Friday, June 8, 2012

Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010)

     I did not ever expect to find a film that would make The Curse of Count Chocula (2003) look like a cinematic masterpiece by comparison (though, to be fair, the movie does have some great lines and even a few scenes that make it worth sitting through the rest).  Seeing as how The Curse of Count Chocula was made with a low-rent video camera and a budget that probably came close to $200, it would take some serious dedication to the art of making an absolutely disastrous movie.  Then I happened upon the forgotten as soon as it was made, direct-to-video effort that is Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010). 
     Why would I do this to myself?  The honest answer is that I like Kevin Sorbo.  I think that his post-Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-99) career has not been filled with roles that showcase what he can do.  In 2005, he made a sitcom pilot that didn't get picked up where he played an athlete trying to figure out what to do after his sports career.  That would have served him well.  Sorbo can do funny as long as it is subtle, and he hasn't been able to keep the muscle mass up after whatever condition befell him late in the Hercules run.  But no, we get to see Sorbo in a string of thankless guest star roles and low-budget genre flicks.
Curse of Count Chocula.  It exists.
     And it is at this point that I want to discuss budgets, because I truly believe that Tales of an Ancient Empire had the professional equivalent to the $200 range for a backyard movie.  It shows right from the get-go.  Michael Paré and a few anonymous castmates start off the film standing in front of what appears to e a white sheet, holding weapons like they've never seen them before, and either giving cold reads from cue-cards or ad-libbing lines that somehow made it into the final product.  My guess is that these were not the first shots filmed, but rather the last ones as director Albert Pyun was desperate to get enough footage to make a movie.  Indeed, that is how this whole enterprise feels.  Like somehow trying to acquire footage without knowing how to stage scenes of what would be needed when it came time to edit it all together.
     Now, if I am going to resort to facts, the movie actually starts with an awkward introduction from Hekate (Cassy Colomb), where the character mixes tenses in an effort to let the audience know that nothing in the next 70-ish minutes is going to make sense.  It goes a little like this:
          "I am here [present tense] to bear witness to an age when sorcery and
           adventure still thrived [past  tense], a time when all things were yet
           possible [uh...past and,  I'm not sure, but I think future imperfect].  So
           listen now [present imperative] of this tale long past."
As a frustrated writer, this bothers me.  Because I don't think this is just an inability to read the lines that were written.  I'm convinced that somebody actually wrote those lines; they thought it sounded both compelling and sensible.  Another group of people went and spent money to buy the script and make the movie.  Seriously.  Read it again and tell me if you wouldn't have thrown it out just based on that.
     Michael Paré gets to play Oda Nobunaga.  Now, if you don't know who Oda is then you haven't read the Call Me Temujin script that is on this blog.  Read that after this and imagine how Trevor would feel about making his John Wayne playing Genghis Khan comment after this thing got released.  Instead of uniting Japan, Oda is a mercenary who fucks a lot of women.  Usually after helping them, but this is supposed to imply that he is a bad guy.  Except that, horrific performance aside, Oda is the closest thing to a good guy the story can put together.
     Oda has to go to the Isle of Lost Souls to fight a Sorcerer and his vampire daughter.  Clichéd, sure.  But what makes this worth noting is that with the subtitles on, Oda has to go to the Aisle of Lost Souls.  After his business is done there, Hekate tells the audience that "...Oda strolled off into the mists of legendary...".  I don't know where these mists would be, but I assumed there were on the other side of the movie from the Aisle of Lost Souls.
     After Oda is done not really doing anything, the opening credits arrive (almost sixteen minutes into the movie).  Then a string on new characters are introduced, mostly with the purpose of leading to the next character and eventually back to Oda.  Sorbo plays Aeden, one of Oda's bastard children.  He has some fun playing him as a shameless drunken man-whore/scoundrel, but at the same time it appears that he must have had something like four days of availability.  As so many of the characters don't really interact, I have to think that they just filtered them in when available.  Yet another possibility as to why the story remains – except as explained by voice-over narration – incomprehensible.
     Don't bother with it.  Not even as a dare.  It is worse than having to watch Battlefield Earth () while having John Travolta fondle you.  Okay, no it isn't that bad, but it is worse than any movie I have seen with professional actors.  It is even worse than the kind of movies aspiring filmmakers make with the video camera, a few friends, and a budget of under $200.
     Here are a few of my notes I made while watching it.  You'll notice that I quickly gave up on it.
           4:03 – "Hey, Oda.  You better get up there and kill that wizard and his
                       daughter  before he finishes his conjure." (Rodrigo)  It isn't just
                       the lazy writing (I'm hoping this was the terrible actor improving
                       the line in place of what was written), but that it is delivered with
                       a flat affect and no body language to suggest that it is important.
            4:59 – "Oda, my cursed nemesis, just in time to see my greatest feat."
                       (Xuxia)  Again, a completely lifeless reading.
            5:19 – "You realize how silly this looks?" (Oda)  This should be the
                       movie's tagline!
            7:54 – "So what now?" (Xia)  This is a perfectly acceptable reaction
                       from a vampire on being subdued by the great mercenary (and
                       Queen fucker) Oda.  Sure it is.
             8:55 – "Perhaps we should hang around in this empire we just saved
                        and experience some of its pleasures." (Rodrigo)
           11:20 – "Maybe some midwife at the palace will take you in."  (Oda,
                        speaking to his child just cut from its mother's womb.)  Uh,
                        why would a midwife have any special interest in an already
                        'birthed' child, Oda?
            No time listed – This is a movie with more VO narration than action.
            No time listed – Then vampires rules the world and Hekate goes
                         looking for Aeden.  What?

1 comment:

  1. Google "Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon" if you really want to see some shitty things Albert Pyun is capable of.