On paper, In the Name of the King looks like a surefire winner. It’s an epic sword-and-sorcery movie in the style of Lord of the Rings, starring Jason Statham, Burt Reynolds, Ron Perlman, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Lillard, and Ray Liotta, which means virtually everyone with a speaking role has a recognisable face. The budget’s high enough to ensure that the set, costumes, effects and all the rest of it looks pretty swish, and the action choreographer is Siu-Tung Ching, who was also the action choreographer for Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The only commerical blemish is the director’s name.
That this is an Uwe Boll movie is probably the main reason it’s been languishing on a shelf somewhere for so long; it predates Boll’s Postal and Seed but, for one reason or another, never quite managed to get a proper release. Metrodome’s put together a fairly nice-looking release, with a smart box (emphasising Jason Statham’s name and utterly failing to mention Boll’s, at all) and plenty of extras. So far, so good.
Jason Statham plays Farmer, who is, um, a farmer, but he’s also a mysterious orphan who was raised by friendly townsfolk and makes an honest living off the land. (Which is, apparently, located in London, somewhere, since Statham’s usual accent hasn’t been tempered one iota.) He’s happy enough, living in a little wooden hut with his wife and young son, but destiny’s about to come knocking…
In the Name of the King’s plot is actually way more complicated than it needs to be, so I’ll simplify it a bit. The current king, Konreid (played by Burt Reynolds), is knocking on a bit, and since he doesn’t have any children, his nephew Duke Fallow (Matthew Lillard) joins forces with evil wizard Gallian (Ray Liotta) to get rid of him and take over the kingdom. When the ever popular poisoning route fails to work out for them, they opt for all out war, summoning an army of Krug (Orcs) to defeat the king’s army and seize power that way. What Fallow doesn’t know, though, is that Gallian is actually set on taking the crown for himself, and, to that end, has seduced Muriella (Leelee Sobieski), the daughter of the king’s current magus, Merik (John Rhys-Davies).
(As an aside, I usually wouldn’t include the names of all the cast members like this, but I want to really drive home the fact that Every. Single. Person. in this movie is a famous actor.)
Muriella, incidentally, is also an accomplished fighter, in the horse-riding-armour-wearing-sword-wielding general being-a-knight sense of the word, plus she’s growing into her magical powers, inherited from her father. Because she’s female, though, she’s expected to stay safely locked up inside the castle, away from all that nasty conflict. You can see where this is going, right?
Anyway, for some reason Gallian decides to attack the tiny village where Farmer lives, murdering Farmer’s son and kidnapping his wife into the bargain, and when the king’s men turn up to survey the damage, Merick realises who Farmer really is, and then, well, it’s on.
Or, to cut a long story short, it’s the plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy mashed into one film. Farmer is Aragorn crossed with Frodo; Muriella is a mashup of Eowyn and Arwen; Gallian is a mixture of Sauron and Saruman, commanding his own special kind of Ringwraith; the Krug are orcs; and Lord of the Rings alumni John Rhys-Davies here gets to play Gandalf instead of Gimli. Ron Perlman’s character, Norick, fulfils the Gimli role while, judging by his hair, Will Sanderson is supposed to be Legolas. Happily, at least, there are no hobbits involved, and when our intrepid heroes venture into the sinister forest where nasty things are said to lurk, instead of walking trees they’re faced with Kristanna Loken swinging from a sentient vine. It’s ludicrously derivative… but that’s not even the half of it. I mentioned Siu-Tung Ching earlier, and his work sticks out like a sore thumb here – there’s a battle scene where, I kid you not, a ninja army shows up to fight. The prerequisite shots of those very tall, very straight trees are all present and correct, and there’s a very recognisable bit with a flurry of arrows swooshing through the air.
That battle scene exemplifies the way this movie straddles the genius/madness line – it’s just unfortunate that more of it falls on the side of lunacy than brilliance. The editing is incredibly awkward, cutting actors off practically mid-sentence sometimes to cut to another scene at another point in time featuring the same character in another geographic location. Matthew Lillard’s character is surplus to requirements, and even he seems to know it, hamming it up as only Lillard can. The discrepancy in accents is really, really distracting – trying to suspend your disbelief far enough to accept that Liotta, Rhys-Davies and Statham could possibly exist in one tiny community in some magical version of the Middle Ages is a true exercise in futility.
