In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/14/08 11:19:48
For the last couple of years, bad film fanatics have been anticipating the arrival of “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale” (heretofore referred to here as “Dungeon Siege” in an effort to conserve space) with the kind of excitement that one normally associates with something along the lines of the latest adventures of Indiana Jones or Batman. For starters, it is the latest work from Uwe Boll, the filmmaker whose fascination with dated videogames and the byzantine rules of German tax shelters has inspired such hilariously awful results as “House of the Dead” (in which clips from the actual game were clumsily interspersed into the narrative), “Alone in the Dark” (in which Tara Reid played a brilliant anthropologist who nevertheless found it impossible to properly pronounce “Newfoundland”) and the “Bloodrayne” saga (in which a scantily-clad vampire babe found herself battling the likes of Ben “Thunderbirds” Kingsley and a blood-sucking Billy the Kid). Then there is the decidedly eclectic cast of actors that Dr. Boll (as he likes to be known) managed to lure into his latest project–a weird grab-bag including the likes of Jason Statham and Ray Liotta (in the first reteaming since “Revolver”) to Matthew Lillard and Burt Reynolds (in their first reteaming since “Without a Paddle”). Finally, there is the bizarre conceit of the film–despite showing absolutely no skill for large-scale action scenes based on the evidence seen in his previous efforts, Boll has decided to tackle a massive (well, relatively massive) fantasy epic along the lines of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, albeit with a budget presumably closer to Peter Jackson’s “Meet the Feebles.” With this combination of elements, all the pieces seemed to be in place for a perfect storm of cinematic ineptitude of the kind not seen since an angora-bedecked Ed Wood shuffled off of this mortal coil.Therefore, the question that needs to be asked about “Dungeon Siege” is not “How good is it?” but rather “How bad is it?”–is it just ordinary, run-of-the-mill boring bad or is it the kind of crackpot, screw-loose, what-were-they-thinking? bad that has suffused Boll’s previous efforts. For a while, maybe the first hour or so, it seems as if the unthinkable has happened and that Boll has only given us an ordinary bad movie–a draggy little ripoff with little more to offer than the sight of miscast actors in uncomfortable outfits uttering unspeakable dialogue in a project that desperately wants to be “LOTR” but plays more like “Krull” without the advent of that bad-ass Glaive. (At this point, I would like to remind Sony, if any of their representatives are reading this, that 2008 marks the 25th anniversary of “Krull” and that a “Blade Runner”-style restoration and re-release would be greatly appreciated.) And yet, just when all seems lost and the film threatens to turn into the bad-film version of “The Phantom Menace” (well, “The Phantom Menace”) because of the gulf between the actual film and the one that fans had envisioned in their minds during the buildup), Boll’s unnatural instincts finally kick in to overdrive and “Dungeon Siege” finally lives up (or down) to all expectations. There maybe worse films on tap in 2008–hell, “One Missed Call” is far more painful to endure than this one–but it is doubtful that one as inadvertently hilarious as this one will emerge.
Set in a long-ago time in a far-away land (i.e. Vancouver with some badly rendered CGI castles stuck here and there), “Dungeon Siege” stars Jason Statham (whose career has gone from working with Luc Besson to working with Uwe Boll) as a turnip farmer who is known only as Farmer. No, this isn’t a miraculous coincidence–he was an orphan and now believes that “you become what you are.” (If there is ever a “Dungeon Siege: The Early Years,” I presume that we will see this character being called Adorable Urchin, Darling Child, Surly Teen, Styx Fan, Lazy Slacker and Theater Major before finally settling on Farmer.) His peaceful life with his lovely wife, Incipient Hostage (Claire Forlani, whose career has gone from working with Kevin Smith to working with Uwe Boll), and sweet-faced son, Dead Meat, is torn apart when his town is attacked by a horde of mysterious CGI zombie warriors known as the Krug–along with lifelong friend, Crusty Old Mentor (Ron Perlman, whose career has gone from working with Guillermo del Toro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet to working with Uwe Boll), he reduces many of them to 1's and 0's single-handedly but not before others kill his son and make off with his wife.
It turns out that the Krug are being controlled by Evil Wizard (Ray Liotta, whose career has gone from working with Martin Scorsese to working with Uwe Boll) in an effort to overthrow the kingdom of Aging King, Box-Office and Otherwise (Burt Reynolds, whose career has gone from working with Hal Needham to working with Uwe Boll) with the aid of the king’s treacherous nephew, Sniveling Wretch (Matthew Lillard, whose career has gone from working as Freddie Prinze Jr’s sidekick to working with Uwe Boll). Realizing that a Farmer has to do what a Farmer has to do, Farmer sets off to rescue Incipent Hostage, defeat Evil Wizard and save the kingdom of Aging King from destruction. Aiding him in this quest is Good Wizard Who Knows More About Farmer Than He Is Letting On (John Rhys-Davies, whose career has gone from working with Steven Spielberg to working with Uwe Boll), the Good Wizard’s Spunky-But-Rebellious Daughter (Leelee Sobieski, whose career has gone from working with Stanley Kubrick to working with Uwe Boll) and Lesbian Wood-Nymph (Kristianna Loken, whose career has gone from working with the Uwe Boll of “Bloodrayne” to the Uwe Boll of “Dungeon Siege”), who lives in the trees with her sisterhood so they can avoid the evil wars of mankind and work on their Cirque de Soleil act. Along the way, allegiances are formed, secret are revealed and battle sequences are staged with kind of choreography that is usually only seen in second-grade school pageants 20 minutes after the cast has just consumed a month’s supply of Pixie Stix.
