Salutations, film lovers. Let me first take a moment to explain the purpose of this article: It is my prerogative to acquaint ye, oh humblest reader, with the veritable plethora of hidden treasures which grace the shelfs of our supermarkets, often going unnoticed by the sea of mindless consumers which flock endlessly to the mainstream drivel dripping from the gaping orifice that is Hollywood cinema. Indeed, deep are the archives of the cult film world, each twist and turn in their perpetually growing labyrinth bearing new and fantastic masterpieces; many more visually, literally and emotionally fantastic than the last. However… It is not these particular masterpieces which fascinate me. Indeed, for every hidden masterpiece there are tenfold hidden travesties and it is these that are the true treasures of the archive. After all, is it not in the many failures of art that the flames of innovation are stoked…? But enough nonsense, For my debut article I bring you DRAGON QUEST (completely unrelated to the video game).
Released in 2009 as both Dragon Quest and Dragonquest respectively, the film is brought to us by the now infamous Asylum, renowned for such unforgettable releases as Titanic 2 and I am Omega. The film deals with the trials of Arkadi, a simple young village boy somewhat predictably fated to save the world. This seems to be a relatively common vocation for generic farm boys, considering their personalities are drab enough to constitute such a drastic intervention for the sake of catharsis. Arkadi’s adventure begins when his Grandfather is slain by a flaming Dragon summoned by an evil sorcerer, Kirill. This in itself proves somewhat dubious, however, as everyone in the narrative seems to refer to the old man as “Grandfather”, despite his relative youth. The guy must have had one serious libido.
From this point forth the boy’s quest ensues, joined by a wise old knight and a sultry and exotic young warrior lass, as he searches for the five stones of virtue; the only means by which to defeat the evil Kirill. Throughout the course of the tale virtues are proved, lessons are learned and cliches are dutifully attended to. This is all well and good when seen on paper, but in reality… The results are somewhat less than impressive. There is a lot that can be said for the film, that much is certain, but to say all would be to waste both your life and mine, so I’ll try to be somewhat systematic.
Let’s start with the cast and their performances. Short of a few appearances on various television shows, and in the vaults of the B Movie archives, there is little to be said for the notability of the cast. Those of you with as much life as I have, that being very little at all, may recognize the evil Kirill as Brian Thompson; a classic B Movie actor who can be seen in a little bit of everything. From his rendition of Hercules in the 2000 straight to TV adaptation of Jason and the Argonauts, several Star Trek appearances and a minor role in Dragon Heart, the man has got around. Hell, he even played Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and appeared as one of the street punks in the original Terminator. That is, however, the extent of the casts’ star status, the rest falling far short of recognizable, or memorable at all.
Arkadi himself is reminiscent of a particularly charismatic branch; if he played his cards right he could possibly hope to one day become a piece of paper, or maybe even a wooden spoon. Indeed, perhaps the most emotional outburst given by the youth throughout the entire piece is upon the death of his grandfather, who’s acting resembles a teacher in a school pantomime, where on his voice breaks high in a manner practically unrivaled in terms of pure hilarity. “Grandfather…! Grandfather, NO~!!” Exclaims he, reflecting seamlessly the quavering yelps of a fourteen year-old boy, first discovering the concept of D.I.Y. I was somewhat endeared to the character in his first scene, however, when he is introduced spying on a young village girl and smoking sparkling herbs from a small, wooden toking pipe. But this is rapidly terminated when it is deemed “un-virtuous”.
The sultry and exotic wench I mentioned earlier takes the form of side-kick and romantic interest Katya. My primary issue with Katya is simply her casting: when the conditions are right, her acting is not entirely unbearable, but the poor lass just doesn’t suit the role. Failing rather spectacularly in her bid to be the sexy warrior woman that the character was, quite blatantly, intended to be. I mean, her corset just does not fit… It doesn’t even class as a corset! It’s like she’s wearing some kind of post-modern tube top designed by a tree trunk. This, combined with the awkward rigidity of her supposedly fluid and rogue like movement, just conjures images of less than successful cosplay.
Maxim the knight, mentor and guide to our inept young hero, seems to be a surreal attempt at a Yoda type character. In all honesty… I have no idea what’s going on there. He hunches over his stick pulling absurd faces like a severely constipated goblin getting a blowjob from a shark. This seems to be about as deep as his character gets, despite numerous attempts to elaborate on the dude’s backstory, to little avail. He does have a pretty cool sword fight at one point, but then dies straight after so I suppose it doesn’t really count. Spoiler alert, by the way.
