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Mythica: A Quest for Heroes
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by Jay Seaver

"A bit better than homemade."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: It may not always seem to be the case, but what an aspiring filmmaker can do today is pretty extraordinary, and not just in terms of there being more compact and affordable hardware available for shooting, editing, and creating visual effects than ever before. There are platforms for showing what you are capable of and developing a fanbase, getting in touch with potential collaborators, and even raising money. Here's the thing, though: Between that and the scaling-up that the big studios are doing, those aspiring filmmakers now want to do more. That's why something like "Mythica: A Quest for Heroes" has a colon in its title and occasionally looks a little stretched on-screen. Writer/director Anne K. Black has the tools at her disposal to make a decent fantasy movie, but wants to make more, and wants the one she's got to be even bigger.

That's not unreasonable. The world of "Mythica" is a fairly standard swords-and-sorcery world - a medieval level of technology with a select few able to perform magic, mostly populated by human beings but worth the occasional orc or dwarf showing up - but Black still had to establish the bounds on that magic, the rivalries that drive conflicts in that world, and a whole raft of other things that could swallow one movie whole if not parceled out a bit. If you're going to make bigger plans for the world, you might as well make bigger plans for your characters. The trick, which Black and her co-writers Jason Faller & Kynan Griffin generally manage to pull off, it's making the first installment satisfying enough to encourage viewers to come back because they like what they see, as opposed to just relying on the fantasy fan's compulsion to see any story out to the end.

That includes things which start or feeling like someone else's game of Dungeons & Dragons, which is the case here. The leaders of the assembled party are Marek (Melanie Stone), a club-footed slave who has a natural aptitude for magic, and Teela (Nicola Posener), a priestess who was the only one to escape when her temple was destroyed. When circumstances make Marek a fugitive and no other adventurer is willing to help Teela, they join forces, recruiting swordsman Thane (Adam Johnson) and thief Dagen (Jake Stormoen) to help rescue Teela's sister from the mercenaries and monsters that have taken her.

There's not any particularly novel variations on the standard fantasy tropes here, at least on the surface, although there are bits that could possibly develop into more given some more time. The tone trends to be along the lines of the Hercules and Xena television series from the 1990s - generally upbeat and willing to throw an anachronism like Marek's leg brace or two in for a joke or to help move things along, but also playing for s some genuinely high stakes as well - so it makes sense to have Kevin Sorbo show up for a few scenes to help raise the movie's profile. So the fate of the film mainly rests on how well Black and her collaborators execute the familiar material for genre fans, and that's pretty good. The action is well-staged, the cinematography is clear, and the scale is generally well-chosen; there's a world past the edge of the screen but the film doesn't seem so tightly-focused that the audience gets no sense of it.

The cast is a bit uneven, but Melanie Stone is a potential find as Marek. This character could be a complete Mary Sue, but she manages to keep Marek's youthful enthusiasm from overwhelming, displaying a light wit and handling the moments when she has to display a flash of darkness fairly well. She and Jake Stormoen play off each other well, and Adam Johnson has his moments as the brawn of the group. Nicola Posener doesn't get so many chances to shine, unfortunately, although it's debatable whether that's the actress or the very serious warrior cleric she's playing.

They're doing their work against a backdrop that shows what a group with enthusiasm and some decent crowd-funding can manage, however you want to take that. Production design isn't spectacular, but it looks pretty professional. There's a drop-off as you go down the cast list, but the folks up top do well and the rest err more on the side of ham than wood, which works out. You can tell that the production picked up spring days when it could by how the terrain goes from bare to snow-covered and back, but at least it's between scenes rather than shots. The visual effects are generally decent, although I'm sure that everyone involved would have liked to be able to throw a little more time and/or processing power at those scenes.

The alternative would be too spread the same sort of resources around one or two sequences fewer, but it's not a bad tradeoff, if that was even an option. Sure, you can see the "Mythica" team stretching, but they don't stretch enough to fall over, and the fantasy audience they're courting will probably be fairly forgiving of any perceived shortcomings. I'm not much for serious and sorcery myself, but I find that I like "A Quest for Heroes" enough to wish is makers success. With any luck, the two movies planned to complete the trilogy will have the freedom to be more ambitious rather than the obligation to do less.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28406&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/04/15 14:09:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 23-Jan-2015

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