Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I had never even heard of this film prior to running across it in my random "costume drama perusal" on Netflix, but I decided on a whim to rent it and it turned out better than I anticipated. It is obviously a B-movie with a decent budget and moderate to decent actors (with a few bad ones thrown in for good measure), but it's also a surprisingly good story with a fabulous climax. All in all, it's worth seeing if you are into the fantasy genre, but nowhere near the caliber of Tolkien or Lewis.
Many years ago, a child was found wandering in the wood and given into the keeping of the small nearby town. No one and everyone raised him. Believing that people become what they are called, he chose the name of Farmer (Jason Statham) for himself. Now a reasonably successful man of the trade, he is happily married to the beautiful Solana (Claire Forlani) and has a strapping little boy who just wants to grow up to be like his father. Sending his wife and son to town to trade and also visit her parents, Farmer continues in his toil at home, not realizing that the kingdom is being threatened by an invading army of Krugs, an animal-race pressing against their borders. They are the minions of the dark mage Gallian (Ray Liotta), who has managed to expand his magical powers in order to drain those of Muriella (Leelee Sobieski), the daughter of the official mage of the court. Having tempted her into a forbidden relationship, he seeks to overthrow her father without her knowledge, and is in league with the king's evil nephew (Matthew Lillard). The Duke has grown impatient in waiting for the throne and desires to have it now.
Standing between him and success is Muriella's father Merick (John Rhys-Davies), but not even he can halt the invasion of the Krugs... and when his son is slain in battle by one of them, Farmer must take up arms to defeat them and rescue his wife from a fate worse than death. The result is a reasonably good story that might have been better executed, but it is better than anticipated considering it is based off of a fantasy video game. I really liked the premise, the introduction of the mages, and especially Elora (Kristanna Loken), the queen of the woodland women, who sweep in on vines and save the day when they are needed. The plot is rather contrived and unoriginal but could be forgiven in the sense that for the most part, the pacing is enjoyable. However, it does tend to lag in the second half, in which we waver between Krugs on the battlefield and the magical duels of the mages in the castle. The latter is far more exciting than the former, and I actually fast-forwarded almost all the Krug battles just to get to the good stuff.
Some of the actors are very good and others are terrible. I liked Liotta's character very much, he was a decent villain and his menace toward the women around him was very strong and threatening, but somehow the actor seems to ham most of his lines. He is putting far too much work into his performance and this lessens its impact considerably. I was pleased to see Sobieski again, after her tremendous appearance as Joan of Arc, and she is very good in the role. I actually cheered when she turned up in a suit of armor. Forlani and Statham have good chemistry together, and the ending is an uplifting but bittersweet one, as not all survive the ultimate battle. The special effects are very good and some of them, such as the sequence in which the mages have a sword duel without using their hands, are especially memorable. The costuming is also quite pretty, but there were a couple of times when I was confused as to who people were.
It is never a film that will compete with some of the epic fantasies of our time, but I did not regret viewing it, even if it was over-long in places. If you are a fan of the genre, you will enjoy it. Best of all, it's appropriate for young teenagers as well. Consider it a training ground for much bigger and better epics to come.
Gallian and Muriella are involved in a sexual relationship prior to her discoveries as to his true intentions. Their first scene together opens with them laying beside one another on a bed. Later, he enters without being asked and finds her half-dressed. When she tells him to get out, he informs her that just as he has taken her virginity, he will have the kingdom. He acts forwardly to Solana on their meeting, for he senses Farmer's scent on her, and accuses her of carrying Farmer's child. Some playful romance is present between man and wife (mainly kissing).
Obviously, there are a great many battle scenes, all of them with a high body count, but no severed limbs that I recall. Men and Krugs are shot with arrows and stabbed in the chest. A sword magically penetrates a man's chest and goes straight through him, embedding in the wall behind him as he crashes to his knees. Another man is brutally stabbed from behind. Gallian assaults Farmer with magical tricks that twist him around in the air, slam him into walls, and hit him with books. A man is shot with an arrow and killed. Another is poisoned.
Magical content is strong throughout. Gallian often makes an appearance in battle through his Krug leaders -- dark horsemen who, once slain, omit trailing puffs of black smoke, usually from severed heads before the armor falls empty to the ground. Muriella performs minor magical tricks such as lighting candles without touching them, until she is bestowed with her full powers.