I’m a little surprised that last year’s big-budget Sword & Sorcery epic hasn’t seen any commentary in the Howardian blogosphere, at least not in the forums I visit. Sure, Uwe Boll’s videogame spin-off In the Name of the King was a massive flop, returning around 5% of its $60 million budget on its not-even-in-the-top-ten opening weekend, apparently failing to even draw the game’s fans. (It’s world wide gross is still only $12.5 million or so.) And it undoubtedly deserved to be a flop, being a derivative, muddled and terribly cast example of how not to make a fantasy film — still, it has its moments. Like The Sword and the Sorceror, a sentimental favorite of some older Howard fans, it lends itself naturally to MST3K-style mockery. The director even picked up a Razzie for his efforts, though the film itself lost out to The Love Guru as worst picture. So why even watch this film? Well. . ..
First, you have the dynamic Jason Statham stepping out of his natty and amazingly flexible three-piece Transporter suit and into a serf’s tunic as the male lead. Ostensibly a simple farmer (creatively named Farmer as no one knows his real name), somehow he has acquired mad weapons skills with a scimitar and a boomerang (?!). He does a credible job as the manly, stoic hero.
The biggest casting shock, from a director apparently well-known for odd casting, is Burt Reynolds as the eponymous King, King Konreid. All you can think is that that’s Burt Reynolds! Why the heck is he in this movie? As the movie goes on his unpretentious, straight-arrow performance slowly chips away at your disbelief, and he actually gives a pretty good deathbed speech.
Ray Liotta sleepwalks through his role as evil magician Gallian with a simpering smirk he apparently believes is sinister but comes off as just silly. He not only is terribly miscast but also doesn’t seem to give a flip about how poorly his performance comes off.
Matthew Lillard, as the King’s treacherous nephew Duke Fallow, on the other hand, understands how to be villainous, as he chews the scenery to within an inch of its life. While panned by some as hammy and over the top, I thought he was a bright spot in every scene he was in, and stole them all.
What happens is that the peaceful kingdom of Ehb is suddenly attacked by the Orcishly brutal Krug, who have suddenly learned to fight with weapons and armor. The Krug have been enslaved and upgraded by Gallian, who guides them by sending his presence into Nazgul-like black-helmed riders. Gallian is in league with Fallow in a bid to overthrow the King and install Fallow on the throne, though what Gallian gets out of it is unclear.
Farmer’s son is killed by a black rider, and his wife Solana is abducted by the Krug and taken to Gallian’s castle so that he can leer over her aimlessly. Thus Farmer and a few buddies (including Ron Perlman in a rare not-covered-in-thick-makeup role) must set out on a rescue/revenge quest. Unfortunately they are quickly separated and while his friends are captured Farmer goes on, encountering the King’s curiously integrated army preparing for a full-scale battle with the Krug. I thought the battle scenes were reasonably good, although obvious knock-offs of “The Lord of the Rings” movies, albeit on a smaller scale, and as Scott Tobias opines, “as tightly choreographed as a demolition derby.” Odd elements include ninjas who climb trees only so that they can leap down from them dramatically at obviously non-strategic moments, and wood-nymphs/dryads/vine-controlling amazons (?) who can make vines drop down to ensnare the enemy or, hanging languidly on the creeping foliage, cruise smoothly through the woods with no apparent attachment to anything above, led by the hot bot of T3, Kristanna Loken.
Nothing is more out-of-place than the staggeringly unbelievable wire-fu scene where Statham bypasses his goblin foes by running nimbly across their shoulders. For the Howard fan, one particularly interesting oddity is the sequence focusing on huge mole-tunnels that follow the attacking Krug, racing along as fast as a man can run, culminating in grayish hands bursting out of the ground and dragging helpless humans down into the dirt. It’s as if a scene from “Worms in the Earth” just wandered into the movie for no particular reason, or at least none they cared to share with the audience…
(Cue Tom Servo, in gutteral voice: “Hey, dis aint da Tower of Trajan!”
Cue Crow, in Brooklynese: “We shoulda turned left at Albuquerque!”)
After the battle, in which the cowardly Duke Fallow mortally wounds King Konreid with an arrow from afar, the King’s Magus Merick (played by Indiana Jones pal and actual LOTR castmember John Rhys-Davies) discerns that Farmer is actually the lost Prince of Ehb, much to Duke Fallow’s irritation. So now our hero has an army to lead to the dark magi’s castle, though there’s another full-scale battle to go through, this time in a noirish light rain. There’s more, of course, a Valeria-style warrior woman, black vapors swirling from the crushed helmets of the dark riders, a confrontation between the wizards white and black, but if you’ve seen LOTR and a few other S&S movies there’s little enough you haven’t seen.
I never bought a ticket to this film (thankfully), but as it’s playing on cable it’s not a terrible way to kill an afternoon. I’m not sure whether to decide it’s too bad it was such a flop, as it hurts the chances of more sword & sorcery movies being made, or if it’s a good thing, as it hurts the chances of more really bad sword & sorcery movies being made.