Merlin is certainly one mythical character that has survived various incarnations on film. From Nicol Williamson in Excalibur, Sam Neill in the Channel 4 mini series and the recent revival on BBC1, our friendly wizard has certainly always looked different, in particular the cuddly Disney version.
Now, for what I believe is their first trip to the UK to make a film, The Asylum have ventured over to Wales and made the latest in the long line of ‘Merlin’ adventures. Put together in record time (they were only here in the summer) can the masters of low budget genre flicks make what is essentially their first British film? The answer is yes, sort of…..
Merlin is born into nobility following the union of a lady and a rather unpleasant demon (thankfully seen off screen). As the local people are somewhat superstitious, the child is thought to be bad luck and they want to kill him. Local Wizard, Mage (Jurgen Prochnow), takes the child and schools him in the art of the magic. We flash forward a few years until Merlin and his fellow pupil, Vendiger, are in their late teens.
Vendiger wants the power and the glory and Merlin is a rather level headed kind of chap. To cut a long story short, he turns evil and decides to start a dragon army with the help of some ‘turned’ peasants. We are then treated to some really neat CGI and a couple of battle scenes. Merlin has to save the day with some help of other Arthurian legends, such as the lady of the lake.
I won’t go too much into the plot; suffice to say that it is an old fashioned good vs. evil romp with some nice special effects and (not being biased as the film was only filmed an hour or so from where I live) some really nice countryside and good use of Welsh historical locations. There is one truly horrible bit of CGI which would look out of place in a Megadrive game, but overall, considering the fast production, the film looks pretty darn good.
Acting-wise veteran scenery chewer, Jurgen Prochnow, turns in a nice performance as Mage. The rest of the cast are rounded out by local Welsh actors who will probably never act in a film like this again but treat it all pretty seriously. The Asylum must be credited with the guts to come over to the UK and film one of their ‘epics’, considering how quickly they churn them out in the States. Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of their work and I have not yet failed to be entertained in some way by any of their output.
To compare the scale of the film to say, Excalibur, would be unfair and I can’t compare it to the new BBC1 series as I haven’t ever seen an episode (X Factor takes priority in my house!) It is, however, a great kids film and not at all taxing on the old grey matter. Older viewers will pull it apart as do a lot of people, sadly, after seeing an Asylum flick. I, however, thought it was fun; not one of their best, but a good 90 minute no-brainer.
Extras-wise there are trailers of new and forthcoming releases, commentary from the film makers and, although I haven’t listened to it yet, a commentary. Asylum commentaries are fun, informative and honest. Also there is a nice little ‘making of’ feature, short but pretty good all the same.
Coming soon from The Asylum is a sci fi film directed by C. Thomas Howell called The Day the Earth Stopped. A somewhat familiar title. wouldn’t you agree? Out now is Sunday School Musical which is their Faith Film Division’s take on a certain popular franchise we either love or hate.