Reviews

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wolfhound

Director: Nikolai Lebedev
Writers: Nikolai Lebedev
Novel: Mariya Semyonova
Starring: Aleksandr Bukharov, Oksana Akinshina, Aleksandr Domogarov, Igor Petrenko, Juozas Budraitis
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 136 min
Country of Origin: Russia
read my spoiler disclaimer



reviewed by Andrew James
at Toronto After Dark Festival

      Welcome to 1983! The "barbarian" films of that era (Conan, Beastmaster, etc.) are so iconic and so cherished and loved by fans of my generation, that Wolfhound looked simply irresistable. Couple this with the greatness that has come out of Russia lately with Bekmambetov's Night Watch/Day Watch series, I was really expecting, maybe unfairly, great things from Lebedev.

      The films starts the same way in which all of these typical films start. A young boy watches as his tiny village is ransacked and pillaged by a ruthless and mysterious army from the north. Of course the young boy is the only survivor and swears revenge. Flash forward 15 years or so and the young boy is now a man; a man who is somehow an excellent warrior and beyond the capacity in terms of physical prowess. He searches the countryside looking for the evil that killed his parents and "took away" his life. Along the way he meets several friendly and equally unsavory characters to help or hinder in his destiny.

      From a budgetary standpoint, this is a top-notch film. The most expensive film out of post-Soviet Russia, it can all easily be seen why. The sets and effects are fantastic. Each character has extremely detailed costumes and set pieces. The village interiors, castle bowels, the countryside and locations for epic battles are undeniably gorgeous looking and really portray a mood and feel that is dark, cold and forboding. High enough kudos cannot be given.

      Even the storyline, although fairly conventional, is well put together. It's easy to follow with interesting characters and a fun plot thread. Sure we've seen it before, but not for many years and certainly not with such a high budget as this. Props to the use of a bat, named Ragged Wing, as the main sidekick. We know he's going to perform a courageous act or do something cool and important, the only question is when. Ragged Wing is certainly a crowd pleaser and an audience favorite. Whether the bat is real or CGI or a combination of the two is still a question of debate by festival goers; which only goes to its credit as looking fantastic either way.

      Several scenes employ the use of CGI that looked truly terrific. Besides the bat, larger ideas loom onscreen to further the terrific mood, action and set design. An ominous and gloomy, mist cloud that somehow moves and fights in a ghostly, yet human way, was of particular interest and fun. And the climactic battle, although cheesy and unheartfelt, at least looked believable and bordering on stunning.

      So what's not to love? Well, a few things actually. Most importantly are the fight sequences. Most involve numerous characters all fighting at once and it is nearly impossible to get a sense of perspective and who is who. The director uses tight framing and quick edits to try to give the audience a feel of excitement, but just ends up being a colossal mismanagement of fighting sequences that only proved there was little money spent on a choreographer. The fight sequences used big, sweeping swings of a sword accompanied with a grunt until we see the slain fall. Then another close-up shot of a swinging sword and a slain victim. This continues throughout the picture and by the end I just didn't care enough to want to continue with the crusade.

      Which leads to the next problem. Since the fights were not all that interesting, the running time of over 2 hours got nearly unbearable. The final fight sequence is impossible to tell what is going on and where we are in the midst of the battle. Since this climactic battle rages on for close to 25 minutes, my heart with the picture quickly fell, along with my hope for greatness within the movie.

      With some decent performances and a nice story that involves the typical love and revenge story of destiny, Wolfhound really has some nice aspects and had the potential be an epic, foreign film to be talked about for years. But unfortunately in this kind of film, the fight/battle sequences are 80% of your movie and when they don't work well, it kills the rest of the movie to a less than mediocre experience. Had the studio placed the same amount of money in the hands of someone just a little more experienced, maybe something better would've emerged. Maybe worth taking a look at for its gorgeous scerery and set design, but as a whole, you could do a lot better. Which is unfortunate, because the way this film starts out, it would've been nice to say that you could'nt do much better.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer


Links:
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER profile for The Wolfhound







andrew@moviepatron.com
Posted by Andrew James in
Review

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