I just finished watching the first Games Workshop movie ‘Ultramarines’ and wanted to jot down my first reaction before I pass out from cold. I’ve been slumming it in the basement of solitude, as the missus is highly unlikely to want to watch it and the daughter doesn’t know anything about GW, so the chances of me watching it on the telly are pretty remote. I’m wrapped in an old blanket with a hot water bottle gently cooling on my crotch in a daft attempt to maintain some bodyheat.
Before I yammer on about the flick, I need to get something of my chest, I find GW’s space marines rather boring. They are two dimensional, genetically engineered lummoxes who strut around acting like the gung-ho cliches they are evolved from. The rest of the races in the 40k universe have plenty of rich history and the whole 40k universe is wonderfully fleshed out, but marines just end up being the poster boys for GW. As someone who grew up on the original rogue trader stuff, I’ve seen them change a lot and the last ten years has seen me drift a long way away from anything GW related other than the odd wistful glance in the shops direction whenever I passed one. The last two or three years has seen me gravitate back towards the edge of GW thanks to the artwork and I love the paintings that GW release now and then in book form, one of my faves is the Horus Heresy tome which inspired my tech priest. Another of my secret 40k drip feeds is the novels, mainly the books of Dan Abnett and when I heard that this film was being made and was being penned by Mr. A i was more than a little intrigued. I ordered the special edition quite a while back and after a slight delay in the shipping (one which was greeted by howls for blood by some rather vocal people on facebook) the DVD arrived on Saturday. So whats it like?
John Hurt gives an opening narration in 100% John Hurt fashion. Lots of gravitas and I wanted him to mouth ‘Hellboy’ at the end just to round it off. The visuals, attention to detail and mood is spot on. Armour, weapons, equipment and locations all exude a feeling of having been lovingly crafted either by fans or by people with a serious attention to detail, but the faces let down the mood slightly. There was a lot given to the fact that there was some rather fancy mo-cap work done to the faces but to be honest, i’ve seen better on the 360. I couldn’t do better (lets be honest here, I’m crap at facial modeling) but with all the fuss over the technical stuff, the faces still sat in the middle of an uncanny valley the depth of one in Merionethshire. Thankfully most of the brothers spend their time with helmets on so we are left looking at something which is supposed to look a little blank.
The other issue I had was their walking. Probably mo-cap as well, but it didn’t convey weight somehow. The marines leap about and climb rockfaces like mountain goats and I can deal with that (genetic titans wearing power armour can move pretty well I should imagine) but they still had legs which seemed to stop slightly ahead of time when walking over the desert. Oh and while we are talking about the desert one thing (should anyone from the production crew ever come this way) ever hear of footprints? its what happens when people walk across loose material such as sand or snow. Just sayin’.
The lighting and effects work along with the art direction was impressive and I found myself admiring some of the camera angles for the stylistic placements. A few too many times we ended up with the camera circling around and around which just made it look like a scene from some game and the overuse of some DOF effects made things look like miniatures sometimes. One section just ended up looked like a tiltshift photograph which ruined it slightly.
Storywise its pretty much what I would expect from one of Dan Abnett’s stories. It was highly entertaining and it bounces along at a nice pace with some nice action set pieces. As 40k was never going to be the setting for a romantic comedy you know what you are going to get and coupled with the stunning model work its a good solid action film. There are some nice little flourishes in the story which lift it above being about a bunch of glory boys, who shout phrases about the Emperor, while standing dramatically on skylines, pumping round after round (didn’t see anyone reloading) into their enemies who, for chaos marines, died rather easily (yeeaaah, still not liking marines much).
There is one bit which reminded me of Lord of the Rings when the captain wrestles a demon out of a window and if he had shouted ‘fly you fools’ it would have been just like Gandalfs ‘death’ in the mine. Some of the film did seem like padding and I bet it could be clipped down by ten minutes easily, the macho ‘Aliens’ like dialogue in which some of the marines claim they are going to bag the first blood would be first against the wall.
There is one inconsistency which stuck out though. At the end there’s a countdown until the ship enters the warp and there is a demon loose on the ship. Fair dos but the implication is that when the countdown hits zero its game over. Hang on… I thought warp travel took months/years. Why the sudden deadline beyond some random plot point?
The presentation is very good but the sound drops in a couple of places. Most notable, 29 minutes in Terence Stamps voice becomes almost inaudible after chainsawing someones head off. OK he mentioning a chaos chapter but I doubt the holy throne of Terra went at it with an Inquisitors gusto to protect our poor souls. I know its the disc as I tried it on the imac and the macbook pro so either is a wonky bit of audio work or I have a dodgy disc.
The box it all comes in is pretty well presented. There is a hard-backed graphic novel with a short prequel to the film along with a second disc and a metal case. (I will try to get round to the second disc ASAP). Again, the attention to detail shines through and I’m glad I bought the special edition.
Soooooo, its nearly midnight, my hot water bottle is about to ice up and I need sleep. My final thoughts on the film are:
A highly entertaining film, I’m glad to see something like this which doesn’t take itself to serious but still holds VERY true to the source and next to high budget films i’ve seen recently, this was a work of genius.
The details are wonderful. Carvings on bolt rounds, closeups during combat, text on scrolls wrapped around armour… so many things which help make the film.
Its a shame it was only 70 minutes, I would have been good if a longer film could be made with the obvious attention to detail that this had.
The oh so sore point that was raised on facebook was the shipping. People kept banging on about how they spent £8 and it was late. Well it was late, my own experience of DVD and/ or product production is that shyte happens and you learn to deal with it. The price on the label was exactly £8 so as far as I care i wasn’t robbed.
It obviously wasn’t done on a huge budget but some of it felt like cheap film making tricks (reusing the same chaos marines over and over? hard to tell because of all the dust)
After my comment about the time, its seemed to be padded out a bit, it was a short story stretched out a bit more than it should have been.
The awful skin shaders and how craggy are the faces of the scouts which suddenly get promoted to full marines. They all look about 90+
I may edit this further tomorrow but for now… slumber calls.