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Lessons Learned From the "In the Name of the King" Trilogy

I haven't written much about Uwe Boll.

Partly that's because I think making fun of his career is a well-worn path to tread.  At this point its just mean-spirited.  Google his name and you'll immediately see a bunch of complaints.  Here's what I got, right after his IMDb and Wikipedia entries:

So let me be clear when I open up this discussion that I'm not planning to just aimlessly bitch about Uwe Boll.  I think we're all plenty aware that the dude has made some notoriously bad movies and I don't need to add to that.

People frequently compare him to Ed Wood (refer again to the screencap above), but that's not totally fair.  And I don't mean that in the sense of, "Ed Wood loved movies, Uwe Boll doesn't, blargh blargh blagh I've got a rage boner let me tell you ~~my opinions~~ blarrrgh."  I mean that I genuinely think that Uwe Boll is a better and more competent director. Not necessarily good, but nowhere near as bad as we like to pretend.

As evidence, I submit the In the Name of the King trilogy, hereafter referred to as King 1, 2, and 3 because I hate typing.  If you have the patience to sit through all of them, you will be surprised to find that they're actually borderline watchable.  As a whole, they fall in the "1 to 2.5 out of 5" range, which is a damn sight better than the "0 to 1 out of 5" range.

The Part Where I Summarize Everything Quickly

I'm not going to do a full, multi-page mega-review of these movies.  I just don't have the time.  Instead I'll give you the high points:

King 1: Jason Statham is a farmer in the middle ages whose child is killed by monsters controlled by Ray Liotta.  He goes on a revenge quest and eventually finds out he's destined to become the king after Burt Reynolds dies.  There's a couple of subplots involving some colorful side characters, but then Statham punches / stabs Liotta and saves the day.  It's about half an hour too long, but has some good production value, surprisingly decent acting most of the time, and a generally coherent plot.  My Rating: 2.5 / 5

King 2: Dolph Lundgren is a former special ops type guy in the modern era who teaches martial arts to underprivileged inner city kids.  One day a time portal opens up and he is shoved / falls through, thus ending up in the middle ages.  He learns that he's the hero in a prophecy and has to kill the ultimate evil.  At first he thinks it's one lady, but then he finds out he's wrong - it's actually a different guy.  So Lundgren kills him instead and saves the day.  The length is just about right and the plot works fine, but the supporting cast can't match up to Lundgren and the production is clearly on a small budget.  In a lot of ways, this gets right all the things that King 1 got wrong, and vice-versa.  My Rating: 1.5 / 5

King 3: Dominic Purcell is an assassin from the modern era who is supposed to kidnap some kids in Eastern Europe.  He goes through a time warp by accident and learns that there's a bad guy.  Purcell kills him and saves the day.  Then he comes home and brings a dragon with him.  My Rating: 1 / 5

So, now that I've got that out of the way, let's get to the lessons part.

Lesson 1: Length is a destructive cinematic force.

I've got to be honest.  King 1 is almost a good movie.  It's stupid as all hell, sure, but the action scenes are kind of fun and the cast actually has a good bit of energy.  The acting is appropriately hammy and, most amazing of all, the plot makes sense.  You might not think that's something that deserves special mention, but we're talking about Uwe Boll here.  You ever see Alone in the Dark?  Go watch that and then try out King 1.  It's seriously a night-and-day comparison.  Hell, King 1 actually has a more logical plot than any of the Transformers movies.

The thing is, I will probably never watch King 1 again in my life, and I ultimately can't recommend it to anybody because of one single, fatal flaw: it's runtime is 127 minutes.  It's a 90-minute plot padded out to pseudo-epic proportions.

Boll's follow-ups are mercifully short, which meant that even though I thought they were both terrible, I was actually willing to watch them.  You get that?  I voluntarily subjected myself to two Uwe Boll movies purely on the basis that they were each under 100 minutes.  By the reverse logic, I still haven't seen Gone With the Wind.

Let this be a lesson to all filmmakers out there.  Want people to watch your stuff?  Knock your runtime down a few notches and you've already won half the battle.

Lesson 2: If you have made a short movie, make sure that your opening credits are likewise short.

I refer here to King 3, which is the shortest of the three movies and has the longest opening credits sequence in the world.  It's so long, in fact, that it even has time to set up an opening shot with Dominic Purcell sitting on a bed, flash back to a few hours earlier, and progress with a brief pre-plot episode that finishes with the establishing shot on the bed.

I think the credits-to-total ratio increased gradually over the course of the trilogy to the point where King 3 was maybe 15% credits and 85% movie.  This would help to explain why it felt so interminable.

Lesson 3: The acting can always get worse.

It's fun to make fun of bad acting, but the King trilogy really gives you a good picture of diminishing returns.  King 1 is campy and overblown, but there's actual actors in it who emote and know what they're saying. King 2 is quite a bit worse, with only a handful of B-level actors who know what they're doing and then a supporting cast of folks who try, but just aren't that great.

Then you have King 3, which is made up of Dominic Purcell specifically not speaking while surrounded by what I assume are orphans who were told they would get dinner that night if they learned their lines phonetically and delivered them before the camera batteries wore out.

Acting is a common source of complaints on the Internet, but I wonder sometimes if the folks who bring it up have actually seen bad acting.  Make fun of David Duchovny, Keanu Reeves, Jessica Alba, and Jennifer Lopez all you want... they're at least baseline competent.  (And in the case of Duchovny, I think actually pretty good, but I know I'm alone on that front.)

Lesson 4: Sometimes competency just isn't as fun.

Uwe Boll tends to make the same mistakes in his movies: they meander, they have no logic, they are so complicated that you can't follow along even though it seems like you should be smart enough to handle it, etc.  The King trilogy doesn't have those problems.  King 1 meanders a bit, but King 2 and King 3 are fairly tight in terms of plot and story.

King 2, in fact, is probably the best-written of all of Boll's movies from a purely structural standpoint.  It's brief, clean, and straightforward, with bookended scenes that actually contribute to the overall narrative and provide a bit of character depth.

But it's also a goddamn boring movie.

When you watch a movie like BloodRayne, your jaw drops at how stupid and exploitative it is, but you might actually find some joy in trying to follow along.  When you watch King 2, you just shrug and wonder what else is on.  It's the difference between a B-movie and a SyFy movie.

By the time King 3 was over, I found myself missing the Uwe Boll of yesteryear.  There was a time when an Uwe Boll movie meant you were in for a night where you could at least drink and laugh with your friends.  The Uwe Boll of now actually knows how to make a movie... and just doesn't care.

Of course, knowing him, King 3 was just the first of seven movies he's planning to release this year, so I'm sure he'll be back with something more fun later on.  Let's hope for that sequel to FarCry.