Monday, October 20, 2008

Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles

If the total lack of forum postings about this movie immediately after it's airing are any indication I may be the only person who tuned in- or at least is willing to admit doing so- to watch this. Are we seeing some sort of fallout from the director's dismal Catwoman (2004)? I doubt it. Then again Sci-Fi didn't exactly give this much promo time either. So did you miss anything? Yes and no. Like most sciffy original movies Fire & Ice had it's good points and it's bad. Veterans of sciffy's original movitrocities will know what the bad was. If this describes you there's no real need to read further, unless you're morbidly curious.

The Story - Clichéd yet amusing claptrap. King has daughter but no sons. The only child, Ms. Princess, grows up with the father doting over her and treating her like the son he never had. Princess is thus very headstrong. She rides horses, wears pants, carries a dagger, and does all those other things only "boys" are supposed to do. Then, one day, suddenly, out of nowhere, a "fire dragon" appears to threaten the kingdom. The King does little more than watch impotently from his ivory tower expressing hollow platitudes and talking endlessly about what might-possibly-could-maybe-perhaps be done with his advisor while the dragon devastates the countryside. The daughter, being willful and obstinate, not to mention a sneaky eavesdropper, heads off, on her own against her father's wishes of course, to find a former knight who is supposed to be the only person alive ever to slay a dragon and bring him back to save the Princessdom, er, the realm. So begins this strange not quite epic tale of almost high fantasy.

The Royal Family.

The Cast - Amy Acker, who plays a proto-feminist tom-boy princess; Tom Wisdom, an actor whose IMDB picture looks like a morph between a young Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves; John Rhys-Davies, the inimitable Gimli himself; Arnold "Imhotep" Vosloo, as the princess' father; and Oana Pellea, an Romanian born actress with a hauntingly wicked pic up at IMDB as the princess' mother. Anyhow that's the main cast.

The Movie - Fire & Ice was a lot better than I expected it to be. The characters were entertaining to watch, if not very remarkable, and I really enjoyed the first hour even if it was a bit dawdling in the plot setup and the CGI creature FX were disappointing. Alas for all it's potential Fire & Ice is sadly still a "Sci-Fi Original" and the one thing sciffy is really good at is producing CG infested misfires that come close, but never quite manage, to rise above clichéd mediocrity. Yet Fire & Ice came close, oh so very close. .

Dragon fighters.

Until we reached the second hour midpoint. That's when the movie's lack of forward momentum and attempts to create action through faux drama via quick cuts back and forth between chit-chat, characters traveling (briefly) across scenic landscapes, and flash peeks of a CGI manta bleching flames swimming across the sky started to slowly wear down my interest until, finally, with roughly 38 minutes left I had an interruption and discovered that I just didn't care anymore and returned only to turn the TV off and let the movie finishing recording in a darkened room. That I made a DVDr to get screen caps demonstrates that I do no feel the movie is a total waste. I guess my expectations, seeing that Vosloo and Davies were in this, were set a little too high.

It was actually kind of sad because John Rhys Davies, once he was finally introduced, had some great one liners and rejoinders. His character was fun and endearing. His presence in this feature almost made up for the CGI "dragons" but I have to admit that seeing one within the first ten or so minutes gave me serious doubts about whether to waste a minute more on this movie. Honestly I only stuck around to see what role Mr. Davies had, sadly it was a supporting role so he didn't have enough screen time to save this.

Tangents - I wouldn't be surprised if sciffy lost half it's audience when that CGI critter appeared. What's the problem? Well with safe search on this is the first image that Google's image search popped up when searching keyword "dragon" . .

Black Dragon

That's a "fantasy wallpaper" called "black dragon" from this site. (Warning. Site may contain non-work safe ads.) You can see the entire first page of hits for yourself. Those are dragons. Pick a page at random and you'll see more of the same. Now if you input the words "manta ray" this is the first image from Google. .

Giant Manta Ray

Which, as you can see from the first page of images, is actually a pic found on multiple sites. And here's what Google returns for "devil ray" (again first pic). .

Devil Ray

That is a "bent fin devil ray" from this site. Here's the entire first page of images. And now here's the "fire dragon" from Fire & Ice. .

Fire dragon or flaming manta?

See the problem?

Close up view.

Assessment - When dealing with fantasy there's a certain range of expectations, not the least of which is that if you are going to call your monsters dragons that they are going to look like, well, DRAGONS! Even Dragon Wars managed to have it's beasties look like dragons, albeit oriental dragons, but the things in this movie?

Fire Dragon Side View

NOT dragons. Bizarro world elementals, maybe, a bargain basement budget studio getting creative with stock CGI templates, perhaps, but that is not the dragon of traditional fantasy myth or literature. It's not the sort of dragon genre artists like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, or anyone else for that matter has ever drawn. This movie thus fails to meet basic genre criteria, cheats it's audience, and falls short of being traditional genre fantasy.

However that would not necessarily be a bad thing IF this "outside the box" approach had been executed well. Sadly what Fire & Ice was attempting, in my opinion, is to present an non-traditional fantasy re-interpretation of what a dragon is. Alas their efforts were a total misfire. The critter is presented too early, almost as if the CGI department is backhanding the audience while sneering their contempt of the genre and those who care for it. I do not believe this was the case, but then I continued to watch the movie and saw the scene where there was a bit of discussion about the dragons- described in very uncharacteristic terms- and feel this was just poorly plotted and/or executed. There should have been build up, a bit of back story or something, prior to the reveal. Some groundwork, such as that atypical explanation of dragon kind, to prepare the audience for the fact this is going to present non-traditional dragons before that ridiculous manta-ray rendering with attached dragon skull head would have been nice.

The anticipation going in was for dragons. Fans of the genre all know what a dragon looks like. Every fantasy artist knows what a dragon looks like. Sadly this movie does NOT deliver proper dragons. That is probably going to rankle quite a few people, and rightly so. And you just can't do that, especially not when you've got the albatross of being a "Sci-Fi Original" movie hanging around your neck. On the up side Fire & Ice was by far better than Odysseus and the Isle of the Mists, which misfired several degrees worse than this production.

How annoying is that? Three paragraphs just "assessing" the silly looking CGI "dragons". It's not even that the CGI is poorly done, it's actually pretty decent, rather it's the rendered depiction looks so wrong it's irritating. Apparently far more so than I realized when I first sat down to type up this review. And that says it all. .

The End!


Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

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