As I said earlier, the problem with the first half of “Dungeon Siege” is that it is just another ponderous cut-rate epic that is not appreciably worse than its brethren. Sure, there are some quintessentially questionable elements that are pure Bollocks–the amount of spittle that Lillard lets fly with every time he speaks, the revelation that Liotta is controlling his armies in a manner that looks as if he is playing with a medieval Wii, the weirdly rousing musical score that inexplicably plays over the scene in which Farmer buries his son or the revelation that our badass hero’s weapon of choice is a boomerang (well, an improperly rendered CGI boomerang)–but for the most part, it is no better or worse than any other undistinguished example of the sword & sorcery genre. It pokes along at a snail’s pace, never allows us to get a real sense of the world that it is trying to create and is chock-full of incomprehensible dialogue in which everyone uses three words when one would more than suffice. (The only line that rings true in this section is the point when Burt Reynolds rolls his eyes heavenward and asks “What kind of joke do the gods play on me?”–I am not entirely convinced that this wasn’t behind-the-scenes footage of Reynolds taken during his costume fitting.) At this point, if someone were looking for a jaw-dropping bit of failed fantasy to laugh hysterically at, I would have pointed them in the direction of that exceptionally goofy “Dungeons & Dragons” film from a few years ago.
Finally, right around the halfway point or so, Boll’s golden touch (for lack of a better phrase) returns and “Dungeon Siege” turns into one amazing bad laugh after another. Let’s see, there is the moment when we discover that the Aging King’s troops inexplicably include a battalion of ninjas. There is the moment when we see the Krug actually setting themselves on fire and launching themselves at their opponents via catapult. There are the dying words of the Aging King–I won’t spoil it all for you but I will observe that this may be the first deathbed speech in movie history to concern itself with the fertilizing qualities of seaweed. There is the moment when our hero busts out his boomerang in the thick of battle and only then realizes that a boomerang is kind of useless when you are battling in a wooded area.. There is the showdown between Good Wizard and Evil Wizard in which their swords literally do all the work. Last, but not least, there is the Evil Wizard monologue that starts off with the deathless phrase “Funny thing about Krug. . .”
Then there are the inexplicable technical deficiencies of the movie, the kind that even someone who had never seen a film before would immediately latch onto. I understand that “Dungeon Siege” was shorn of approximately a half-hour of footage from its original version before opening in America (an extended version is planned for DVD) and judging from what has been left on the screen, it would appear that he sweated out those 30-odd minutes by removing every single establishing shot–the shifts in locale are so jarring at times that by the time you finally figure out where you are supposed to be, the film has already jerked us to another undisclosed location. Despite the fact that much of the film is given over to extended battle scenes, it quickly becomes apparent that casting actors with fighting skills and allowing time to rehearse said scenes was Boll’s lowest priority. (The only member of the cast who seems comfortable in these scenes is Statham, who has demonstrated his physical prowess in far better films, and the film weirdly deals with this by keeping him off the screen during such scenes for long periods of time.) Then there are the moments that are so odd that all you can do is shake your head in absolute wonder. The greatest such moment here comes when Crusty Old Mentor plunges from a great height into the river below–we see him falling and we see him emerging from the water grumbling about this and that but for some unfathomable reason, Boll has forgotten to actually included the moment in which he actually hits the water. This is basic screen grammar and if the film were being graded, I suspect that this scene would have “See Me After Class” scribbled on it with a red pen.
Considering that Boll already as a reputation as one of the world’s worst filmmakers, you may find yourself wondering how he is able to round up reasonably decent casts for his cinematic follies. As I understand it, he waits until just about the time he is ready to shoot and then finds out who is available and willing to trot out to Vancouver for a couple weeks of work and a quick paycheck. This time around, it would appear that besides a lack of shame and other gainful employment, Boll has required his cast members to supply their own costumes from the outfits that they wore in their previous films. Leelee Sobieski, for example, appears to be wearing the same chain-mail outfit that she previously donned in “Joan of Arc”–this more or less makes sense because one bit of chain-mail looks like another, I suppose. However, this approach all falls apart when Ray Liotta shows up in what appears to be one of the outfits that he wore in “Goodfellas”–then again, I guess this also sort of makes sense since his decidedly out-of-control performance suggest nothing so much as the sequence in that classic when his character was coked to the gills and searching the skies for helicopters. (Towards the end, I kept waiting for him to implore the Krug to keep stirring the sauce.) Most of the rest of the actors soldier forth with the grim determination of those who have just realized that they have somehow found themselves in one of the silliest movies ever made and if they just keep their heads down and not call attention to themselves, maybe they can escape with some vestige of their dignity still intact.Then there is Burt Reynolds, a man who, to put it charitably, has been in more than his share of bad movies over the years, though relatively few of them required him to run around in chain-mail while swinging a broadsword. Instead of hiding his head in shame, he goes through his entire role with a barely-concealed smirk that occasionally makes the film feel like the most elaborate version of those stupid “Man Law” beer commercials ever produced. Watching him go through his paces, though, I must confess that I found myself idly speculating on something that had relatively little to do with any of the on-screen action. As you may or may not know, there is a rumor that during the shooting of “Boogie Nights,” for which he was eventually nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Reynolds got into an argument with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and, if the story is to be believed, demonstrated his displeasure by punching the filmmaker in the nose. My question–if that is how he reacts to a filmmaker whose only crime was to give him arguably the best role of his entire career, what violent depravations must he have performed on Uwe Boll during the course of shooting “Dungeon Siege” for giving him one of his worst?
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