And while I think of it, Ray Liotta is really not believable as an evil wizard. In a very wrong, roundabout way he’s kind of awesome in the role, strutting about in leather and casting CGI magic spells, but he’s really not the man for the part. Similarly, Jason Statham can play a hard-boiled cop or a Cockney gangster or any other action role that requires him to look rugged and shoot guns, but as a rural farmer he’s just all wrong. And yet, somehow, it’s precisely this wrongness that makes it impossible to stop watching In the Name of the King. It’s a car crash of epic proportions, but it kept me glued to the screen right up until the very abrupt credits rolled. And I may have laughed with delight more than once.
I can’t justify this, at all, but watching Jason Statham, Ron Perlman and Will Sanderson having wacky adventures in the forest makes me happy in a way that transcends logic. Spotting new Boll regular Michael Eklund making a brief appearance fills me with joy. The scene where Gallian uses books to pin Farmer to the ground before sending him spinning into the air in a whirlwind of hardbacks has to be seen to be believed, and the bit in the woods where the Krug light themselves on fire and then load themselves into catapults to be flung at their enemies is priceless. It’s lunacy, sure, but it’s the kind of lunacy that only Uwe Boll could deliver, and for that I can’t help but admire him.
In the Name of the King is Boll’s first really high budget movie, and it shows – this looks a lot better than previous efforts like Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead. It’s just that, again, the editing is a mess, which is disappointing because it ruins the otherwise impressive visuals. It’s way too choppy. Some scenes also look a little too washed out, and some backgrounds are too obviously fake, but on the whole it’s a good-looking film, and the scarily famous cast also gives the film an air of legitimacy. It also needed a better script – preferably written by someone who wasn’t such a plagiarist – and maybe a bit more blood and guts. BloodRayne is much gorier than In the Name of the King, though they’re similar films in many ways, and the relative bloodlessness feels weird. Something’s being held back here, which is a shame, because when Boll goes all out you get something like Postal, which is genuinely great. But at the same time, I can already tell I’m going to watch and rewatch this movie many, many more times.
Extras: There’s a Boll commentary, which is slightly disappointing because I like Boll’s commentaries more when there are other people involved for him to bounce off of. This commentary is entertaining enough, as a cake-munching Boll reminisces about the shoot, the locations, and the possibility of getting attacked by bears – and then gets up and leaves halfway through to make a coffee! – but unless you’re a die-hard Boll fan you’re probably not going to be overly keen.
The making of documentary is great, with most of the cast and crew involved (though disappointingly, not Matthew Lillard), though it’s not terribly insightful. Will Sanderson chats about being so completely out of his league and overwhelmed by all the big stars on set, which is endearing; Burt Reynolds talks about being the first one to sign on, and how annoyed he was at all the other big names involved; and Kristanna Loken seems, er, a bit muddled. Claire Forlani says she loved the romantic aspect but moans about how her only stunts involved falling over, while Ray Liotta proclaims fantasy movies to be “the ultimate in acting”. Brilliant.
Having seen the extras on the BloodRayne 2 DVD, I wasn’t overly enthused for a Behind the Scenes “montage”, and it’s really not particularly worthwhile – as the name suggests, it consists of some behind the scenes footage edited together, with the sound turned down and some music played over the top, so you never quite know what’s going on or what’s being filmed. Um. I don’t know why anyone would actually want to watch this, at all. It’s a bit daft.
Finally, there are a series of deleted scenes included on the DVD, and these are really, really baffling. I’d never usually recommend that a 120-minute movie be made any longer, but cutting some of this stuff out was really unwise. The scene in which Fallow gets his comeuppance has been relegated to the extras, when it should have been in the film. There’s a nice character moment between Farmer and Norick that needed to be in the film, because as it is their relationship isn’t really explored enough; we’re told about it, rather than shown, and I think this scene would have helped with that. There’s a moment where Bastian demands time to rest and grieve, which also isn’t essential but really would have been worthwhile, since the Bastian-Farmer-Norick party doesn’t get enough screentime before the epic battles kick off. And, least forgiveable of all, a crucial scene leading up to the pivotal battle has been cut out. It’s a necessary moment! And it was cut out! Argh!
That just reinforces my belief that the editing on this movie wasn’t up to scratch. It’s ridiculous to cut out necessary moments and hack scenes around to make it shorter; yes, the movie is probably too long, but this really isn’t the way to fix it. Ultimately, while I really enjoyed In the Name of the King, I can’t help being frustrated that it wasn’t better.