Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Hexer

The Hexer. Directed by Marek Brodzki & written by Michal Szczerbic

Preconceptions: When not watching movies and writing gush or snark about them, I'm an avid video game fancier, particularly of the fantasy RPG persuasion. While waiting for more Dragon Age, I decided to glut on some other fantasy games to ease my desire to hunt dragons and run around in caves. One of these was the ugly and unbelievably buggy Neverwinter Nights 2 (no real point to commenting on this, except an opportunity to slag a game that was nearly unplayable and a horrendous waste of money) and the other was the surprisingly good the Witcher. Now I was expecting the Witcher to be a passable hack n' slasher, full of amusing dungeon crawls and the occasional pair of animated breasts and taut male behind. To its credit, it held up that end of the bargain, but it was actually pretty good in other ways. The story was fairly complex and didn't patronize (believe me, gaming industry, we can keep up and you don't need to have characters whose entire purpose is to spout the obvious, in case we weren't paying attention). Its moral choices were actual choices. This went beyond the usual pathetically simple good and evil, like: "save village and virtuously refuse reward" or "burn it to the ground and loot the charred corpses" (not that I'm against the occasional charred corpse loot). Having enjoyed the game so much I dug a little deeper (which is to say I dug at all) and discovered it was based on a series of books which were also adapted into a movie.

I was intrigued. Despite his many similarities to Moorcock's Elric (one of my most hated fantasy characters) I had found myself liking Geralt; conflicted, occasionally funny and rather unlikable fellow that he was. Reading further I discovered that the movie was patched together from a TV series, never a good sign. But despite this, I decided it would be fun to see Geralt and company running around in live action, and it also lets me continue my trend of the last few months of bringing weird tid-bits to your attention (oh I'll get back to mainstream stuff soon enough and you'll miss this when it's gone).

General Review: The Hexer is in that unfortunate category of movie that makes a nice book end if you've already read the source material (like the animated New Frontier movie and to a lesser extent Watchmen). If you're a fan, seeing characters you love bouncing around in the flesh is fun and you know the answers to all the things left confusing or unexplained by the movie. For instance, I know that Geralt and his Hexer (or Witcher depending on who's doing the translating) buddies have gone through a mutation (caused by eating the grossest parts of monsters) to make them top notch warrior types. I also know that they all hang out at Kaer Morhen where they drink, discuss how tough they are and how terrible it is to be a mighty, unstoppable fighting force (le sigh). The movie, however, won't be telling you any of this information. It goes well beyond expecting the audience to pay attention and right into withholding vital information. The Hexer is extremely stingy with its back-story giving only the tiniest of hints (if that) to the audience. Hell, I didn't even know the Right of Surprise (an integral bit of plot contrivance) from the game, I remembered it from some fairy tales (another passion of mine, somewhat lower on the list).

Having learned my lesson from Night Watch, I was determined to track down the subbed version, so that I'd know exactly who to blame for any pain I was caused from the dialogue. This time I can tell you, without question, that it was poor writing and translation and in no way the fault of trying to sync up the dubbing. Occasionally it was just stilted, characters proclaiming "I don't like you at all!" and other times it was down right nonsense speak.

The Hexer wasn't all bad translation and ignored exposition, if it had been I wouldn't be drawing your attention to it, I'd have just shuffled it off and tried something else. Whether it was by choice or an accident of editing, the story structure was really cool. Often, when we follow big tough heroes who we're meant to believe are always having off screen adventures, we barely see them have one adventure in the movie. The Hexer gave a real sense of Geralt basically falling from one quest or danger directly into the next one. They weren't all connected to the main plot or helping the character figure out something he needed to know for his development. Nope, a lot of the times Geralt was just having random encounters with monsters and bandits. It's something that should be obvious that I haven't seen much of, in any genre that employs the swashbuckling hero. I enjoyed it and wish some flicks with a better grasp of the basics would steal it.

The visuals weren't impressive. I knew going in that this movie didn't have a spectacular budget and that the effects wouldn't wow me...but really the look of the Hexer owed a lot more to Ladyhawke (worth a look if you enjoy 80's fantasy) and (more laughably) Quest of the Delta Knights than something that came out in this century. The rubber monsters (which I know can look good with the right puppeteer) were straight up Ed Wood-y and the less said about the CG the better (though naturally, I'll show you). Despite the appalling look of the creatures Michal Zebrowski (who played Geralt) was good at reacting to them. Unfortunately, this can't be said for any other actor in the movie, who mostly poked at where the monsters weren't. Zebrowski was also passable in the fight scenes, doing some neat and believable choreography where he manages to spin away from sword cuts rather than needing to parry them. But again, the other poor physical actors took almost all of the fun out of the fights. Also, we appeared to be in the land of the butch facial scars as nearly every male character had at least one.

While Zebrowski wasn't a bad physical actor, the quality of the acting overall (including him) was more Ren Faire than SAG. Surprisingly, Marta Bitner, who played Geralt's tag along kid, was one of the stand outs. She managed to portray a regal bearing and a range of emotions that the rest of the cast lacked.

I've given the Hexer more than a few rough smacks on the bottom via my review (well deserved), but despite this I didn't exactly hate it. If you haven't read the books or played the game, it's going to be extremely muddled and difficult to follow, don't let me mislead you. But the good I did see and my general enjoyment of the game, has piqued my interest enough that I'm going to be picking up the full length TV series and those books.

Aside: Watching the rough and tumble Geralt deal with his mommy issues had me in stitches.

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