Gaming properties present a unique opportunity for filmmakers. First, there’s a guaranteed, built-in audience surrounding the franchise, one that will favorably lap up almost anything poured into the trough in hopes that it’ll enhance the gaming experience. Second, there’s an established property – no need to have to think up everything fresh and new to this already established world – so drafting a story might come a bit easier or, at least, a bit less daunting. Third, there’s terrific crossover AND ‘crossback’ potential – fans of a new film may very well go back and purchase versions of the game in order to rediscover this new fantasy, and existed fans will be far more likely to invest in the newest version of the game now that they’ve been dipped back into this realm of imagination.
However, therein lies one specific problem: when crafting a film based on a popular video gaming franchise, it’s important not to speak directly in the virtual shorthand already established – the characters, the worlds, the situations, etc. – because you might only disillusion newcomers with a story whose background relies on having played the game … and methinks that’s the greatest shortcoming of DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER.
As I’ve said (and had to say often, as of late), I’m no gamer, so I can’t speak to how well the films accurately depicts the world of DRAGON AGE. I can’t address how well the various races introduced here – these knights, these mages, these wizards, and these mystical rulers in long flowing robes – relate to the gaming experience. What I can say is that, right out of the gate, I was more than a healthy bit confused as to what was going on – why had these wizards kidnapped this young maiden, how did they know she held the secret they’d long sought, who commanded these knights who showed up to rescue her, and what was up with all these dragons? So far as this viewer was concerned, a healthy bit was lost in the translation; it wasn’t until about thirty minutes in that I had a better understanding – one that, at least, answered some of the questions that could’ve (and should’ve) been laid out earlier – and all of it started to make sense.
Still, as one who loves a good fantasy yarn, DAWN OF THE SEEKER has plenty to offer by way of action and adventure. Cassandra – a brave and beautiful young ‘Seeker’ (basically a knight for all practical intents and purposes) – must rise up to confront and expose the conspiracy behind the religious ruling order, known as the Chantry of Andraste. Her chief problem? She’s hotheaded and quick to act without thinking about the consequences. It’ll take a newfound maturity – that and the companionship of a young mage only at a cusp of discovering his magical powers – for her to win the day, drive the evil knights from her fellowship, and stop the dragons from marauding her fabled kingdom.
See? Doesn’t that sound exciting?
It did to me, but there’s quite a bit of DAWN OF THE SEEKER that falls flat. For state-of-the-art animation and storytelling, there’s a lot here that just didn’t work for the uninitiated viewer. Right out of the gate, I had more questions than could be answered with any degree of screenwriting logic. As I’ve always said, once I understood the world as it was being presented, it was much easier to understand the narrative, but the film never successfully achieved the level of coherence I would’ve wanted, and this was due in large part because Cassandra – our lead hero – was never really someone I related to. Part-Knights-Templar and part-Shakespearean-shrew, she’s brimming over with an anger that never gets ‘humanized.’ Granted, that can be a difficult task for any animated motion picture, but seeing how Disney and Pixar do it every day I would think it to be an easier task than what comes across here.
That, and, no matter how many times Cassandra loses her sword (a big no-no for a knight), it’s always back in her possession just in time for the next action sequence. She can fall out of the sky on the back of a dragon, but, once she hits the ground, she’s perfectly fine; she simply gets up and runs off on her next adventure. At what point did the script explain her invulnerability to danger? Given the fact that she gets manhandled quite readily elsewhere by lowly humans, why is it she can take the brunt of a swipe from these goliath-sized lizards and get back up without so much as a bruise or a scrape? It defies logic, and, due to the fact it never gets fully explained, it only serves to weaken the picture almost to the point of silliness – never a good thing, even in a film inspired by a game.
What works here are the dragons. They’ve been given some of the best attention-to-detail and animation ever committed to a film. They’re real creatures here – living, breathing demons with wings who belch fire and howl with tremendous power – the things that fill the nightmares of valiant warriors. Not all of DAWN’s animation works – it gravitates heavily between obvious CGI and little more than average Saturday morning TV fare – but they’re put great love into the dragons, and, on that point alone, the film’s worth watching. Too bad they get so little attention until the last action pieces.
The film comes from BIOWARE and Toneplus Animation Studios with FUNimation as a contributing partners. It looks and sounds pretty grand, though I’ll admit I had some trouble with characters’ audio in the early part of the film. The disc has a handful of special features, but the one I enjoyed the most was the tour of BioWare’s Studios along with the behind-the-scenes look at how the film was conceived on through the creative process. Otherwise, it was all a bit standard stuff. The Blu-ray release is packaged as a Blu+DVD combo pack which is a nice touch.
RECOMMENDED for fans of the game (obviously) and even fans of fantasy entertainment will probably find stuff to love here. DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER isn’t a failure on any level – other than trying to capture relevant, relatable characters in a world where the laws of physics need to be respected – and it contains some of the best dragon sequences committed to film since the 80’s underrated gem, DRAGONSLAYER, came and went from screens. More focus on these huge beasts – along with greater focus on hammering out this magical realm and characters non-gaming viewers can relate to – would’ve produced something I would’ve enjoyed more than I did. Seriously, I wanted to like this one much more than I did.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at FUNimation provided me with a DVD screener copy of DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER for the expressed purposes of completing this review.