I have previously looked at some fantasy films which are well worth viewing. They are classics, films which, while not perfect, are full of good qualities – humour, good acting, compelling plot and so on. But there are plenty of fantasy films which are not quite up to snuff, films which lack those good qualities – films which you don’t want to watch. And in order to warn you about them and hopefully save you the time, money and pain it will cost you to watch them, three of them are presented below.
10,000BC tells the story of a young man from a mammoth-hunting, tundra-dwelling tribe of hunter gatherers who, after some bad guys attack his tribe’s settlement and carry off some pretty girl he likes, decides to chase after them to rescue said girl. He travels through a rainforest, makes friends with a sabre-tooth tiger whose life he saves, then eventually reaches what presumably is meant to be Egypt, since there’s pyramid building going on and an obsession with the constellation of Orion (a real Egyptian thing). Anyway, there’s some sneaking around, a bit of fighting, some mystical hoo-ha and the protagonist rescues his girlfriend and everything is happy again.
The basic premise of the story, while overdone, has nothing wrong with it, and the acting isn’t awful. What’s wrong with this film is the shattering of suspension of disbelief. Willing suspension of disbelief is the decision by the audience to allow impossible things within the context of the story because it’s a story and because dwelling on minutiae disrupts the narrative. It’s how a fantasy story can be described as “believable” without being realistic.
What 10,000BC does is present a story that supposedly happened on Earth, in our own past, but with a severe lack of understanding of both geography and history. The end of the film, as described above, is supposedly set in Egypt, presenting the famous views of the pyramids. Except that pyramids didn’t exist in 10,000BC. Egyptian pyramids weren’t even the first – that honour goes to Mesopotamia in around 6000BC, leaving Egyptian pyramids trailing behind in 2700BC. And if the movie’s title isn’t meant to be taken literally, the context of the film belies the date – the protagonist and his tribe are hunter gatherers, common enough in 10,000BC before agriculture had spread from the Fertile Crescent, but by the time of the Egyptian pyramids, all of Europe and Asia was covered in farming communities – and mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers were long extinct.
Meanwhile, the protagonist’s journey from icy mountains instantly to rainforest and then to desert is stupid. In the context, again, of the mammoths, that puts the protagonist’s starting point somewhere in the north – while snow-covered mountains exist in Africa, surrounded by rainforests, mammoths never made it there. Except that the protagonist never sees the sea, so he can’t have come from the north – he’d have encountered the Mediterranean, or at the very least the Red Sea before reaching Egypt. If coming from the south, the mammoth is out of place and the mountain range he lived on could not have been large enough for the surprise he feels at first seeing rainforest – or, surrounded as such sub-Saharan mountain ranges are by rainforest, a sensible choice of home in the first place.
While the facts behind these observations are not necessarily widely known, a basic understanding of history and geography combined with some common sense should have stopped this film from ever being made – or at the very least a quick fact-check on Wikipedia. The result is a film which cannot be taken seriously; and that, coupled with the uninspired story and flat characters where appearance has been ranked higher than personality, leaves 10,000BC a film that is better off ignored.
This film is a retelling of the King Arthur legend from a feminist point of view – or so claims the description. It is the story of Guinevere, who after being raised by Morgan Le Fay is told her destiny is to marry Lancelot and defeat Arthur. She flees back to her father in Camelot and finds herself in a war with another king determined to own Camelot by either battle or marriage, when a group of young knights turn up to help. After her father is killed, Guinevere offers to her saviours whatever they want – and their leader asks for her hand in marriage. This young man, it turns out, is Arthur.
After their marriage, Guinevere falls pregnant and is poisoned by Morgan, who enchants Arthur into sleeping with her. Guinevere somehow survives the poison, gives birth and hands her child over to a woman who helped her in the birth, then returns home pretending the baby perished. Shortly afterward, Arthur is captured in battle by the same king who earlier desired Camelot, and Guinevere hatches a plan along with Lancelot, her sworn protector, to defeat him. Morgan is denied the victory she’d been engineering and Lancelot leaves.
You might think my plot summary is a bit erratic. I’ve done the best I can. The problem is, the film is very erratic. The plot doesn’t flow naturally, but rather seems like a heavily pared down version where the linking scenes that establish the story arcs have been cut for time.
The acting, meanwhile, leaves a lot to be desired. The lead actress, Sheryl Lee, shows no emotion; even when apparently crying her face still holds the same indifferent look in all of her other scenes. None of the actors have any on-screen chemistry, feeling dry and awkward. There is no spark between Guinevere and either Lancelot or Arthur.
