Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #95: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010)

 Hi there. I'm a drooling man. I was featured prominently on the DVD cover. I'm in the movie for 5 minutes.
Beyond confusing
Sword and Sorcery green screen

Albert Pyun made a film in 1982 that was named after the genre it was exploiting. It was The Sword and the Sorcerer. It had swords, it had sorcery. It was a sword and sorcery film.

It was released the same year as Conan the Barbarian, the film that kickstarted an 80s SnS craze that would reach into the B-movie production pits of Argentina and Italy and beyond. It was one of the very first of the Conan copy-cats, if not the first. It was certainly one of the highest budgeted. Many have been made, but few have been chosen by fans as a worthwhile blip on the heart rate monitor of the genre. The Sword and the Sorcerer has been chosen, because one cannot say no to a three-bladed missile sword. It fires its blades.

20 years later we get Tales of an Ancient Empire, promised originally to be a sequel to Sword and Sorcerer, it quickly changed. The only link it has to the first film is a brief cameo by the Sorcerer's star, Lee Horsley, who is falsely credited on as Talon. He didn't cameo as Talon, his old character. He was some other adventurer. That doesn't bother me all that much.

I'm bothered by the fact that it is, without a doubt, one of the most unwatchable films I have ever seen. That's no small statement for me. It'd be a good bet that it's in the five worst films I've ever seen list, among the likes of Night Train to Mundo Fine and Zombie Nation, utterly baffling films that aren't even enjoyable for being terrible.

Tales of an Ancient Empire is expertly convoluted. Each scene seems so unrelated to the previous one, so poorly paced, so disjointed, that I could swear I was watching a bad TV series boiled down into an 85 minute movie. An entire season of awful acting, terrible green-screenery, and embarassing dialogue. So, the green-screening. Most of the film is shot, judging by the special features, in a garage studio in front of a green screen. Most of the film consists of shots of characters standing in one place with some silly backdrop filled in. Like in the opening prologue - a prologue that lasts a good 10-15 minutes. It's effectively a feature film unto itself, and is the only section of the entire movie that's coherent because an annoying narrator tells you what's happening. Well, what should be happening. What you actually see is some guys in painfully obvious wigs playing at being samurai and swinging swords over a scroll-like backdrop, attacking nothing. FOR TEN FUCKING MINUTES. That's the equivalent to a text prologue by Robert Jordan (heron-mark swords rest his soul).

This prologue drudgery will in fact be better than the rest of the movie.

Most of the action is implied, and not in a way that lets you use your imagination. In a way that looks stupid. Like a picture of Kevin Sorbo sliding against a picture of a vampire. Or having a sword strike out slowly at the camera, as though the actor was afraid to hit filming equipment. Oh right, I keep forgetting Kevin Sorbo is in this. Likely because he isn't the main character. There doesn't seem to be one really. I guess the Melissa Ordway character is supposed to be, but her story is obscure despite being cliché, and whatever revenge resolution she was aiming for gets lost when the movie derails into epilogue. The narrator (and if you read my Conan review, you know I hate narrators) turns out to be an evil vamp by the end, and we get filled in on what the ending of the movie was to be. Sorbo somehow killed the vampire sorcerer but she came back to life in a desert and the vamps have taken over everything.

Vampires kind of usurp the movie. So much of the movie really is, without exaggeration, the entrance of some vampire character we've never seen before picking someone else we've never seen before and draining their blood. Sometimes turning them into a vampire. Rinse, repeat. Green-screen it, onto the next shot. It's like there's a vampire movie fighting for control of the sword and sorcery movie fighting for control with a California garage studio. Can't wait for the fucking sequel.

So: It takes a lot for a movie to defeat me. I am vanquished.


  1. Haven't been to this site in a while; glad to see you're still posting from time to time. Love how you fit in the Robert Jordan bit!

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