Top critical review
Not terrible, but only good to a fault
on June 24, 2004
If you've read my previous reviews and listmanias, you would already know that I'm quite the fantasy fan. One of my good buddies bought it and thought, perhaps, that I might enjoy it. This foreign film, directed by Christophe Gans ("Crying Freeman"), is among the few films to leave me with so many mixed emotions.
Set in 18th Century France, for over two years the French countryside has been raided by a savage beast (thought to be a wolf) of unknown origin. The king sends for Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a French cavalier, and his companion Mani (Mark Dacascos), an American indian, to investigate the gruesome deaths by the supposedly large beast. In the meantime Fronsac falls in love with Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) while also bedding with Sylvia (Monica Bellucci).
I know that people usually dislike reviews with spoilers, but in the case of this film, I can't ignore a few spoilers. I found Mani to be the interesting character with his benevolent connection with nature and the creatures around him. I know the kung fu seemed out of place and all, but I didn't really mind it at all (although there is an aspect I disliked about it... later in the review). But I disliked his death midway into the film; he had this humongous battle with the men involved with the beast and then suddenly is killed and tossed aside. There was no dramatic impact, and I found myself disappointed with the way this potentially deep character was treated.
The beast was initially, by Fronsac, dismissed as being a wolf (although you find out that it is indeed a wolf). The director hides his appearance several times; I rather expected it to be fully visible near the end of the picture. Instead, it's revealed rather immediately; I'm not saying he should direct one way or the other, but the initially revelations of the creature are originally from the verbal pictures of the characters, followed by several quick cuts and interesting camera glances. The film spends a lot of time bouncing around the mysterious nature of the creature, and then suddenly just decides to reveal it. It seems out of place, given the context of what the director is hoping to accomplish.
Oh and by the way, the creature was made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and unfortunately, the beast was lame.
Back to the fight scenes, the fights were fine: however, Mr. Gans often employs the typical MTV-inspired slow-down/speed-em-up editing techniques. This was an irritating drawback for me, as I wanted to admire the choreography instead of wondering they were so needlessly disrupted.
And I think the film's most fatal flaw is its overlength. Two and a half hours may not seem like much in comparison to Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings," but seriously, I found myself wanting the film to end after an hour has passed. It's set in a staggering pace, which sometimes isn't a bad thing (see Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner"), but it works against this film. The director employs a lot of stylistic touches to make the film seem like a period film (which is great), but on the other hand, it makes some scenes unnecessarily long (like when he's faking the creature's death, for example).
Overall, the film is not a terrible one, but you may only want to see once. The style of the film is very exotic and beautiful, much like Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow," which gives it a fantasy tale look to it... but some of the detractions I've mentioned will turn you off depending on what kind of film fan you are. Three stars overall; perhaps you find me overcritical. Oh well.
PROS: Lavish production, art-fantasy tale style similar to "Sleepy Hollow" and other period-type stories, captivating final fight scene.
CONS: Mani is killed way too soon and with little impact on the viewer, the beast is shown early and is lame, story is stretched to the overkill, MTV-fused fight scenes (with the exception of the final duel).