But to give the actors the benefit of the doubt – there’s some really stiff dialogue to work with. A lot of it is oddly formal, mixed in with touches of watershed-safe vulgarity. One particular exchange between Guinevere and Merlin, when discussing her upcoming marriage to Arthur, is a prime example:
Merlin: “Are you a woman?”
Guinevere: “I have taken on the power of those who bleed but do not die.”
Then there’s some strange bits. First is the claim that the kingdom of Camelot is at the heart of Britain, stretching across the middle such that its position is of huge importance, controlling routes north and south. Then there’s the claim it was untouched by the Romans, a line across Britain the Romans never crossed. This claim, as anyone familiar with the Roman invasion of Britain will know, puts Camelot in northern Scotland – because the Antonine Wall marks the northernmost part of Britain controlled by the Romans, and even then not the furthest north they reached.
Then there’s Guinevere’s baby. Morgan poisons Guinevere and tells her that both she and the baby will die. So Guinevere, for no apparent reason, rides out into the middle of nowhere, successfully gives birth and hands the baby girl to an unknown woman who helped with the birth, entrusting her to take care of the child. How the baby, and indeed Guinevere, survived is never explained, nor why Guinevere would not trust Arthur and his knights to protect here, nor why she trusts this woman she’s just met in a hut somewhere so much.
All of this merely brushes on the worst parts of the film; there’s plenty else in it that doesn’t make sense or is just plain bad. It has an erratic, illogical plot, emotionless acting and stiff dialogue. It is best avoided.
Immortals is the retelling of the Greek myth about Theseus, but with significant differences. It tells the story of Theseus, a young warrior shunned by his neighbours. Theseus’ village is attached by an army led by tyrannical king Hyperion, and in vengeance Theseus vows to stop him – Hyperion plans to unleash the imprisoned Titans and begin a war in the heavens against the gods. With assistance from virgin seer Phaedra, Theseus seeks out a magical bow, the Epirus bow, but Hyperion catches up and steals it. With help from the gods, Theseus then travels to the city which stands above the imprisoned Titans to defend it. As the gods fight the Titans to keep them imprisoned, Theseus battles Hyperion, wins, and has a mountain fall on him – but not before being made immortal.
I have studied both Greek history and myth extensively, so the deviation from the original myth is rather jarring to me. To go on about it would take too many words I have space for here, but the key points are that the gods have no laws against helping mortals, contrary to the claims of the film’s Zeus; that Theseus was born to Athenian royalty and not the dregs of society (in the movie his mother is a prostitute); that Phaedra was his second wife and involved in a tragedy involving the hubris of his son from his first marriage, Hippolytus; and that Theseus defeated the minotaur in the labyrinth over on Crete (not merely attacked by someone in a strange hat in difficult to navigate catacombs) and his failure to change the sails of his ship on the return journey – an agreed upon signal of his success or failure – led his father to commit suicide.
The gods in the film certainly die very easily too. Considering they’re meant to continue being the gods for, oh, a thousand years or so after this point, their deaths – one at Zeus’ hand, others killed by Titans – really undermine their designation as gods. They also take things far too seriously. The Greek gods were, by all accounts, viewed as jealous, petty, unpredictable and juvenile. They used mortals as playthings in arguments or games between themselves. In the film they’re serious, perhaps justified by the fact they’re not so immortal.
In fact, everything is very serious. The cinematography is drab, all shades of brown and no colour. The landscapes are bare and rocky, frequently devoid of trees or any other plants and certainly lacking in agriculture. Everything is windy, lifeless and quiet. The director tried too hard to be gritty, but ended up with uninspiring.
But there’s a major flaw in that attempt. In fact in my view something which trumps bastardised myth, weak and illogical plot, gods which aren’t immortal and bare landscapes.
I am serious. The film tries to be so serious, gritty, big stakes. And the costume department was handed over, apparently, to the team behind Team Fortress 2. The gods have stupid gold painted hats. The villain Hyperion has a stupid hat. His strongest warrior has a bull-head shaped hat. They must all have the necks of fighter pilots because those things look heavy. See below for some examples:
Immortals is an atrocious film. It looks rubbish, it doesn’t tell the tale it claims to tell but devises its own and sticks names to the characters in the hope of jumping on the 300 bandwagon, and it has stupid hats.
These films are rubbish. There are more I can think of but can’t face the research for at the moment. What other films do you think belong on a list of worst fantasy films? Why?