Crispy Gamer

Print-Screen: Not Quite Boll-ed Over

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Gamers have come to expect the worst from Uwe Boll. The man who has made a career out of turning decent videogames into bad movies has historically been able to blame the resulting travesties on B-list actors or low budgets. But with action-hero-of-the-moment Jason Statham and a budget estimated at $70 million, "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" had a remote chance of being a light pleasure in a mostly barren January.

That chance was more remote than anyone could have realized. Nothing in the movie works. The monster costumes are throwbacks to rubber suits of yore. Ray Liotta gives the least convincing evil wizard performance since Jeremy Irons in "Dungeons and Dragons," but he?s got a nice leather jacket. Statham mumbles and growls his way through the picture. Only Lord of the Rings veteran John Rhys-Davies fills his role with any of the gravitas that the plot?s life-or-death stakes demand.

In fact, so much is lifted from Lord of the Rings that if you didn?t go in knowing that the Dungeon Siege in the subtitle referred to a game, you might imagine that it was one of Tolkien?s lesser works, a teenage dry run for his epic trilogy. An evil sorcerer arms a force of orc-like beings to help a ludicrously idiotic royal nephew take the throne. One man sets out to rescue his wife from these "krug" and ends up rescuing a kingdom. There is a dark forge scene, a secret royal lineage, a girl who wants to be a soldier, and forest dwelling elves who are forced to confront the growing evil that surrounds their lands.

To be fair, much of this material is by now standard fantasy fare, present in the game that inspired the movie and in many more besides, and the screenwriters were clever enough to throw in ninjas. I?ve always believed that medieval fantasy needed more ninjas.

"In the Name of the King" is as good a reminder as any that Boll?s major problem is not that he takes inspiration from uninspiring sources, but that he really has no idea what he is doing. The battle scenes are confused brawls between random extras, poorly edited and repetitively scored; there?s a music sting when one of the krug overturns a table with vegetables on it. The wire choreography seems out of place most of the time and the dialogue is portentous even when there is little to portend.

It?s hard to single out any one scene for special ridicule. There?s a duel of Mordekainen?s Swords at the end. There?s the evil-mage-as-ob-gyn scene. Burt Reynolds, one of the kings in the title, drags out a death worse than Hamlet. The good mage tells the general that a "small force" has a better chance of success than a large one. The evil mage trashes his own library, and the hero?s words are barely audible beneath the screeching strings of the soundtrack. As bad you think the movie is, it keeps getting worse.

But even if "In the Name of the King" isn?t Boll?s worst movie (which it could be) it is easily his greatest failure. With a release twice as wide as "Bloodrayne," it barley made twice the box office with more than twice the budget. It was widely promoted with a decent trailer, and the international success of "The Golden Compass" and "Beowulf" held out hope that the world?s appetite for fantasy had room for dessert. That didn?t come to pass -- "In the Name of the King" was as big a flop outside America as it was in. It opened domestically on January 11 and had almost entirely vanished from theaters within two weeks.

Even worse news was in store for the director. Germany has closed many of the tax shelter options that allowed Boll to finance pictures on the scale of this one. The failure of the Dungeon Siege movie means that no one will give him the money to make big-budget films. Boll has promised (threatened?) to keep going with smaller scale films like "Postal," so we aren?t done with him, but at least he?s no longer a financial burden to the good citizens of Germany.

Gamers love to complain that games are never made into good movies, and, conversely, that movies are hardly ever made into good games. With so much of the game-to-movie category in the hands of a hack like Boll, it?s hardly surprising that the catalog of game movies is crowded with dreck. Chris Taylor, developer of the game that inspired "In the Name of the King," argues that only certain types of games are well-suited to the film treatment.

"It probably comes down to developing a good story from a game that otherwise has a story which doesn?t lend itself to a linear medium," says Taylor. "The writer would have to make tough choices. For example, imagine the film adaptation of Knights of the Old Republic? what path would the writer go down?

"I think action games with really strong, well-defined lead characters would make great movies. I also think a unique art style helps a lot, because movies can take visuals to extreme levels; this is a place to exploit the game?s property."

Does Dungeon Siege fit that mold? Little of the material that made the game distinctive, and, in spite of the result, Taylor found some personal positives to point to in the process. "I always felt that if you wanted to make a movie you would have to spend some effort trying to contact a studio. You couldn?t just sit back and wait for someone to call you. [The development] was a really great surprise.

"The whole experience has been a ton of fun and we have learned a lot. A bunch of different aspects of filmmaking, visiting the set, etc. But I also met a lot of people in the business, and it all helped to fill in bits and pieces about the business I didn?t know."

What?s next for Boll? His Vietnam War movie "Tunnel Rats" is in post-production, as is his newest videogame adaptation Far Cry. And for Taylor? Space Siege will continue the x-Siege name into the final frontier later this year.

In Other News

The troubled production of a film version of American McGee?s Alice got a bit of a boost when Sarah Michelle Gellar told Sci-Fi.com that she wasn?t giving up on the idea. A "regime change" at Universal had put the project on hold but Gellar calls "Alice" both "a passion project" and "the frustration of my life." She?s a little concerned that Buffy may be too old to play the lead role if the movie ever gets made, but no other names are attached. So, gentle readers, who?s a better choice?