The true gem of this film is found in the performance of the aforementioned Brian Thompson, whose rendition of the evil sorcerer Kirill is something to behold. Admittedly he spends the majority of the film as the lower half of a face and a black robe, but he still manages to outstrip the rest with his voice like tar… or coagulated blood? In truth, he has one of those thick, sinister voices that seems perfectly pitched to make constructing an appropriate analogy rather troublesome… Burnt tree sap? Either way, his pronunciation seems to be accentuated by the mesmerizingly outlandish shape of the dude’s mouth. He has the kind of face that makes it look like he could kill you with his voice, Skyrim style. That being said, his performance, or more to the point his character, never seems to leave the single dimension in which it starts. I suppose that’s to be expected of evil sorcerers, but it might have been nice to see what he got up to in his down time. Seriously, he can’t have spent the entirety of the film stood up a mountain! He has to go to the toilet at some point, or eat a sandwich.
I won’t spend a great deal of time discussing the story of the film, so as to avoid too many spoilers (Maxim dies). But to be fair, everything that you think is going to happen, happens: It’s unfortunately just one of those films. The first half of the piece has some interesting scenes involving something to do with a kingdom and a war, but they almost immediately fade out of one’s memory as soon as they’re done. There’s a few scenes with a king pointing at a horrendously drawn map, and one battle sequence that just looks like a novice visual effects editor wanked on to his keyboard whilst watching 300, through a haze of cheap whiskey and heavy prescription medicine, but they do little to actually expand on the world. Arkadi simply watches the events developing from on top of a hill with the kind of facial expression that seems to say “Dude… I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”
It is clearly apparent that the writer of the film is not a stranger to the world of video games; mainly due to the whole “FIND TEH FIVE ARTIFACTS OF DIFFERING COLOURS TO SAVE TEH WORLD” thing, not to mention the amulet which said artifacts conveniently slot into, looking remarkably like something out of a Legend of Zelda inventory screen. The trials which Arkadi must complete, however, are somewhat less compelling. There’s no violence, for one: This is due to the whole “virtue” theme that the story arc follows, thus ensuring that, if there were to be a video game iteration of the film, it would probably take the form of a point-and-click adventure game with no puzzles. Seriously… he just falls into all these trials. He doesn’t even have to look for the them! There’s one point where he has to face a giant spider, of the scarily bad CGI variety, only for the trial to be completed when he waits for it to walk past him into a cave.
This is all, of course, punctuated by the presence of the dragon itself… Which I shall return to shortly. In regards to the film’s climax and ending, I shall refrain from talking of it as it has to be seen to be believed. Suffice it to say that there is one shot wherein Arkadi is “dropped off” to resume his final boss fight, taking the form of a low long-mid shot of the big baddie, whilst our hero’s feet descend into the foreground. I actually almost wet myself…
Finally we come to the visuals. As far as cinematography goes, it is relatively competent, in a day-time television kind of way. There is one glaringly abhorrent instance wherein the camera passes over the 180º line, but it takes place in the heat of the Windows Movie Maker battle sequence, so good luck figuring out what the Hell is going on, let alone spotting the blunder. The world design is altogether nondescript; probably best described as what Elder Scrolls Oblivion must look like to and avid Elder Scroll Morrowind fan. But the finest achievement of the entire piece is the visual effects. My God. I honestly think they were created using a modified Nintendo 64 processor. The few instances wherein magic is used, it takes the form of a purple orb on the end of a long spindly lighting bolt protruding from the respective characters’ hands; a lightning bold which is quite blatantly two dimensional when viewed from any angle other than classic side-scroller stylee.
And then there are the Dragons themselves. For the majority of the film we know only one, but boy does he make an impression… The plumes of badly rendered smoke which billow from the beast’s smoldering body have presumably only been implemented so as to bring a semblance of terrifying significance to an otherwise hysterical monstrosity. It looks kind of like what might have happened if a Skyrim dragon got freaky with a Balrog, only to lose the unholy offspring during pregnancy and try to suppress it’s grief by making several concept pictures of what the infant might have looked like, using only the game engine from the Xbox Original Conan the Barbarian video game. There is another Dragon, but I really don’t want to ruin the surprise. If you do watch the film, just take care not to drink anything during the final scenes, lest you wind up giving your precious film-perusing apparatus an impromptu shower.
In summary, Dragon Quest is shit. It is, hands down, one of the words films in existence. For something as unfathomably ridiculous as this to have been crafted by the hands of mortal man is a sobering thought indeed (Beowulf: The Game not withstanding). But I love it. With all my heart. Why, you might ask? Well, because it’s brilliant! Though it may not have been intended to do so, it will provide you with more laughs than many of the mindless goop heaps which pass as comedy these days. Not to mention it’s indirect affirmation of the still-beating heart of artistic passion, which drives forward the film industry. The people who made this film just wanted to make a film about Dragons. And they did. It’s down-right terrible, but they did it! And I bet they love it. So they should, say I! For without you, oh makers of travesties, I’d probably have to go out and socialize or some shit.
AJT “Mutie” Neill