Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

A better-than-expected film from The Asylum

Age of the Hobbits (aka "Lord of the Elves" and "Clash of the Empires") (2012)
Starring: Christopher Judge, Bai Ling, Srogn, Khom Lyly, and Sun Korng
Director: Joseph J. Lawson
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

In Indonesia, 12,000 years ago a final battle between civilizations erupts when Tek Tek  (Srogn) of the peaceful, dimuniative  Tree People finds aid among the honorable human hunters (Ling and Judge) in his quest to rescue his people from the bloodthirsty, dinosaur-riding Rock Men.

The low-budget exploitation outfit The Asylum has been a source of amusement for me for the past 10-15 years. Invariably, when there's a big budget film about to come out, they have a direct-to-DVD low budget film with a similar title in the hopes of capitalizing on the bigger effort. More often than not, the films from The Asylum barely have a thematic similarity to the ones their titles copycat... and if they do, those themes are found within a fun-house mirror distortion of the themes and subject matter. With "Age of the Hobbits", The Asylum not only tries to evoke "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", but the DVD case proudly proclaims that it's an "epic adventure in the tradition of 'Clash of the Titans' and '300'." The truth, however, is that the film has more in common with "Fire Monsters vs. the Son of Hercules" and "Hercules Conquers Atlantis" than any of the films The Asylum is trying to sop reputation and sales figures off.

With that in mind, the only true statement in the quote from the DVD cover is that the film is an epic. Moreso than most low-budget fantasy films, the writers and director on this picture paid very close attention to the story structure and pacing that gives epic tales their epic feel. The heroes must not only fight their way through hoards of bad guys and monsters, but they go through emotional and spiritual growth, and by the end of the story the veiwer is left with the sense that we have just experienced a tale that was transformative on every level. Although the low budget and two-week shooting schedule is evident in many ways--some of the fight scenes feel under-rehearsed and the lack of full-sized prop dinosaurs mean that when live actors are supposedly riding or touching them, all we get are close-ups of their  heads and shoulders--the skill with which the film was shot and the performances of the actors almost makes up for those shortcomings.

The film's "name" leads, Christopher Judge and Bai Ling, are both excellent. Judge in particular shows that he deserves to be far better known than he is, as he repeatedly demonstrates talent that's been honed over 20 years of television acting that he knows how to say more with a softening or hardening of a facial expression than ten lines of dialogue could ever convey. And Ling is like a "Frazetta Girl" that has been brought to life--not only does she have the facial structure for it, but she strikes Frazetta-like poses repeatedly, even while beating and stabbing at enemies with a spear.
Also noteworthy are some of the dwarves who are playing the hobbits, with Srong (or Choeung, depending on the source) being particularly excellent. Like Judge, he repeatedly conveys more with small changes in facial expressions or posture than dialogue could do, and he's almost as charismatic as the big-name stars. It's a shame that whoever put together the IMDB listings for the film couldn't be bothered mentioning him or any other of the Cambodian actors.

Basically, if you like the old-style fantasy films or cavemen vs. dinosaur flicks (like "One Million Years B.C.", "Hercules in the Underworld" or the two previously mentioned sword-and-sandal epics), I think you'll have fun with this picture. But if you're expecting "300", you're going to be disappointed. Me, I was pleasantly surprised.

Note: The producers of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" sued The Asylum over the use of "hobbit" in the film's title. A judge issued an injunction against distributing the film, and a court hearing is scheduled for early January. A friend of mine has a copy of the DVD as it was originally intended to be distributed (with the "Age of the Hobbits" cover art. He kindly lent me his copy so I could write this review. The link above presently goes to a streamed, view-on-demand version of the film. It remains to be seen what the film will ultimately be widely released as on DVD.

1 comment:

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