by Jaime Grijalba.
(USA/Japan, 90 min)
There are a certain group of films that have the pleasure, or maybe the displeasure to most, to be called ‘adapted from videogames’, and they are different in their types and what you really want to call an adaptation of a videogame, because you have all the Pokémon films, which are continuations on the Tv series that is based on the series of videogames that keep on expanding year after year, but nope, I don’t think that they can really be called videogame movies. Then you have a bunch of Hollywood produced videogame based films, that are most of the part, dreadful, but for which I have a soft spot, and I can watch any dreadful piece of crap that comes out with the name of a videogame I’ve played and I can still take something out of it like ‘it wasn’t at all like the game’, which is turning to be a stock answer and a really boring one, because everyone else thinks the same. Well, in this area is where you have stuff like ‘Super Mario Bros’ (1993) which is awful and is as far from the videogame it can be, ‘Street Fighter’ (1994) a ridiculous piece of junk with Jean-Claude Van Damme doing zero interesting stunts, ‘Mortal Kombat’ (1995) which many like but I don’t, ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ and its sequel that I can enjoy most of the time thanks to Angelina Jolie’s body and not because of the sloppy direction that it takes every five minutes trying to be exciting and nothing like the game, and then you have the ‘Resident Evil’ series of films produced/directed by the bad Paul Anderson (W.S.) those are mixed in my opinion, because sometimes I can really get into them and sometimes I can’t, and most of the time my opinion is completely opposite from the rest of the world (I think that the first is really really bad and not scary at all, I think the second one is the best of the bunch, with great entertainment, great classic characters from the games, great visuals and kick-ass action scenes; the third one is ok, and it tries to do something different, while the fourth was mediocre, with some good scenes and some other that are really bad, supposedly there’s a fifth one coming out which I won’t see in theaters, as I’ve been doing with the last two of them, I only saw the second one on theaters and I guess that enhanced the experience?).
And then comes a group of films that I really enjoy and that have that supposedly ‘shit-stamp’ on their foreheads for being called ‘based on a videogame’. For example, there’s the first and last film from Square Productions (even though that isn’t completely correct), a technical marvel from the future that is ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ (2001), a really good and affectionate film, with all the elements that make up of a great numeral Final Fantasy series game (number VIII is the best, fuck you). Or then comes what I call the masterpiece of this sub-genre, ‘Silent Hill’ (2006), based on the first game of this survival-pyschological-horror series that comes from the realms of the americana and japanese inclinations of horror, the movie itself is just a visual style over plot all around, and the visual style is gorgeously horrific, filled with all that we fans of Silent Hill love about the games, the twisted scenery, the monsters that remind you of something you lived in your nightmares, the nightmarish world, the cult, the religious outcries, the mad characters, the grudge and the guilt present in the main character, hell, the movie deserves a specific look on a post in itself, a pick apart kinda thing where I take every shot, every image, every design and shove it in the front of your face and tell you: ‘SEEE? THIS IS GREATNESS!”, or something like that. And then come the anime adaptations of videogames, films like ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’ (2007), that is quite an interesting story and continuation from the original videogame, with great visuals and animation, of course, in anime style, like the one we are going to discuss today (what a long introduction to come to this, ain’t it?), an anime CG film with anime characteristics and that is based on a videogame, or at least, it takes place on the same universe as the one it is referencing, and of course that will be fully enjoyed by the fans of the ‘Dragon Age’ saga of videogames, which I am not.
I hadn’t even heard of the ‘Dragon Age’ videogames until I came across this one, and I mean that I haven’t played them, haven’t seen screencaps, haven’t seen a playthrough or anything like that, a true wonder was to find out that is an RPG, a role-playing game, and I love RPGs, so I looked forward to seeing this anime tie-in to the new release from this game. This was released on theaters in Japan and is being released direct to video in USA, thanks to the guys at Funimation, maybe one of the great people behind the delivery of subtitled and dubbed anime in America, hence the USA credit when we talk about this film. But well, here comes the realization that it was a videogame set in certain unknown universe with magic, medieval characters and dragons… not that I wasn’t expecting dragons, hence the title, but this is like the perfect cliché of the RPG’s and I’ve become bored of those kind of games… I’ve heard that the videogame ‘Skyrim’ would punch me in the face and FUS-RO-DAH!-me because of it, but I haven’t played it because I have no computer, no PS3 or anything else that would let me play it in any way, shape or form… I’ve played ‘Diablo II’ a long time ago, one of the few MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG) that I’ve actually played and never felt any kind of boredom when I kept fighting hordes of monsters just to level up my character (which, if I remember well, was a barbarian called Orto, quite childish). But no, this is not my kind of thing, I guess I can play it, but I don’t know if I’d keep playing it all through the end. But who am I to argue about it? This could be completely different!
Well, I was wrong. It’s just the same things, at least in the anime it is, and it’s worse when you think that you have the same clichés from practicly every other action-adventure anime or film of all time put inside just to make you groan, and in a setting that is completely familiar to anyone that has ever played a RPG, may it be tabletop or in a console/PC. The main character is a woman warrior which is the most powerful of the empire, and she manages to vanquish and stop the blood mages from sacrificing a young girl, oh but surprise, it seems that she isn’t really safe in the castle, since her master actually kidnaps her back and lures her away from those who saved her… is her master bad? Of course not, in his death scene (you all saw that coming, there’s no way you have your fantasy-sword-dragon adventure and not have the master being killed in a horrific way) we know that there’s a plot and that she must save the virgin vestal of sorts from the blood mages… too bad that they already have kidnapped her again. Well, along comes the sidekick, who, of course, isn’t trusted because it’s a mage himself, and of course they end up being akward alone, and of course saves her enough to make her trust him… kinda, because you have to keep your character tsundere for the audience to love her (don’t ask me what is tsundere, google that shit up). So, sadly, the tropes are there, present and lingering in what could’ve been a kick-ass action animated film that actually is pretty well animated and the CG is perfect, and the face animation doens’t look akward, it’s really really good, but the plot is really MEH, all around the place.
There are some good scenes though, there’s the metaphor in the movie regarding random battles, a staple of the RPG, and it’s quite humorous and frightening at the same time, due to the horrible troll-kinda monsters that appear and attack our main characters (the chance for our magical sidekick to save her and win her heart). There’s also some good twists towards the end when we find out the true people behind all of this (spoilers: it’s the nuns), and a final dragon battle that is quite amazing in its shots and how the animation flows overall and how you can feel the skin of those lizards in your hands when you are watching it, quite an amazing feat there. But overall, it meanders around with some sappy and annoying scenes that come from the worst tropes of the wizardry-and-swordery fiction, and anime fiction overall. It is quite interesting still, to see how the animation has changed, and as a cash-in project, it is directed by Fumihiko Sori, who has some kind of career in the world of anime, and that will have his own stop next week thanks to monsieur Bob Clark and his review of his other features. Don’t know if I fully recommend this, you can guess I say no, but I’m saying Avoid if you can, because if you’re a fan of the videogame, I’m guessing you’ll enjoy seeing the word expanded, or a glimpse of what is to come in the next videogame. I just got out and I really just want to play some Final Fantasy VIII.