Sunday, March 5, 2017

Mythica: A Quest for Heroes (2014) & Mythica: The Darkspore (2015)

Somewhere in your typical post-D&D secondary world fantasy land. Slave girl Marek (Melanie Stone) has a bad leg, a penchant for magic and a good heart as well as big dreams of freedom and adventure. Soon, she finds herself heading for the nearest adventurers’ tavern, and involves herself in a mission to rescue the priestess sister of priestess Teela (Nicola Posener) and a magic stone from a group of orcs (and the ogre Teela rather not wants to mention). Despite bad pay and a total lack of experience by anyone involved Marek manages to rope in warrior Thane (Adam Johnson) and thief Dagen (Jake Stormoen) and suddenly, she’s the head of your classical travelling adventurer party. However, Marek can’t expect the typical boring life of an adventurer, for something darker than normal magic dwells inside her, which just happens to neatly fit into the reason for the kidnapping of Teela’s sister and what follows.

Microbudget fantasy epics – the Mythica series has just gone into a fifth and apparently final part – are a dangerous proposition, and if you’re a cynic, it’s easy to fall into the “filmed LARP session” route when talking about them. I certainly have done that once or twice. It’s not a fair approach to these films, though, especially not to these two films directed by Anne K. Black, for while they certainly are straining against their miniscule budgets (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people involved indeed had LARP and table top RPG experience, but so have I), they are just as clearly created with a degree of enthusiasm and love that in this case does project very well onto the viewer.

Sure, some viewers just might find at least some of the enthusiasm misguided, seeing as it translates into a film whose idea of fantasy is based on concepts from Dungeons & Dragons, and 80s Big Fat Fantasy novels and therefore full of clichés the regular fantasy reader has encountered a million times before. I find myself happy to encounter these clichés, for there aren’t really all that many films that contain them, and even fewer presenting them with as much conviction as Black’s do, eschewing irony and distance for earnestness paired with the sense of fun of films playing in their makers’ favourite sandbox. From time to time, that earnestness leads to some rather too stiff dialogue (especially Teela’s priestesshood doth verily sound pompous) but it never gets so much to ruin the films even a little, if a viewer is willing to just roll with them.

The second film isn’t quite successful at incorporating a bit more humour but we’re not talking Odious Comic Relief characters or anything else too horrific here.

In fact, the scripts are among the films’ advantages, seeing as they merrily skip around filler, use exposition only as much as strictly necessary (to be delivered by five minute per film guest star Kevin Sorbo), and actually do know how to find the middle ground between episodic questing and an actual plot. Why, the films even manage to have satisfying plots of their own while still driving the main narrative of the series forward.

Black’s direction is fine low budget work, filming around the budgetary problems without seeming to cut any corners unnecessarily, using some fine outside locations to best advantage and keeping things flowing quite wonderfully. Most of the action scenes – be they between people and people in orc costumes or people and CGI – are handled very well too. The special effects are generally fine too, with a few weaker moments, of course, but they generally work, unless you’re one of those people who believe a low budget film’s effects need to look as impressive as those of films whose effects budgets alone are tens of times as high as the total budget of the smaller film, and can’t just enjoy good work for what it is. The same goes for the production design, really.

The acting is generally much better than expected, with little of the stilted acting that mars quite a few genre films made on very little money. Like with everything else in these two films, everyone involved just seems to go out of his or her way to do their best, which pays off really well. Lead Melanie Stone, for her part, I can’t help but describe as awesome, effortlessly selling Marek as likeable and capable heroine with oversized problems, and looking good in a cloak.

Both films are just great fun as straightforward fantasy adventures, and there are not too many films around you can say that about.

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