Thursday, February 11, 2010

BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST

As a life-long fan of fantasy fiction who spent most of his teen years playing Dungeons & Dragons and obsessively watching and rewatching every and any fantasy/sword & sorcery film that hit Cinemax, I never thought I would ever say this, but...

...I'm frigging sick of dragons.

Apparently someone at the SyFy channel loves them, though, because once again, we're off to the picturesque forests of Canada for another low-budget fantasy film with what appears to be the same damned computer generated dragon that's shown up in 90% of the channels "original" films. This time, that prolific collection of pixels battles possibly the least-interesting screen Robin Hood of all time in BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST (2009).

The filmmakers' amazing, fresh new twist on the oft-told tale this time around is that the Sheriff of Nottingham (a weary-looking Julian Sands, WARLOCK, BOXING HELENA) has gotten control of a fire-breathing dragon (that can assume the form of a naked woman), and is using it to terrorize the peasants. This ludicrous overkill brings the legendary outlaw Robin Hood (Robin Dunne, SANCTUARY), Maid Marian (Erica Durance of SMALLVILLE), and his comrades-in-arms Will Scarlet and Little John, out of the woods to save the day.

Directed by actor Peter DeLuise (SEAQUEST DSV), BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST is derivative, unimaginative and dull. The action scenes are clumsily staged and shot, and the CGI effects are maybe slightly better than average. The design of the dragon is okay, and it's nicely rendered. Thing is, as usual with these flicks, nothing interesting is done with the damned thing. It just flies around mechanically and never convincingly interacts with its surroundings or any of the actors. It also has no personality at all. It may move smoothly, but it never acts or reacts like a living thing. (My traditional complaint about CGI creatures. I've been spoiled by Ray Harryhausen's marvelously charismatic critters, I guess.)

Of course, most of the cast doesn't really act much either. Julian Sands can be a lot of fun, but he's clearly just here for the check. Ditto Ms. Durance - a lovely woman who's about as charismatic as a pin-up photo. The less said about Mr. Dunne's portrayal of Robin Hood, the better. Let's just say I was longing for Kevin Costner.

Can I say anything positive? Well, somebody in British Columbia is getting very good at constructing authentic-looking Medieval props, weapons, sets and costumes, and the photography's pretty decent. That's all that comes to mind, though.

Anchor Bay has done their usual fine job on the actual DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty much flawless, and the Dolby 5.1 Surround sound is crystal clear. The only extras, however, are a short, behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer.

I hate writing a negative review of this. Regular readers know that, if anything, I'm usually too willing to give fantasy and sword & sorcery flicks a pass. And, you know, I might have done that with BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST, too, if there had been any indication that anyone involved was trying to do more than fill a two-hour slot on TV. If there had been a single wild idea, unexpected twist or enthusiastic, over-the-top performance in the film, I might have been able to find some fun in it.

Sadly, that wasn't the case.

BUY: Beyond Sherwood Forest