian’s reign…

Dungeon Siege plays as a perfectly fine film for kids ala the 1960s matinee programmers like The Magic Sword or Jack The Giant Killer. Sure, it’s dopey and derivative, but its better made than most cynical cash-ins, offering decent FX and visuals (more scenic helicopter shots than a Duran Duran video) and completely devoid of gore, nudity, and four letter words. But at two-and-a-half hours, it’s just too damned long (Boll said that Statham felt the film was overlong by 20 minutes—he’s right!).

The casting is all over place, so predictably, so are the performances. Statham downplays his British bulldog persona as Farmer but gets in a few decent stunts (choreographed by Tony Ching of Hero and House Of The Flying Daggers). Liotta really lets ‘er rip for the people in the back row as the eeeeevil wizard Gallian, who looks like he’s raided Liberace’s wardrobe and spends most of his time cackling from within an ethereal vortex, from which he commands his flesh and blood Krug avatar (the first Wii?).

The film takes full advantage of its Pacific Northwest locations, which stand in for New Zealand just fine (although I somehow doubt the BC government will be sponsoring any “Dungeon Siege Tours” in the near future). The scope of the film is impressive, having utilized up to 800 extras and employed the services of several top FX houses, including San Francisco’s The Orphanage.

Boll flew in from Germany to introduce the TAD screening (which looked to me like a video projected work print) while on his North American tour to promote his upcoming Postal, which is, yes, his latest video game adaptation. He was surprisingly droll and funny to the initially hostile audience, who softened when his amiable nature became evident: “When Michael Madsen is drunk in Romania and can’t hold a sword, there are problems”, he explained, offering an excuse for BloodRayne. When discussing the subject of the poor reception to his House Of The Dead adaptation, he asked point blank: “What did you expect?” By the end of the evening, he’d won over just about everyone. Including me…

Last year, Boll offered to meet his fiercest critics in the ring, a challenge few pundits took him up on. But Chris Alexander of Toronto’s Rue Morgue took him on as challenger three of “Raging Boll”, and lasted all of two rounds before Boll k.o.’d him (the event will be chronicled in next year’s documentary The Maneuver In Vancouver). Alexander joined his opponent on stage after the screening, and begrudgingly admitted his newfound admiration for Boll’s good humour and old school sensibilities.

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale”will play European markets first before being released in North American in January of 2008 (Boll has threatened an even longer cut on DVD). In the meantime, Boll’s already wrapped Far Cry and BloodRayne 2—a western sequel featuring Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid!!!

©2007 Robert J. Lewis