Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MERLIN AND THE BOOK OF BEASTS

There’s no question that I have a soft spot for fantasy swordplay films. Dungeons & Dragons (the game, not the film) did a real number on my head as an adolescent, and I still can’t get enough of magic and monsters. But – I also know to keep my expectations low, because the genre is so rarely served well by filmmakers. A couple of days ago, another would-be fantasy epic materialized in my mailbox – an Arthurian romp called MERLIN AND THE BOOK OF BEASTS, directed by Warren Sonoda.

Some years after the fall of Camelot and the Round Table, an evil sorcerer known as the Arcadian has come into possession of the titular Book of Beasts, a magical tome that allows him to bring forth mystical creatures to do his bidding – which is apparently to conquer the kingdom. An aging Sir Galahad and a handful of other knights, led by the daughter of King Arthur and Guinevere, hunt down the great magician Merlin (James Callis, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), who has retreated to the wilderness to live as a hermit, hoping to recruit him to their cause. Their goal is to defeat the Arcadian, restore the Round Table, and bring forth a second Camelot. Will the once-mighty wizard rise to the challenge?

Obviously, the film takes great liberties with the Arthurian myths, and if you’re going to get anal about that, you’re not going to enjoy the movie. And while it’s hardly a classic, neither is it the "worst movie ever" – not even close. The production design, costumes, Canadian locations and special effects work are all quite decent; the movie looks great. And the cast is pretty good, too. Callis makes an interesting Merlin, although his accent is quite odd. I also rather liked Laura Harris (24, DEAD LIKE ME) as Avylnn Pendragon, warrior daughter of King Arthur.

Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment presents MERLIN AND THE BOOK OF BEASTS on DVD with a respectable 1.78 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby 5.1 Surround audio. The only bonus feature is a behind the scenes featurette.

MERLIN AND THE BOOK OF BEASTS is a decent entry in a genre where even that level of quality is rare. For fantasy fans, it’s at least worth a rental.

BUY: Merlin and the Book of Beasts