Exodus: Tales from the Enchanted KingdomReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/13/06 23:25:36
SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: At its start, "Exodus" may set a new standard in sponsorship and product placement, but by the end, I'm not really inclined to hold that against it too much. If a vanity card, being mentioned in the film's full title ("Tales from...") and a prologue where the Enchanted Kingdom amusement park's Dumbledore-like mascot urges kids to turn off their cell phones and introduces the story means that they shell out the money for the completely different sort of fantasy that follows, then that's just how big-budget family adventure movies get made in the Philippines, and those of us in the rest of the world should just be amused that a place several thousand miles away is advertising at us.Once the movie proper starts, we're introduced to Exodus, a mighty mercenary warrior hired by the last surviving enclave of humanity to defend them from Bangulbol and his "dark men" before they snuff our species out and literally cover the land in darkness. The leadership recognizes that this isn't much of a long term strategy, though, and sends Exodus to gather the last four Fire, Water, Earth, and Air Elementals (or is it five; is there still a Spirit Elemental left?) and take the fight to Bangulbol before it's too late.
The elements of the story should be fairly familiar - the dark lord who is actually a sort of fallen angel, the four basic elements of the world, the son sent away at birth to be spared a massacre becoming a hero. A jaded audience member can sit back and spot where a bit was taken from Lord of the Rings, a bit from the story of Moses, etc., and declare that nothing new or interesting is going on. And we may be right, from our perspective; the story gets a lot of their parts second-hand, and though they are parts that frequently speak to something basic or primal, they're also familiar. The same may not be true for a Filipino kid, though, and it's possible that no-one there has seen something quite this grand or polished be home-grown rather than imported.
Not that it's completely polished; some of the CGI work is very good, while other bits... aren't (as good as some of the flying and fire effects are, a digital stuntman climbing a wall got some giggles). The production quality can veer from Hollywood-quality to cobbled-together on a moment's notice, but even the cobbled-together bits are impressive in their way. Though it's a story built around demons and nature elementals, the setting is vaguely post-apocalyptic - air elemental Bangkila wears aviator goggles; the leader of the human remnant has his head connected to two brains in jars. It's a strange, hybrid feel, but it works for this pure fantasy world.
Exodus is played by Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., whom the program notes is a prominent politician as well as a popular actor, which makes some sense, because he is sort of in the Schwarzeneggarian mold: Dour and imposing, full of charisma and leadership potential but not so much a guy you want to hang around with when he's not saving the world. The Elementals fall nicely into standard types: B.J. Forbes's fire elemental, Silab, is a hot-headed kid, all mouthy and complaining. Centaur Tyaho (Benjie Paras) represents land (I think; it may be water, but land makes more sense), and though he's a big, strong guy, he's the one nervously making jokes and trying to run away; Paras does do a pretty good job of acting through latex. Air elemental Bangkila (Aubrey Miles) is the tough warrior chick; she speaks even less than Exodus, and radiates toughness - she can fly because the force of gravity doesn't want to mess with her. Iya Villania plays Lin-Ay, the ethereal water (or land) elemental, who initially depsises Exodus and resents his conscripting her into their fight but later fits the role of romantic interest. Jay-R makes a good alpha villain as Bangulbol, in the classic "angrily and unrepentantly evil" mode.
Director Erik Matti has apparently worked in fantastic territory before, but not with this kind of budget or amount of tech support. He handles it pretty well, though, and stages some pretty nice action set pieces. I think he's a little let down by Dwight Gaston's script, which is, as mentioned, very dependent on traditional fantasy tropes. It also spent a lot of time on recruiting the elementals which gets repetitive. And by "recruiting", I mean to say "enslaving", monkey king-style. That's kind of an uncool thing for the good guys to do, you know?So, the movie's not perfect. It's still a fairly unique fantastic vision from a different source, and the world can use any of those it can find.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|