January 14, 2011 by warzan
Having just watched the movie I felt compelled to write up my feelings, but opted to sleep on them first, as I feel like I’m kind of the only dissenting voice here in the studio. The other crew members either don’t agree, don’t really care or think I may be getting kranky in my old age!
But having thought about it, I can’t hold it in any longer. Grab your hard hats… cos here’s what I think!
When I first got my hands on the box, I really liked the product Codex Pictures had put together (I got the special edition version from John, which he covered here), its a very high quality package and it really did build a sense of buzz.
The inclusion of the comic book was great, but I’m a sucker for graphic novels… even more so if they’re 40K (curse you Boom! Studios)
Now, I’m getting the feeling that I may be a victim of my own experience. However, I’ve worked in digital media for what seems like forever and when you’ve been at it that long, you just can’t help noting all the little errors. Albeit, the ones I spotted, were mostly just niggly technical things… still, for me, they made the movie uncomfortable watching…
I thought I would play the movie on my setup at home, a 42″ LCD with stereo sound, mainly to give me some peace to enjoy it, but also to see it as the vast majority of viewers will see it.
For me, the picture seemed to lack clarity, but this is not surprising, as its only DVD resolution. Certainly a release on Bluray should be razor sharp and I suspect that Codex Pictures may be doing a “George Lucas” impression and aiming for two bites of the fanboy cherry… sneaky…
I remember when the team we sent to the previews, came back from London. They gushed like schoolgirls over the immersive sound quality, they heard during movie.
However, when I played it, the sound seems to have suffered after being mixed down to stereo… which is unfortunate. This became clear to me from the opening scene, where I was forced to rewind the show a couple of times, just to hear what was going on.
Edit - Lloyd has threatened to set me down in front of his stupidly expensive home cinema setup, to see if that changes my mind. If the audio is as good as he says, I’m sure it will.
From the outset of the movie, I found that scenes felt very claustrophobic… and not in a good way!
It’s clear that budget constraints have meant that epic alien vistas were going to be off the agenda, but I found the constant fog to be a little cheap in its execution and it felt really deliberate, rather than a natural part of the movie… again… I’m forced to wonder if that’s just because I know why it’s there!
Graphics and Animation
I’ve been prepared for some time, to be forgiving on the graphics and animation front and I’ve never really expected Ultramarines to be a Pixar-level, mind-blowing experience, but having said that, I was disappointed at the lack of attention to detail.
For example, I think the Chaos Marines looked incredibly bland. Not only that, but here and there some of the textures looked very low res. One scene in particular had a close up of a Chaos Marine’s face, which looked like rotting flesh (well… it was supposed to be anyway) with a shoddy gloss texture applied to it, which just brought me crashing out of the moment.
There were also moments where graphically Codex hit the nail spot on. I just wish the levels had been a little more consistent, to help me stay absorbed in the story.
If I had to sum the animation up in one word, it would be “fine”, but again the devil is in the detail. Certainly the film had severe issues with uncanny valley, and I’m not sure the ‘cutting edge’ face tracking system used can replace the work of a good animator.
The movement of the characters was on the whole, good, but little things (like no footprints) jolt you out of the story.
Some scenes just felt unnatural, like the Marines jumping, leaping and generally pirouetting across the broken bridge… the sense of weight and power was lost in these scenes and it all ended up looking a little silly.
Ultimately of course, none of this matters… as I was telling the crew here in the studio… I would be quite happy to see Ultramarines become a TV series (like clone wars) and perhaps over time the vast majority of these little problems could be ironed out.
However… all this brings me to the stuff that I think really needs to be fixed…
I can see the meeting now…
Codex- “Dan (Dan Abnett) we need something epic… I mean truly epic! Can you go off and think us up a story that will blow people away”
Dan- “No problem I’m your man! I have this idea for a massive Macragge style battle where a chapter of Ultramarines are making a desperate last stand down to the last few men”
Codex – “Great idea Dan, unfortunately our team says its too much for the budget”
Dan- “Oh… In that case what about a desperate battle where a few squads of Ultramarines… with land raiders and landspeeders and dreadnoughts, battling through the streets of an imperial city, kicking ass!”
Codex- “More great ideas Dan! But we need to keep it to about 10 characters in total, also non flying vehicles are a no go, as they are tricky to animate. So no landraiders, tanks or dreadnoughts I’m afraid.”
Dan- “Right… OK… so what about a big squad of Ultramarine terminators, sent to a Space Hulk to fight the xenos scum! Everyone loves terminators right!”
Codex- “Great idea Dan we just don’t think the budget is going to stretch to doing a space hulk. There’s a bit too much modelling required and sorry, but xenos are out too. Once we have modelled the Space Marines, we would like to reuse the models if possible”
Dan- “Um OK… what about a small squad of Marines sent to save a few survivors who are… well … also Marines from a place where there is lots of dead… umm… Marines from an evil force of… well… evil Chaos Marines… we could have a landspeeder in there as it flies and thunderhawks fly too”
Codex- “Dan your Genius knows no bounds mate!”
While the above is a total piss-take (it’s obvious that I was not party to the conversation), my little skit does show how budget is the ultimate arbiter in these things… imagination is easy… its execution that’s hard!
Despite the many constraints that obviously had a hand in shaping the plot, I think the core idea was pretty good and still held promise.
So why is it that the film lacked all trace of humanity and soul?
I think this is the crux for me… I love movies and stories… I get sucked in effortlessly, but watching this I just felt like an independent observer. I didn’t manage to connect in any meaningful way to any of the characters or even the situation they found themselves in. The relationships between the characters seemed so forced that almost every word they uttered seemed contrived and cliché.
So, how much does budget effect these things?
Well… this is where I have no clear answer, because these things are nailed through the talent of the team and talent is budget related… but not always!
The power of the voice acting was almost completely lost on me, because it lacked any sort of humanity. I know Abnett can bring us “Humanity” — with a capital H, as one of my favourite characters of all time was Gabriel Lokan from the Horus Heresy series… so what happened?
To truly enjoy this movie… and I mean truly enjoy it… you either have to be under the age of 13 (where it’s only bolter fire and posing that matter), or have a personality type, where you find it difficult to relate to others (again posing will probably be enough… but you no-doubt like gunfire too).
Is this a gross generalisation? You bet your Nelly it is! But I think you’ll find it’s not far off the mark… even if some of the crew here look like they want to bash me!
Of course the elephant in the room is that 80% of the fluff from Games Workshop is exactly like this, so perhaps I am in the minority and the movie hits the mark exactly.
Then it struck me, for these last few years I have been trying to understand why 40K has never made it to the big (or small) screen. I wondered was it because of the cost of the special effects, or maybe a lack of contacts in Hollywood, but now I wonder if it’s simply because it has little to no soul, no human element that we can connect with or feel moved by. Could it be that anyone who’s looked at it can’t find the human component that would allow it to appeal to the rest of the world as a story.
Perhaps it’s a universe that’s just high on tiny unimportant details, heavy on cliché… you know… all that stuff that makes us both cringe and ecstatic at the same time, but is missing a soul… something that will ultimately make it all feel juvenile and absent of the key ingredients that would carry it to the silver screen.
Perhaps a good director only needs the setting and can give it the humanity and characters we can endear to, but for me this movie just didn’t.