Well, last night I saw Ultramarines.
This is kind of a big deal for some mostly because it’s the first ‘proper’ Warhammer 40k movie produced by anything approaching a real studio. As I explained in my earlier article regarding Dark Millenium Online, Games Workshop has recently been very shrewd (Or picky) when it comes to signing the Warhammer 40k name to anything that they do not have complete internal control over. This of course is a good thing in terms of quaility control, but when considering that GW dont develop anything outside their own tabletop game themselves or contribute towards other projects such as games or the Movie in this article, it means that they can be a little stiff.
Still, it’s their product and thats their right.
So, enough rambling and more about the movie: Ultramarines – A Warhammer 40,000 Movie. I was a little dissapointed with some aspects and pleased with others.
I’ll dive right in to the bad stuff by announcing that upon finishing watching the movie there were some things that immediately stuck out to me. The most obvious of these was a certain unsettling feeling of misinterpretation that sat with me throughout the movie. I will explain this by saying that the Space Marines in the movie didnt seem to be Space Marines according to my interpretation of what a Space Marine represents. For those who care to read into it, there are a lot of ‘facts’ in the 40k universe that build the idea that a Space Marine is a badass piece of work. Things like the power armour they wear that is handed down through warrior generations, the genetic modification, psychic conditioning and even redundant organs that they have all seemed to count for nought in a movie filled with 1-shot kills and other mysterious deaths I usually associate with ‘silly people in movies’ (Those times watching a movie when you throw your hands up and say ‘You didnt see that coming?!’). It seems unreal to expect them to be the bastions of humanity against all kinds of vicious and violent advosaries when they appear to have little resilience themselves.
This brings me to the story itself, which I am quite split about. Despite being written by Dan Abnett, who I have a lot of respect for as a well known Warhammer novel writer, overall the story arc and general narrative appeared out of balance. I felt there were many missed chances to introduce and explain the greatness of Space Marines, perhaps by using flash backs or other techniques. Consequently, I was ultimately left with a feeling of that the story itself seemed obscure and that I wanted to see bigger events and battles. In terms of filmography, there were too many moments of ponderous walking, panned shots and asmosphere building flashes. When clashes with the Chaos Marines flared, they were very often far away or blurred siluettes in the night. A missed opportunity to have a larger scale battle that Space Marines are known for. Something unrelenting and fierce that I feel is been better exploited in Warhammer video game cutscenes, such as those in the Dawn of War series of games which portray Space Marines to be unrelenting, purposeful and curageous warriors. This is just my opinion of course.
Something else I had a split opinion on was the animation.
In a conversation I had with a friend a short while ago, he described the visuals used in the movie as ‘hammy’, which I countered that its not about the visuals. Unfortunately, there are times in the movie when the animation is somewhat embarassing and others where it looks pretty good. For agument sake, lets also remember that this isnt Pixar or Disney doing the animation here, its a relatively unknown studio called Codex Pictures. They dont have many big name projects to mention, the most notable of these are the Lego Bionicle series of movies that I understand were successful enough to the target audience… But this movie is something different. They’re playing in bigger leagues now and will be compared as such, so animation needs to be slick, even if the modelling is not great. Unfortunately I feel its the other way around, feeling as though a lot of work went into the models of the characters and not so much into their animations, subtle movements and mannerisms. As a result, still shots look great and character movements look stiff and akward. Facial animation was often impressive but equally bad at other points, however, the biggest shortfall in the visuals department has to be the smoky/foggy effect present through what feels like most of the movie. At times I almost squinted to try and see further during pan shots of what would have been an outdoor landscape.
I must say that wasnt bored by watching the movie. There was a fairly good feeling of atmosphere and suspense, which went on a little too long at times but was consistent. I wasnt bored, but I would not say I was gripped either (Gripped like for example when I recently watched Inception for the first time). This was part of the movie that was pretty spot on, and encouraged an impression that something was going to happen.
Voice acting was excellent in places, but was consistently good at a minimum. Donald Sumpter excelled in what I believe is a marvellous performance as the Apothocary Pythol, and along with Terence Stamp who provided a very good but not amazing voice of Captain Severus. Mr Stamp let the character down by being a little flat at times. John Hurt was suprisingly average as the Imperial Fists Chaplain, however, Sean Pertwee did not seem to fit his role as did some of the other voices for members of ‘Ultra squad’.
In conclusion, it was a good but not great movie, which in itself is dissapointing as it is a real first. There is a lot of missed opportunity here, but I hope for more and better.