Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Midnight Chronicles (Movie Review)

As a fan of Fantasy Flight Games, I came across news in 2007 that one of their fantasy role playing games, "Midnight", was being developed into a movie. A TV pilot, to be exact. Written, Produced and Directed by Christian T. Petersen, the founder of Fantasy Flight Games.

Looking at the promotional clips online gave me mixed feelings about what the final quality of the production would be like. And the fact that a game producer was doing all the creative heavy lifting could be awesome, since he would have complete control, but also terrible for the same reason, if he doesn't know how to make movies.

The movie was passed up by all those considering it for going to pilot. Not a good sign. But nothing in the clips or trailers I'd seen told me this movie would be monstrously bad. (The first "Dungeons And Dragons" movie comes to mind in that capacity.) So I watched and waited until it finally came to DVD, and waited even longer until distribution made it possible for me to rent it before making a blind purchase. This week it was finally available for me to rent and my curiosity at last was satisfied.

From the very opening of the movie, a dark, dreary tone is established. This is the story of a fantasy world with elves and magic, but one in which the big, bad, unspeakable evil... won. For 100 years the world has lived under the cruel oppressive rule of the dark god Isrador. Commoners move from city to city under the watchful eye and lashing whips of orc soldiers. The premise of this movie is ripe for some wonderful storytelling. But the script never gets around to it.

While the opening tone of the movie is great, and the depressing grit remains through much of the movie, the writer seems more interested in introducing us to the world than in giving us a story to follow. The pace moves incredibly slow, with very little action to break things up. This would be fine if the movie worked as a character drama, but there are no characters I found myself relating to or caring about. The script would have been served well by cutting out a number of plot lines to center on just two or three, using the remaining time to give us reasons to invest in these characters. It seemed to me as though many of these characters had rich stories that wanted to be told, but all of the best material was left in the writer's notebook instead of being put in the script.

Performances were also pretty bland, with a few performers that I wouldn't be surprised to learn are just really good volunteer LARPers (Live Action Role Players) rather than actors, especially given the presence of a particular, minor speech impediment that I've found to be most common around a gaming table.

Visual effects were standard TV series quality, which is not an insult, given that the movie was shot for consideration as a TV pilot. But in a fantasy movie with a run time of an hour and 40 minutes, I would have liked to see more of them.

The fighting scenes, when they did get around to them, seemed to be put together without any benefit of a fight/stunt coordinator. Very poor even by TV standards of 15 years ago.

The included documentary about the making of the movie is a little interesting, and the fact that the entire thing was produced by a table-top game company should not be overlooked. But their first time out should have been less ambitious.

This movie might have worked if they had focused the script on two or three characters and what they want to achieve, and searched far and wide for stronger actors (volunteers though they may be) and a stronger director, who could tell a character driven story that was emotionally involving, without needing fight scenes or lots of effects.

As it is, I can't even recommend spending a dollar to rent it, or two hours of your time to watch it unless you really have nothing else to kill time with. It's not offensively bad or cheesy, just extremely uninteresting. For the same reason, I find it highly unlikely that any meaningful conversation would come after viewing it.

For a better experience in the same intended mold, try "Dragon Age: Redemption" for free on YouTube.

Not rated by the MPAA, but I'd roughly place it at PG-13 for violence and language.

Quality: 6.0/10

Relevance: 5.5/10

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