is a machina feature film that was released yesterday afternoon. To be honest, if I hadn't met cairmen
, who wrote, directed and produced the film while I was in Edinburgh I doubt I'd have the first clue what Machinma was. In short its the use of computer games' engines to produce animation - this is why cairmen
could make Bloodspell for less than five thousand pounds.
Since B. has rigged our TV up to run through a computer we opted to watch Bloodspell on our widescreen telly, drinking wine and eating popcorn at the same time. I was a little worried that the resolution wouldn't be high enough but actually it was fine, I downloaded the high-res Quicktime version from the Bloodspell website which took about half an hour over our broadband connection, the only problem was the occasional glitch where the picture stopped, this happened about twice in the course of the film and B. blamed it on Quicktime being unable to process the decompression codec fast enough.
Technicalities aside we liked the film. It was billed as a "punk fantasy". I assumed this would either mean it had a punk visual aesthetic or that it had an overt anarchistic/iconoclastic message. Either that or it would be needlessly icky and violent. In the end I don't think it had a particularly punk look or theme: it looks like a fantasy computer game (well obviously) and frankly rebelling against evil authority is such a fantasy staple its hard to view this as a particularly anarchistic message. In fact Bloodspell is rather careful not to bill either the authoritarian church nor the demonic underclass as mindlessly evil*, so in many ways the message was considerably less anarchistic than in less thoughtful films of the fantasy genre (and lets face it this is not a genre over-endowed with thought-provoking films). I think maybe it had a punk sound-track. Now, I wouldn't know a punk sound-track if it danced naked down the street whistling "Anarchy in the UK" but this certainly wasn't a cod-medieval sub-Clannad soundtrack and the juxtaposition of modern music in a fantasy setting worked surprisingly well here (much better than in Ladyhawke
, for example) without turning it into a post-modern joke (e.g., The Knights' Tale
). If this was a punk soundtrack then maybe I should actually check out some punk music because it was really good.
Aesthetically the film was never going to compete with the sort of animation you get from Pixar - after all they have a limited number of polygons available. Mostly this wasn't a problem and some of the sets, in particular the approach to the Cathedral were extremely pretty. The only place where the limited animation really jarred was during character interactions where the limited facial expression available made the acting appear rather wooden. Possibly this was because the voice actors weren't quite good enough to make this believable (and some of the bit part actors weren't that great although the leads were all good as was cairman
's cameo (which Bill spotted but I didn't)). It seemed more likely that machinima is a sufficiently new technique that the grammar for conveying emotions hasn't properly developed or wasn't well enough understood by us, the viewers. After all Thunderbirds
and its like demontrate that puppets can convey emotions and they give you much less to work with than a 3D head with a face mapped on to it. Since the problem appeared to reduce as the film proceeded it might well be that we got more accustomed to the conventions as we watched.
The plot of the film is your basic young man probably does the right thing for all the wrong reasons (or at least motivated entirely by hormones). But then he is portrayed throughout as a talented and good-hearted idiot. Bill says he even had an "idiot accent" which may be true - this is a Scottish film after all. Most of the other characters were competent and engaging although their motivations were occasionally a little obscure. The world was well-realised and the macro plot held together surprisingly well although some of the details along the way didn't bear close scrutiny after the fact. No plot-holes were visible as we watched however. As fantasy films go, it was pretty intelligent, although I might have wished that the women's costumes made a few more nods towards practicality. It was also well-paced and gripping with some stunning set-pieces and it left you wanting to know more about the world and the people within it.
So, if you like fantasy, I would recommend downloading and watching Bloodspell and since the makers are relying fairly heavily on "viral marketing" if you like it, blog about it.
* although, it must be said that the "big bad" did appear to have no redeeming features but we actually learn very little about the big bad and the religious organisation build around it did appear to be serving a useful purpose, if possibly unethically and over-zealously.