Sony // 2003 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 28th, 2005
Rule your destiny!
Originally titled Beauty and the Beast, this film was obviously renamed and repackaged to look more like a certain fantasy epic made in New Zealand that made trillions of dollars. Seriously, take a quick glance at that cover art and tell me the first thing you think of.
Jane March (Color of Night) plays Freya, the daughter of a mighty and respected Viking king, Thorsson (Greg Melvill-Smith). Thorsson is close to kicking the bucket and is pressuring his only child to marry soon, so that the clan might have its heir.
In the running is clan-stud Sven (William Gregory Lee) a conceited, blonde macho-man, eager to take over leadership duties and gain some personal sack time with the hot princess. Freya is, of course, hesitant to commit herself to Sven, though she knows her destiny will likely make her his wife.
But before these politics play out, Thorsson decides to take one last adventurous journey to a cursed island, where it said a vicious, otherworldly beast exists. So Thorsson, Sven, Eric (Justin Whalin, Dungeons and Dragons) and a few other Nordic no-names climb aboard their Viking dingy and head for the island. There, they encounter the beast (David Duaks), who quickly beats the grog out of them. The survivors flee, leaving behind Thorsson in the clutches of the creature.
Meanwhile, back at the clan, Sven endures a public chewing-out by Freya, who chastises him for taking off like a punk and leaving her father behind. Upset by the cowardice of the men, Freya heads for the island herself to retrieve her father. But her pow-wow with the beast is much different than the guys', and she learns the secret behind his identity -- a secret that will have deep ramifications for the clan and for Sven's mission to become king.
Ignore the LOTR-wannabe disc jacket. Blood of Beasts is a straight-up telling of the "Beauty and the Beast" story, set in Viking times, and tinged with a splash of fantasy. There are no huge, sprawling battles or magical elf-queens or even dwarf. In fact, Jane March, seen holding her bow Legolas-style, never even gets to fire off an arrow.
Blood of Beasts is a character-driven film, which is pretty laid-back in its style and energy, and seeks to engage the viewer in the relationships between the players. I also found it pretty dopey.
I mean, it accomplishes the job it sets out to -- telling the time-honored Beauty/Beast story and stick a bunch of Vikings in it -- but the combination of some dubious acting, uneven set design, and an overall cheap feel detracted from the film.
March and Whalin are okay in their roles -- partly because their hair looks real; more on that later -- but everyone else fails to impress. Melvill-Smith chews the scenery as the bombastic king and Lee's Sven is little more than a spoiled jock who you're just aching to see get his come-uppance on the business end of a broadsword.
Secondly, while it's obvious a good deal of effort went into creating this Viking world, some of the production values are too cheesy to work. The wig department should be canned immediately, as only a fraction of the characters' hairdos look just north of mediocre. Some of these Nordic clowns -- Sven in particular -- have coiffures that are transparently fake. One poor schmuck has this poofy-looking blonde wig that looks like a leftover from a Bananarama tour.
And thanks to the production style, the world of Blood of Beasts seems small and limited. The soldiers pile into their boat (which, by the way, doesn't look like it could support the toddler class at the clan's Viking Grow n' Play Child Care Center) and paddle what appears to be a few hundred feet in a marsh and end up on this cursed island. We take this trip with the Vikings several times It all lends a cramped feel to the film, which, combined with the dialogue-heavy character-focused nature of the proceedings, is why I couldn't help but think I was watching a play.
Finally, this is a low budget production. The limited CGI that's used looks extremely fake and the beast construction is pretty much a guy in a bear outfit. In fact, it took me almost twenty minutes to realize this was supposed to be an actual animal and not some dude on his way to a Halloween party.
All that said, Blood of Beasts still tells its story coherently and is true to its source material. It won't win any Academy Awards for visual effects or make-up, but it's a functional, sporadically engaging, small-scale film. Just don't be fooled into thinking its something other than that.
The disc is bare-bones: full screen transfer and an underwhelming 5.1 mix with no extras.
It's got no hobbits, but Blood of Beasts, despite what the studio wants you to believe, isn't interested in creating a fantasy adventure. Points to it for getting done what it wants to get done, but a flagon-full of basement production values and some wooden acting pillage the film for this judge.
The accused is sentenced to six months hard labor in a synthetic hair manufacturing plant.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13