Based on the novel by Mariya Semyonova and directed by Nikolav Lebedev, “Wolfhound” is a Russian-produced swordplay fantasy that follows the usual formulas set by the 80’s movies of sword and sorcery such as “Conan the Barbarian”, “The Beastmaster”, “Deathstalker” and “the Sword and the Sorcerer”. The film may be the most production-extravagant outing by Russia, boasting of elaborate special effects, great set designs and costumes.
In the period of magic, druids and curses, a young boy was left to die in the darkness of the mines. He is the last survivor of a clan called the Grey Hounds; the young boy rose up in slave mines to become a mighty warrior called Wolfhound (Aleksandr Bukharov). Consumed by a lust for vengeance, he sets out on a quest with his companion, a bat who can’t fly. He seeks out the ones responsible for his pain, a warrior called the man-eater and a warrior-druid called Zhodoba. Things become a bit complicated for Wolfhound as there are other things that may prove to be much more important. Apparently, the followers of Zhodoba is bent on unleashing an ancient evil called Morana, buried by the ancestors of Princess Elin (Oksana Akinshina) through the power of the God of Thunder. Wolfhound must protect the princess and defend the people of Galirad. The fulfillment of his destiny is at hand…
The film’s plot is pretty textbook as with other films of sword and sorcery; a brooding warrior, a princess that needs protection, a mage (played by Andrei Rudensky), a slave boy (Artyom Semakin), a barmaid (played by Eugenia Sviridova), a kindly vision (Natalya Varley) and ancient evil to be awakened by an evil sorcerer. Destiny, love, and honor play a large part in the film’s screenplay. There may be nothing wrong in following other successful formulas established (since blockbusters often come from such) but the problems with the film is that the film is a little too brooding and moody. The screenplay introduces all these characters and the narrative appears to be broken into other mini-stories, while the characters may play a part in the film’s plot, it feels too episodic and it kind of feels as if the film could’ve been edited a little better. It spends a lot of time trying to establish Wolfhound’s character that he is a good guy, (his background is even told in a song) through the introduction of some characters he rescues. It dilly-dallies too much in unneeded plot devices, that the viewer may become a bit confused.
The action in the film is decent on occasion, but I have to be honest, I have seen a lot better. The swordplay is your usual ‘hack and slash’ with our hero cutting down the bad guys. There is a lot of action, but it is nothing too impressive to the action junkie. It does also get a little repetitive after awhile, Wolfhound swings and the bad guy goes down. The final fight between the hero and Zhodoba is also a little too underwhelming. I do believe that the camera work could have been done a lot better. There seemed to be too much going on the screen that the viewer may become a little lost. The camera work in the action scenes would have done well if it hanged back in a perspective view, so that we can see the action. The fights aren’t really as bloody as I would’ve wished, just an occasional severed arm and bloody stabs. For a sword and sorcery flick to succeed, it has to be more intense, the fight scenes are just a little weak.
The film’s strength does lie in the top notch cinematography and art direction. I have to say Marat Kim’s photography is movie magic. The film does look nifty, the set designs and costumes are pretty good. The scenes do have the aura of fantasy about them, but not too fantastic that it lacks realism. The camera work consists of birds-eye views, sweeping pan and scans, and awesome scenery. I have no knowledge of Russian history so I can’t really say if the costumes are traditional or not. They do look authentic, and even the costumed swords look very real and shiny. I liked this approach because it balances out its fantasy elements with a charm that one can relate to, and keeps the otherworldly fantasy from becoming too elaborate and over-the-top.
The performances are decent for the most part; I thought the main lead played a very good Wolfhound. He does have a brooding personality and fits his role. Oksana Akinshina is definitely charming as the princess Elin, she is beautiful and you could just believe that she is a strong willed princess. The supporting cast is ok, but the “cute” earthbound bat just steals the show. I guess one can blame the convoluted storytelling that the supporting characters aren’t as well written as the two leads.
While “Wolfhound” failed miserably in the action scenes, the CGI effects were decent and comparable to the swordplay adventures we’ve seen through the years. The final act is just a grand display of visual effects; it may look pretty but hardly enough to save the film. I guess I still have this idea that sword and sorcery flicks should have great action scenes and it is just a sin for one to have such weak action. “Wolfhound” will never be a significant entry in the swordplay genre because it dropped the ball with the shoddy action. To its credit, the film is nicely shot and the plot is acceptable but a hero just can’t be a convincing hero without him being heroic. He just looks like a big “meanie” with a huge sword…
Rent It! [2 ½ Stars]
Video/Audio: 2.35 ratio anamorphic widescreen. The picture is good with some muted colors to convey mood. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Russian Language track is powerful and very clear that you can hear the clanging of swords. There is an English dubbed track. No extra features, the dvd is bare bones.
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