The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Announcement

Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning none of my images are appearing anymore. That's simply an aesthetic issue, but still annoying.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tales of an Ancient Empire aka Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2009)

Photobucket

I was trying to think when I first saw this listed on imdb. I want to say, almost as long as the DTVC has existed, this has been listed in various forms of development with rumored cast members added and dropped and whatnot. Then we were lucky enough to have the film's director, DTVC Hall of Famer Albert Pyun, come to us for feedback on things like the introduction, and keeping us up-to-date on its status. Well, now it's finally here, on the shelves, released from Lion's Gate. Let's see how it did.

Tales of an Ancient Empire is the long awaited sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer. It follows the heroine Princess Tanis as she searches for her half-siblings, including the rogue Kevin Sorbo; and her father, an even bigger rogue and better fighter, Michael Paré. She needs them to defeat the evil vampiress Xia, who has taken over her kingdom, Abelar. Will they prevail?

Photobucket

This was a very interesting flick that unfortunately had a very unfulfilling ending. It started a tad slow, with the first 40 minutes or so jumping in and out of flashback mode, but I think it overcame that and became something that was a cool take on the modern sword and sorcery flick, using some cool cinematic techniques, genre mixing, and giving it a more macabre edge; but that ending was, I don't know, not there. It was like a Cliff's Notes version of an ending, with a few still shots, some drawings, and a narrator telling us what happened. We watch the sword and sorcery adventure flick for the end battle, to see our hero overcome the villain, and without that it makes everything else lose its meaning. Also, despite what the cover says, this was a tale centered on the princess, played by Melissa Ordway, and to have Sorbo be the one to slay the villain (or rather, to be told it was Sorbo by the narrator) betrayed that. Even if we know roughly what's going to happen, if we'd only had something, just a little battle, I would've felt better about this, because otherwise it was pretty good.

Before I get any further in, I want to discuss the cover, because, if you've been rockin' with the DTVC for some time, you know my feelings on misleading covers, and this is one. What makes this one different, though, is that Pyun himself on his Facebook page came out against the cover because it was misleading and not the way he wanted to sell his film. I'm not saying there's a Sorbo bait and switch, but he's more the supporting character to Melissa Ordway's hero, and the other guy (Matthew Wellig) is barely in the film for two scenes, while the cover makes it look like he and Sorbo are embarking on this film-length quest together. Pyun said Lion's Gate had the say on the cover, but what I don't get is, why wouldn't they want Ordway on it with Sorbo? She's very attractive, and I imagine she'd sell more copies than Wellig, especially in the demographic that sword and sorcery caters to. You already have enough beefcake in Sorbo, why not add some beauty too, and at the same time not be so obviously misleading the consumer.

Photobucket

Melissa Ordway takes her place in line among the long list of Pyun female protagonists. This is the one thing that I think will frustrate people misled by the cover the most, that I, having seen over thirty of Albert's films, was very comfortable with. I've always liked how he works in very testosterone heavy genres, like action and sci-fi, and instead of sticking with the conventions, he's bucked them by casting women in the lead roles, and not making them women playing men, or women as mere objects for men to ogle, but real women as real heroines. Again, it wouldn't have been too hard to put her on the cover with Sorbo, and by not doing it, it does both Pyun and Ordway a disservice. Also, a previous Pyun protagonist, Victoria Maurette, co-stars. You may remember her from Bulletface and Left for Dead-- the latter I unfortunately haven't seen yet. It was cool to see her working with Pyun on another project, and she was as good here as she was in Bulletface, so hopefully this won't be the last of his films we see her in.

One thing that I thought was really cool about this movie was the pulp comic book feel it had. The imagery, between the actual drawings and the live action scenes, was great. A lot of the shots had the feel of a comic book frame, but in a way that retained their cinematic qualities. There were also some settings that felt like westerns, Japanese samurai films, or Hong Kong cinema. These are the things that I come to an Albert Pyun film for, to see things done that I've never seen, knowing that he's going to take risks and try something new and not play it safe. He could've just made another Hercules episode, and I think a lot of people would've been happy, but he wouldn't have, and I like and respect that. Another thing worth pointing out, the script was written by Cynthia Curnan, and the music done by Tony Riparetti, two people who have worked closely with Pyun on projects in the past. There was a symbiosis between director, music, and story because of that that enhanced the film. This wasn't just a script that was thrust on Pyun to direct, and the music wasn't just laid down as an afterthought. When you have that symbiosis, it makes the movie a little more genuine.

