Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Centurion draws blood!

Neil Dog Soldiers Marshall has now delved into the sword and sandals genre in Centurion, the latest bloodthirsty movie from the man who also created The Descent and Doomsday.

"Remind me never to mix my drinks again, will you Liam?"

Marshall's fans will not be disappointed by the spectacle on display here from the traditionally gory British director. He has fused his own imaginative fantasy to the actual legend of the Roman Ninth Legion which vanished in Northern Britain around 117AD. He follows the tale of a Roman Centurion Quintus Dias portrayed by Michael Inglorious Basterds Fassbender, the only survivor of a Pict raid on his remote outpost who later joins the Ninth Legion to quell the Pict's resistance to Roman domination.

Right: Domnic West understudy of Brian Blessed*

In Marshall's vision, the Legion is ambushed in a deliciously bloody slaughter that teeters on the edge of comedy as we are not treated to a scaled battle but a montage of precisely cut death blows, dismemberment, skewerings and beheadings. Quintas and a handful of soldiers are all that remains when the dust has settled and upon discovering that the barbaric Pict's have captured the Ninth's popular General Virilus, portrayed by the excellent Dominic 300 West, Quintus leads the group on a daring rescue.

Fassbender is an interesting choice as the lead; a German raised in Killarney, Co. Kerry he is noted as Sgt. Pat Christenson in Band Of Brothers and a plethora of TV work until he played Stelios in 300 and Hunger in which he played Bobby Sands. An appearance in Tarintino's Inglorious Basterds last year sealed his direction on the tracks to fame and he's certainly a man to watch. His role here is not of a mindless soldier intent on a singular mission but an intelligent tactician capable of impressive physical battle-prowess when required. Marshall did shoehorn some semblance of a romance for him with Imogen 28 Weeks Later Poots, but ultimately his tale was left wanting, not a quality desired in a main character. Had Marshall chosen to flesh out his backstory more, he would have easily become one of the genre's more memorable characters as opposed to a by-the-numbers reluctant hero.

Left: What's the matter luv? Cat got your tongue?

' nemesis in the movie is the mute Pict tracker Etain played by Olga Kurylenko [yes the sweet piece of ass from Quantum Of Solace, Max Payne and Hitman] who is convincingly menacing in her animal hides and blue facepaint. She is said to be part wolf and can easily smell the Romans as they do their best to avoid her pursuit. Much like Fassbender's character, she too could have done with some more fleshing out. Her story, while simple would have looked great in a flashback and further allowed the audience to see things from her perspective but I guess the budget may have been too tight for that.

I'd go so far as saying that due to none of the characters been truly fleshed out to the degree Marshall did to his spelunking group in The Decent. They seem somewhat flat and don't draw us in to the degree whereby we can empathise with them or feel an emotional connection. There was also a fair potential lost to create the fun and humour that made Dog Soldiers what it was by not writing enough banter between the Romans cementing a sense of camaraderie and what little of it there was came too late to be effective. They all seemed like stock characters and the audience did not have ample opportunity to bond with most of them. That said, if I believed Marshall eschewed character development so he could have more action, then I say screw character development and bring on the blood.

Marshall made some very interesting choices in this movie:

1. His opening title sequence was captivatingly bizarre as the camera floated over the terrain of Scotland through 3D lettering with stonework textures. It called out to be filmed in 3D and would have been impressive in that format. Here it was just weird, yet attention grabbing. I prefer a good opening titles at the beginning of a movie rather than at the end as in many cases today.

2. As no one knows what the Pict language sounded like, Marshall chose a form of Gaelic instead of a form of Welsh which, while would still have been incorrect, it would have made more sense than Gaelic. But that's my opinion, I'm far from a linguistic historian.

3. For the majority - it may have well been all of it but obviously my eyes adjusted to it - of the film, Marshall applied an icy blue wash, not as blue as Avatar or Minoroty Report but brighter in such a way that seemed to suggest it was colder then it was, so if you find that distracting from a "natural hue" than I suggest you avoid this.

The annual Fire Prevention training did NOT go as planned...

The true tragedy here is that this movie could never be anything more than a cult classic. Why? Well as you can see from the graphic in the "latest movies I've seen" section on the right hand sidebar, I had to jam a landscape oriented Centurion poster into the traditional portrait frame because there is no portrait shaped movie poster. In fact, Pathé or Warner Bros. or whomever did the distribution, did sweet fuck all marketing for this - there's not even a website!!! I mean seriously; there are talentless cretins in places like Dundalk making 5 minute shorts with some class of website online to promote it but a global entertainment company can't even give a few MBs of webspace to some underpaid intern to throw up a portal for a trailer, show times, a cast list and some pictures of Fassbender and Kurylenko? Bottom line: if you treat a movie like shit, you'll get shit returns but if you glorify your movie with multiple trailers, posters, viral websites and maybe a bit of mobile phone content for the unwashed masses, your movie will do far better. I'm not saying the marketing budget of Avatar should have been summoned, but enough for more than a trailer and one fucking poster!!!

Final Verdict:
A new genre for Marshall doesn't disappoint if you're a fan of his creative delivery of gore. It surpasses his previous levels of action and delivers an impressive array of on-screen deaths which equal the ambition of his previous work but sadly left his characters wanting with a so-so script.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****

*That's not true, it's just funny.

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