Wednesday, March 2, 2011

And we shall know no fear!

This past Sunday I was sitting in a movie theater in downtown Baltimore for a free screening of Ultramarines: The Movie, the CGI movie based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k universe.

*****There are some spoilers below. You have been warned.*****

Ultramarines focuses on a squad of neophyte Space Marines of the Ultramarines chapter being lead into battle by a Captain and Apothecary to rescue any survivors from an attacked shrine on a remote world. It’s a relatively short movie, clocking in at about 75 minutes, but this is a positive, given the scope of the film. While the universe of 40k is vast, the movie is centered on a few characters. This allows the filmmakers to develop the characters (as much as they do) rather than trying to show off everything.

The story is fairly simple, with a couple of plot twists. Chaos Marines of the Black Legion have attacked a sacred shrine of the Iron Fists chapter, and the Ultramarines are the only allies within range to help. Upon arriving on the planet, the Ultramarines discover the scene of a battle with many dead and desecrated Iron Fist marines. As they get closer and closer to the shrine they find more and more bodies. At the base of the shrine they come under attack by a couple of Black Legion marines, and several members of the squad are killed before they are dealt with. The Ultramarines make their way into the shrine where they are attacked by a demon prince who ends up falling out a window with the Ultramarines Captain. After that, they meet up with the 2 surviving members of the Iron Fists who are protecting the relic that the shrine was built for. They all leave the shrine to go back to the ship. On the way, they’re attacked by more Black Legion marines. Just as things are about to go south, the Captain shows up, saves the day, and they get back to the ship. As they leave orbit, it’s revealed that there is a demon on board the ship, and it’s possessing one of the marines! Everyone thinks it’s the Chaplain of the Iron Fists, but it’s really the Captain of the Ultramarines. A bunch more marines die in the final battle, but the demon is killed.

The voice acting is pretty solid, though there are a definite lack of characters, and not a single female character in the entire movie! There were also long stretches without dialogue. The music does an excellent job to help set the mood of the film and fill the dialogue gaps.

The CGI was definitely sub-par as compared to modern blockbusters like Avatar, but it was serviceable. Ever since I first saw a power armored space marine, I wondered how it was supposed to move. Now I know! There were a lack of extras on board the Strike Cruiser, which I think would have helped show the scale of Space Marines. I also felt that the landscape of the planet was obscured by the sandstorm mostly because they couldn’t afford, or didn’t have the time to do the planet justice. It was also extremely difficult to tell the marines apart because of their nearly identical power armor.

I believe the biggest problem with the movie is that it fails to convey the vastness of the universe in a way that would be understandable for someone not versed in 40k lore. This is definitely a movie for 40k fans, and it mostly succeeds there, but it wouldn’t make the best introduction for someone who isn’t already interested in 40k.

Overall I would give the movie a 6/10
Acting 8/10
Music 9/10
CGI 5/10
Story 5/10

A few thoughts on the screening itself: The theater was really nice, and I look forward to going to a real movie there sometime. There were 100 people expected for the showing, and only about 65 showed up. Of the people that did show, about 10% were women. The couple that sat behind us apparently didn’t play 40k. I’m not really sure what they were doing there, but they seemed to enjoy the movie. Maybe they just read the books?  The people hosting the viewing were clearly not 40k fans themselves, but they managed to be upbeat and excited about the whole thing. They even did some video interviews after the showing. Anyone who did an interview got a t-shirt. I think a free mini would have been more appropriate.

Final thought: It made me want to paint some minis and play some 40k!  I also noticed how they stuck very closely to GW colors and available models, even down to a space marine statue!

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