Eye For Film >> Movies >> Mythica: A Quest For Heroes (2014) Film Review
Mythica: A Quest For Heroes
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Modern fantasy literature is famous for its massively extended serials and sagas, trilogies become heptalogies and so on. Given this, it's curious that it has never broken through into cinema the way franchise-friendly superhero stories have done. Book sales suggest that there's certainly an appetite for it. Part of the problem has always been the cost of making such films, which tend to be heavily reliant on special effects, exotic landscapes and meticulously designed sets. Ridley Scott's Legend, for instance, cost $24.5 million, a fortune in its time. With few projects having the big name appeal of The Lord Of The Rings, it has been difficult for studios to justify that kind of investment. Now, however, all that has changed.
The advent of digital cinema and software that makes it easy to create simple special effects at home has really opened doors for aspiring filmmakers, and fantasy is the perfect testing ground for their ambitions. Mythica: A Quest For Heroes is a crowdfunded project intended to be the first of a six part series. That it's clearly an adaptation of somebody's Dungeons & Dragons campaign (it has a warrior, a thief, and wizard and a cleric - the classic set) is beside the point. It was a tremendously bold project for a small team of independent filmmakers to take on, and the result has hit the spot for a good portion of its intended audience. It's much better than anyone really had a right to expect.
Director Anne K Black has a background in production design and it shows in her detailed set dressing and effective use of simple locations, both of which make this look much more expensive than it is. Her inexperience at the helm shows in poor pacing and there are also editing issues with shots cut far too short - lingering a little would strengthen the film rather than inhibiting the action - but this isn't a constant. She handles the actors well and is confident with action scenes, something many young directors struggle with - they're a little rough around the edges but better than many you'll see in big studio films.
Mythica's big name star is former Hercules Kevin Sorbo, but as you might expect, he only has a minor role. Fans of older fantasy sagas who appreciate how quickly heroes' fortunes can turn will find it amusing to see Kull The Conqueror as a fiftysomething running a pharmacy in a one horse town. As Gojon, however, he does find time to mentor a local slave girl, Marek (Melanie Stone), who wants to become a wizard. It's Marek who takes centre stage when she decides to flee her violent master and chance her luck as an adventurer, hooking up with warrior Thane (Adam Johnson) and elven thief Dagen (Jake Stormoen) to try and rescue the kidnapped sister of priestess Teela (Nicola Posener, who even has her hair styled like the He-Man character).
Posener is the week link here. She has a remarkable talent for preserving her make-up in perfect condition through rough weather and battles alike, but her skills don't extend to acting. The men are adequate, however, and Stone makes a spirited lead. Not only is it refreshing to see a film like this with a female lead (women are massively underrepresented in the genre as a whole), but Marek is also a rare example of a disabled character who can acquit herself well (but not unrealistically) in action scenes. Her club foot means that she can't run fast, making for a more interesting narrative and substantiating a character who has had to learn to handle conflict in other ways, and it's also used to explain the fact that she hasn't been sexually exploited by her master, allowing the film to avoid dwelling on the fate of female slaves the way many others do. She's not presented as generally undesirable, though, and her awakening sexuality is something Black explores with sensitivity and intelligence, permitting her no lasting illusions about the way the world works.
The actual story that develops from here is pretty formulaic but it holds the attention surprisingly well. Smart plotting means there are always enough foes around to be narratively convincing, where many low budget films struggle due o a shortage of extras. Low light is also used in places to work around the limitations of the special effects. Refreshingly, we are encouraged from the start to recognise that just one orc can be a deadly threat, so even when we see our heroes survive against the odds, we never get the feeling that it was easy. This is a nice antidote to the escalation too often present in the genre - and, indeed, in D&D. It is to be hoped that Black stays true to this approach as her characters gain more experience.
Overall, Mythica: A Quest For Heroes is a flawed but enjoyable film. As a piece of filmmaking achieved against the odds, it's epic.Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2016