Photobucket

Okay, I know what you've all been waiting for: "tell me about everyone else in this film!" I've already mentioned Sorbo, who plays the co-hero or slightly supporting hero to Melissa Ordway. He's great in that Lee Horsley role as the brave rogue. Paré plays his father, and he's even more heroic and more of a rogue. He appears at the very beginning and the very end. The other DTVC Hall of Famer in this is Olivier Gruner, and he has a small part alongside Sasha Mitchell. Yes, that's right, I said Sasha Mitchell. When was the last time we saw him, huh? He's buffer than he was, so you may not recognize him. He's not listed on imdb as being in the film, but both he and Gruner are listed in the sequel, Red Moon. Then we have Ralf Moeller with a small part as one of the palace guards, Sarah Ann Shultz as one of Sorbo's sisters, Whitney Able as Xia, and Jennifer Siebel Newsome as the Queen of Abelar. Finally, our Pyun mainstays. Beyond Mitchell and Maurette, we had Norbert Weisser at the beginning as Xusia, Xia's dad, and Scott Paulin in a small role as Tou-Bou Bardo, a play on Pyun's classic character name, Brick Bardo. (Also, we had Morgan Weisser, Norbert's son, meaning we have the children of Pyun mainstays in Pyun films now!) Oh yeah, Lee Horsley has a one scene cameo reprising his role from the first film, which was fun to see.

The ending is what makes this one so hard, because it left me with a "that's it?" feeling that was hard to reconcile with the rest of the film that I enjoyed. One thing that's good about this one as opposed to Pyun's other recent efforts, is that you can get it via Netflix and Red Box, so you can try it out prior to buying it (I did buy it-- no regrets though!) to see if it works for you. As a sequel to Sword and as a sword and sorcery flick that tries new things, it's really good, the ending just didn't work for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1136688/

14 comments:

  1. Good review! That is cool that all the Pyun mainstays are in this. Will have to check this out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, for a Pyun fan, there's a lot in this to like. Really, there's a lot good stuff here. Other than the ending, it's the sequel I wanted for Sword without knowing I wanted it, if that makes sense. Unlike Lucas who was trying to regain ownership of his franchise away from the fans with his Star Wars prequels, Pyun definitely embraces the fans of Sword here, which is good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Man, the ending thing is pretty disappointing. I'll still have to check this out, but that sounds like a pretty bad note to end on.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was really worried about this one, especially when reading peoples reviews after screenings and to be honest, the trailer didn't really do anything for me. But thanks to your review, I will definitely give it a shot. I'm a firm believer that Pyun still has some tricks up his sleeve and will one day blow me away again. Great review buddy. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm quite interested in seeing this as I really enjoyed Sword and the Sorcerer. The trailers seem a bit ropey though and I haven't enjoyed much of Pyun recent stuff. Will this change my mind?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I ran out to the video store last night and I had this one and Real Steel in my hand. It was a long debate but Real Steel took the win yesterday. But next time I run back there I'm going to grab Empire. I glanced over your review because I didn't want to spoil anything for myself.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am not at all interested in this one, great read anyway...
    Pyun to me is way too experimental for me these days...He proved that he can come up with great stuff, but the gloy 80s are long gone,and the 90s were hit and miss as well.
    Its great that he does all those DCs lately. As much as I admire his enthusiasm, there isnt much for me in his latest works...

    ReplyDelete
  8. If anyone is interested, we just did a history of this film's production (from 1982 up to this film) with words from Albert Pyun himself.

    http://originalvidjunkie.blogspot.com/2012/01/never-got-made-files-71-tales-about.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yeah Ian, I was torn about whether I wanted to discuss the ending, because I didn't want to give it away, but I felt it was necessary to give an honest opinion of the film. As a Sorbo fan though, I think you might still enjoy it.

    Thanks robotGEEK I'm glad I was able to pique your interest. I think even despite the ending-- and some people may even like the ending too-- it still brings a lot to the table, and I'm sure you'll like a lot of that.

    Jack, this has a lot of stuff for Sword fans. I didn't want to go into them all, because I want people to come onto them themselves-- in fact, I only mentioned the Lee Horsley thing because he's listed on imdb. I did get some comments from people giving me a hard time for not mentioning some of the things Pyun gave us from the first one, so I apologize, but I purposefully kept them out for that reason. If you're a Sword fan though, that's another reason you may enjoy yourself here.

    How was Real Steel Mr. Gable, was it worth the decision? Was theer a robot Ivan Drago Jackman's robot had to fight?

    William, thank you for that link, I'll have to check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm going to check it out but I must be honest, it's not real a sequel to S & S. If it were Lee Horsley as Talon would have been the father, not Michael Pare. I like them both but please...............

    ReplyDelete
  11. DTVC, thanks for checking it out. I hope you enjoy the info there as much as I enjoyed your review.

    Pyun and his people wanted it known that this is a "follow up" and not a "direct sequel" by any means. So I think a lot of confusion/disappointment from fans stems from the fact they named it so similar.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Matt -

    Here's a news break for you - I just finished an hours long meeting with the group that owns the foreign rights on Tales, and they are interested in funding a re-do of the climax so it's a proper action packed CG ending to the film and they are open to adding a big star to enhance this. Yikes..this movie will not end...the idea is to get this version of Tales done by Cannes in May.

    Albert Pyun

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hey Albert, that's great news! And to have it screened at Cannes would be cool too! If you can get the ending you wanted-- or something closer than what you got with Lion's Gate-- that would be great and I can't wait to check it out. All the best, and good luck!

    ReplyDelete