Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie

Special Edition Collector's Set
72 minutes

Captain Severus, a revered veteran warrior with a considerable reputation, has received an urgent request for assistance from the remote backwater planet Mithron. Mithron has only one site of strategic importance, a shrine defended for countless generations by a full company of Space Marines from the Imperial Fists Chapter. What dreadful fate could have overcome them that they ask for help? ...

The Warhammer 40k movie. This is something that has been discussed for decades. Every fanboy of Warhammer 40k has dreamed of it...and now it is here.

So what do we have?'s CGI. This is to be expected. I think we all knew it would be. Now since it is 2010, the level of perfection capable with CGI is amazing. Throw enough money at a studio and they can make something gorgeous. Look at Avatar for films and the Trailers for Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, Mark of Chaos, Dawn of War and Dawn of War 2. We know what can be done.

As Avatar evidenced, a pretty picture is nice and all, but the story has to be good. It has to be Warhammer 40,000.

For the writing they got Dan Abnett to do the screenplay. I think it is safe to say that Mr. Abnett knows 40k. It shows. The story is good. I wish there was more of it: it was a bit short. The prelude is in the little hard-bound graphic novel included in the Special Collector's Edition, but really, I wish they would have "filmed" that as well. 72 minutes is an awfully short movie.

The CGI was pretty good. The facial capture work, very well done albeit a little static and stiff. It works ok, Space Marines aren't exactly the most expressive folks so it's passable. The animation of the characters, not as good. It looks stiff. They move like animation from Terminator 2 or maybe Toy Story. mechanical, not motion-captured. The models for Space Marines and their gear is pretty good. The skins good as well. Scoring this as 50% good, 50% not so good.

The environments were mixed. The space-based bits were excellent. The Battle Barge, the interiors and exteriors as well as Mithron from space and the star field, totally good. However when you get to Mithron it is stark and like basic CGI class 101: a flat desert with occasional rocky bits sticking up. Not good. However once you move in to the crags and then to the monastery, it turns really sharp and looks excellent. There's a reason for this of course.

This is something that should have been realized in pre-production but when you have sparse settings, the eye will look  for imperfections. The way to resolve that issue is to either have really exceptional, realistic environments (so for a desert it needs to be photo-realistically imperfect) or clutter it enough with rocks, crags and "stuff" that your eye stops looking for it. That's why the craggy bits and monastery bits work...they have enough there to make us simply stop looking for patterns that are "wrong". Anyhow, the environments get a 50% score as half were good and half not so much.

The story is solid. You have a bunch of scouts that get elevated to full battle brothers and taken by the Captain to Mithron to investigate the goings on. The vibe is on target. The dialog witty and appropriate. Nothing grossly out of place like female Astartes or the Emperor becoming a woman or anything like that. I'm sure that there will be a few purists that will balk over scouts being elevated to a tactical squad right off the bat, or the apparent age of the Captain, Apothecary. Really, it doesn't matter to me and I give it a good solid 90%

The vocal work was solid. I hope so, they got top shelf talent to do the voice work. They did well in vocal work as well as the motion capture for their faces, so that part was solid as a rock. I can't help but wonder how this would have turned out if the funds spent on voice talent were instead spent on the animators, but that is neither here nor there. A solid 90%

Audio effects were solid as was the sound track. Actually, the sound track was brilliant, I'm trying to see if they are going to release it for download or something because it's especially good. The sound effects like how the thunderhawk, bolters, explosions...good. They could have had a little more depth and the sound off the DVD had to be turned up for the voices and down for the gunfire. I'll give this am 80%

Presentation and Collector's Edition goodies. The packaging was good, I like the metal tin. The special features were cool albeit limited. Most of the imagery we had already seen on the website so it wasn't so great. The little featurettes were class though and made up for it. Also included was a hard-bound comic book. The pencils were okay, inking weak, coloring weak, story good, lettering good. Overall for the presentation, I have to give it a 70%

Overall it's an enjoyable film I've watched twice and enjoyed both times. I do admit that the Dawn of War trailers looked better (lets not even compare it to the upcoming Space Marine game from THQ.) but the story makes it worth watching as does the soundtrack.

3 out of 5 Stars.


zAngle said...

Great review !

Anonymous said...

did you mean?

GDMNW said...

I think your star rating is a little more honest than the prose.

The film was a disappointment, not due to its constraints but rather because of the things they could have done better but didn't.

Sir Jaunty said...

all of the above true, but perhaps we should give it some slack, for two important reasons. 1. There are millions of 40k fans across the world and they (we) have huge love and respect for the history and adhereance to such, but conversely there are many around the world who are not, but could be 'convinced' to be perhaps with a less mythos-heavy story. Thus, appearing to us to be a tad flat and at times dilluted in order to maximise the demographic.
2. Faulty direction. Many scenes in the movie seem to be misdirected. For example, in many scenes we are never quite sure where certains perspective and which characters are invloved seem to be vauge and obtuse in the extreme, espcially in combat or action sequences. Additionlly, as mentioned in the review, the voice acting has some top names behind it, but in the case of Sumpter,Stamp and Hurt it feels as they where simply going through the motions in places this leads to some quite out of character quotes and to my mind would be even more apparent if it were not for Sean Pertwee's role; as he does tend to through himself at any part he gets the chance at.
I also think the idiom of expensive talent verses more animation cash is a good one, for it could have been spent on better visuals and with the benefit of less well known acting voice talant, who may have been more receptive to direction and enthusiasim for the work. Rather than, perhaps, the other way around.