Posted by: NiTessine | November 24, 2009

Review: Midnight Chronicles

It isn’t often that a movie is made based on a roleplaying game. There are a few, of course, and they’re all best enjoyed with a bunch of friends and possibly alcohol. We all remember the execrable Dungeons & Dragons. There’s also a sequel, rumours of another, and the Dragonlance cartoon, and that sci-fi flick from last year I ripped into last winter, Mutant Chronicles.

Now, then, we have Midnight Chronicles. It’s based on Fantasy Flight Games’ D20 setting, Midnight, which is your average D&D fantasy, with the exception that back when the free peoples of the West fought Mordor, Sauron kicked their asses and now rules the world. I don’t own any Midnight products apart from the DVD, nor have I read any.

The movie was done with a shoestring budget, apparently produced by the game company itself. The European distributor, incidentally, is one Boll Kino Beteiligungs GmbH & Co. KG, and that “Boll” there stands for exactly who you’d fear it does. The DVD even has a trailer for In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. This does a good job of setting expectations.

From here onwards, there be SPOILERS.

The film’s plot is pretty simple. There’s a town, Blackweir, way out in the frontier. A legate – a cleric of the Dark Lord Izrador, I think – was sent there some time ago to consecrate a temple to Izrador, and now he’s gone missing. Another legate, our dashing hero Mag Kiln, is sent to find out what’s up. “Dashing hero” in this case actually means a textbook Lawful Evil dude with black robes, a bald head, and a disturbingly skeletal visage. Charles Hubbell, of whom you have probably never heard but may have seen in the short film “Fear of Girls”, plays the part rather well. He looks the part and has the appropriate intensity and gravitas. He is accompanied by a sidekick whose name I’m not entirely certain about but think might be Kruce. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on the DVD, and the actors can’t seem to agree on how certain names are pronounced. This sidekick guy is funny. He reminds me of Malak, the thief in Conan the Destroyer, but in the sense that this is how the character should’ve been done.

They are joined at Blackweir by the female sidekick Chuzara, and quickly become embroiled in a sordid mess of intrigue with the mayor’s petty thievery, ancient curse stuff, and the freedom fighters out in the forests, who are led by this Morrec guy, who turns out to be the legate gone missing, turned good guy. There’s also an elf, who tries to channel Hugo Weaving and fails, and a farmboy who becomes a hero, and other minor characters.

The acting is pretty decent, for the most part. None of them are Laurence Olivier, but there was remarkably little grimacing in pain in the audience. Chuzara, though, appears to have only one expression, the freedom fighter Morrec is bland, and the elf is just plain bad.

The movie also has certain plot issues. The pacing is off, and very little actually happens for most of the film, and when it does eventually happen, it all sort of stops before the climax. I have nothing against setting up for a sequel, but Midnight Chronicles is nothing but setup for a sequel, or perhaps a TV show. Most of the plotlines aren’t really resolved, and there are a few characters whose only function in the story seems to be to get introduced. The farmboy-cum-hero is one of these, as well as being a horrendously overused cliché.

The CGI is cheap, but used judiciously and so that it doesn’t call attention to itself, except in a few spell effects.

Apart from the plotline, there’s one thing that bothered me. The gear and clothes of the characters look too new. They don’t look like the equipment of people who have been travelling for weeks, or living in the forest, or in the filthy town. It’s one of those things that you don’t notice when it’s done well (Conan the Barbarian, Lord of the Rings), but immediately looks off when it’s not. It should be pretty cheap to get some credible wear and tear on that gear, and it would’ve gone a long way to making the movie look good.

I want to like Midnight Chronicles, but I just can’t. It is simply not a good movie. Unfortunately, it’s also not a bad movie, and I can’t really laugh at it. It’s just somehow less than the sum of its parts. I am disappointed.

It’s still the best of the lot when it comes to movies based on roleplaying games, though. Tells you something.

**½/*****

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Responses

  1. I saw a trailer for the film and based on what little I saw the CGI wasn’t that bad. It certainly wasn’t on par with the likes of LoTR, but it was certainly much better than Xena/Hercules.

    Then again, comparing anything to the CGI in those two series really shows that your standards for CGI are really low.

  2. The film was actually written and re-written a number of times by different authors. It changed producers and directors an insulting number of times. Likewise, it was cast, produced, shot, re-cast, re-produced and re-shot multiple times over a period of several years, and it was never really clear whether it was supposed to be a series of shorts for a podcast, a television pilot, or a feature film. Thousands of hours of work were put into entire scenes and plot lines that were designed, cast, shot, scored, and post-produced, and then cut. It was pitched to the Sci-Fi channel, but got rejected primarily due to a weak opening scene. It was re-written, and re-shot yet again, but never gained network acceptance. Hundreds of talented technicians and actors were hired, fired, re-hired, and mismanaged so many times that law suits erupted. It eventually became clear that the film would never finish being made, and it was edited in such a way that it just ended abruptly.

    So if the film seems disjointed, it’s truly no surprise.

    Many of the people involved (including the film’s one and only CG artist) have outstanding careers and are credited in major feature films, but because this production was run so poorly, Fantasy Flight Games has earned a black mark among filmmakers, and no upstanding cast or crew will ever work with them again. Don’t hold your breath for a sequel.


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