Saturday, December 25, 2010

Movie Review: "Ultramarines" (SPOILERS)

For Christmas, I received the collector's edition of the Ultramarines animated film.  After my younger siblings were done with Inception, I settled down to watch the film.  Here's my review...

The Good

Although there were some quibbles on the forums and the like about the animation quality, I thought it was very good, with one exception (see later). 

Understanding the storyline also didn't require a whole lot of advanced knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  There's a nice bit of voice-over during the opening credits explaining the whole "in the grim darkness of the far future" thing.  There are little references here and there to the wider universe, like the really cool stained-glass image of the Ultramarines fighting the Tyranids aboard the Ultramarine ship, but they don't play a role in the plot.

Although the return of Captain Severus from his apparent lethal fall while battling a demon was predictable, his body being possessed by the demon he was fighting, returning to rescue the squad from what appear to be Khorne berzerkers (Chaos Marines who charge enemies wielding chain-swords and handguns rather than fighting like ordinary soldiers), and then rampaging around the Ultramarine ship wasn't.

The film also included the more unusual aspects of the 40K universe, like how Pythol removes the gene seed from the bodies of the dead to be used in later Marines.

There's also a good "Chekhov's gun" moment (in which something introduced early on becomes important later), or shall I say, a Chekhov's hammer.  :)

The Bad

The characterization needed work.  Due to the similar haircuts and facial structure, it was often difficult to tell the individual Marine characters apart, with the exception of the Apothecary Pythol (white armor), Sgt. Crastor (the robotic replacement eye), and Captain Severus (his voice and mannerisms). 

(That's the animation issue I referred to earlier.  When it's hard to tell characters apart, that's a problem.)

There also wasn't enough characterization in terms of personality, beyond the new Marines being eager for combat and the Apothecary, who has to put them back together again when they're wounded and retrieve their gene-seed when they're killed, being more cautious.

The early parts of the film were also rather slow.  There is an action snippet in the very beginning depicting the Chaos Space Marine assault on the shrine-world from the point of view of one of the defending Marines and then we're introduced to the characters, they land on the planet, and then spend a long time marching to the shrine before they find the desecrated bodies of the defeated Imperial Fists.  And after that, it's awhile before they first encounter the actual Chaos Space Marines.

It would have been better for the squad had been attacked repeatedly on the way to the shrine, but we didn't know who exactly was doing it.  That would have been less boring and built up the suspense more.

The Verdict

I will give the film itself (I haven't watched the extra stuff, like how the film was made) a 5.5 out of 10.


Since this is the collector's edition, it came with a comic book elaborating on what happened on the world of Algol, something referred to in the film.  The Ultramarines were fighting an infestation of the Tyranids on the planet, a hive-world with a population of eighteen billion, and the squad sent to investigate the Chaos attack on the shrine world consisted of Ultramarines who were neophytes (trainees who had not undergone the final transformation into Space Marines) on Algol and were griping about not participating in real combat.

When a Marine squad is smashed by the Tyranids, its sole survivor, Crastor, is made a sergeant and placed in command of the neophytes, who then undergo the final surgeries to become Space Marines.  Captain Severus and Typhol had known about the neophytes' griping and, as you say, "be careful what you wish for."

If the events of the comic book had been included as the finished film there would have been a lot more action (especially in the beginning) and a lot more characterization--we see a lot more of the relationship between Severus and Pythol, more development of Crastor's character, and a rivalry between Proteus and another Ultramarine.  Plus we'd get more Tyranids than just a picture on a wall.  :)

Given this is the first movie based on the Warhammer 40,000 property, one can understand why it wouldn't be perfect.  Hopefully future 40K films will take the criticisms of the first movie into account and make improvements.

I will comment on the behind-the-scenes material later...

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