Dragon Wars (UK - BD RB)
Our Scott McKenzie thinks D-War is a D-Saster made by people in D-Nial...
When reporter Ethan Kendrick is called to investigate a suspected terrorist incident in Los Angeles, he is reminded of a day in his youth when he met an old man with magic powers who told him that one day he would play a role in saving the world from Korean monster called the Imoogi. He meets a girl called Sarah, who he suspects is the reincarnation of a girl who is reborn every five hundred years that presents the Imoogi with the opportunity to become a dragon and take over the universe. Make sense? Thought not…
Deep within the heart of Dragon Wars (also known as D-War) is a Korean legend, but somewhere along the line writer/director Shim Hyung-rae turned the story into a screenplay that makes no sense and secured enough funding to make this the most expensive Korean movie ever made. According to IMDb, the budget was just over $75 million, but there is nothing on the screen that is worth more than a Sci-Fi Channel movie of the week. In fact, it’s worth a hell of a lot less than even that relatively low standard.
In order to expand on the legend and give us a bit more action on-screen, the director dreamed up additional monsters and characters. The only problem with this is that there is no explanation where they came from and the very fact that one of the monsters is equipped with rocket launchers on its back (in 1507 no less!) makes no sense whatsoever. Now, I’m not usually one to dwell on a point but just have a look at the first screenshot again. Monsters with frickin’ rocket launchers! If I was seven years old, I’m sure this would be the second best movie I’ve ever seen (right after Transformers), but I’m not seven years old. I’m twenty-nine and I can quite confidently say this is pushing for the title at the opposite end of the scale.
To say the plot has a few holes would be an understatement. The movie opens with a flashback within a flashback that serves only to get as much exposition out of the way as quickly as possible. However, the incoherent plot is just as lost on the characters themselves as it is on the audience, with the line ‘what are you talking about?’ being used not once but twice by different characters early on. Throughout the movie there are lines thrown in (probably in post-production) to explain away huge gaps in continuity and logic, indicating that this has either been cut down from a three-hour epic or it was just a load of old tosh from day one and this was a last desperate attempt to salvage the story.
The only saving grace is one scene where our heroes are waiting to get picked up from the top of a building and the big bad snake crawls up to get them. That’s the image on the poster and the only time when the movie even threatens to be anything more than a bad big snake movie. Immediately after that scene we get into a battle between the army and monsters with frickin’ rocket launchers and for no reason our heroes disappear from the action. It seems to me that everyone got a bit carried away with the idea of helicopters versus pterodactyls and forgot what the movie was supposed to be about.
The opening narration hints at a fight between a good big snake and the bad big snake, but the goodie doesn’t turn up until the final scene. It wasn’t clear to me whether it was being lazy or if it wasn’t supposed to turn up until something magical happened, but I’m certainly not interested in watching Dragon Wars again to find out. With the massive budget, it’s a big surprise to find such a low-rent cast. Robert Forster in particular should know better, with his performance here a million miles away from his Oscar-nominated turn in Jackie Brown. However, there is something about Dragon Wars that stops me awarding it a solitary point out of ten. It’s bad, but I’d rather watch it than The Marine, another recent Blu-ray stinker that I had the pleasure of reviewing. Something tells me that quote’s not going to make it onto the DVD cover though.
Dragon Wars is presented in 2.40:1 (1080p /AVC) and I have to say there are no real problems with the quality of what is presented here, with a bright picture that does justice to a colourful movie. The picture is sharp and unsurprisingly there aren’t any obvious artefacts so if you’re a fan of the movie you should add another point or two onto my video score. However, I am compelled to assess the whole visual experience and I can’t complete my assessment without mentioning the dodgy CGI. The Imoogi doesn’t look too bad on its own, but everything else monster-related looks woefully out of place and random patches of dust are used to cover up where a more ambitious crew would have shown more detail in the on-screen destruction.
One thing that the TrueHD soundtrack has got going for it is that it’s loud, especially when the Imoogi is smashing up Los Angeles. Unfortunately the volume seems to hide the fact that there’s not as much use of directional sound as I would have expected from a big budget monster movie. Again, this goes some way to giving the impression that you’re watching a TV movie, and not something that needs to be appreciated in the cinema with a state of the art sound system. The music is pretty underwhelming and while I may have plenty of problems with the quality of the lines that come out of the actors’ mouths, there’s nothing wrong with the way it sounds.
No Blu-ray exclusive extras here I’m afraid, and not many non-exclusive extras either. ‘5000 Years in the Making’ is the making-of featurette that focuses heavily on interviews with the director and footage of the world premiere. It’s pretty amazing that no one from the cast and crew stand in front of the crowds of eager fans and offers them their money back or at least a few words of apology. I can only assume they were swept up in the excitement of the premiere. We also get a gallery of conceptual art and a comparison between footage from the movie and storyboards, but overall this set of extras doesn’t offer much to enhance the viewing experience.
If pretty people with nice hair running away from a big CGI snake (or monsters with frickin’ rocket launchers) is your kind of thing, then Dragon Wars ticks all the boxes. If you’re looking for a coherent plot, decent acting and convincing special effects, you may like to consider shopping around first before settling on this messy production. There are no exclusive extras here and while there are no obvious problems with the video or audio quality, you’d be hard pressed to find significant differences between this Blu-ray release and an upscaled standard DVD.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 19th May 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Chinese
Extras: 500 Years In The Making Featurette, Photo Gallery, Animatics
Easter Egg: No
Director: Hyung-rae Shim
Cast: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Craig Robinson, Aimee Garcia
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 90 minutes
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