Friday, December 30, 2011

[Freya-dæg] A Priest Review

First a brief explanation. Friday entries feature my look at a movie/book/game that is generally regarded as terrible or awful and my attempt to find some good in said movie/book/game. This specific theme is inspired by the origin of the word "Friday" being Old English "Frīġedæġ" (Frih-ye-day), or "day of Frigg" (full info here). Frigg is regarded as a separate goddess, but there are parallels to Freya, and they share a common root. So, exercising some artistic license, I've decided on the Queen of the Valkyries rather than the Norse goddess of Love. And so, as Valkyries pull fallen warriors from the fields of battle and bring them to Valhalla, so too am I going to try to redeem some otherwise slain movie/book/game. One viewer/reader/player's opinion might not be equal to such redemption, but what else is a blog for if not grandiose posturing? Onwards!

The movie Priest was recently released on DVD. Set in a post-apocalyptic old west, Priest presents a world where humans and vampires (eyeless creatures more akin to the twilight monsters of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or primitive tigers than sparkly heartthrobs) live in horrid disharmony. A major war has given a modicum of security to the pockets of humanity that still remain, but has left the elite soldiers of that war, the priests, without a place in this secure society. The film follows one priest, simply "Priest," in particular as he strives to save his kidnapped niece from vampires.

Does this plot sound like it's a mission of earth shattering proportions? One on which the survival of humanity may well rely? No? Well. You're quite right.

The real threat to humanity comes from one of Priest's old friends (referred to as "Black Hat") who has been made into the first human-vampire hybrid...somehow. The movie never really explains how or why. It makes it clear that vampires can either feed off of people or turn them into obvious familiars (dilated pupils, pale eyes, paler skin - think Nosferatu, actually) - but even the mechanics of this are not explained. Does it happen at random? Do the vampires choose their familiars after great deliberation? At least the movie makes it clear that only the vampire queen can make a hybrid with her bite - but why she chose to do so to Black Hat specifically is never explained.

That none of this is explained could be because vampires are limited to living in what the film calls "reservations." Let me just reiterate something here. This is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie set in what could be summed up as a future wild west about a conflict between Humans and Vampires. Humans live in cities. Vampires live in reserves. The way that these details look taken altogether makes the connection to Cowboys and Indians just too easy to make.

But it's not over yet.

The logic of the ruling class in this movie, of the Church that is, really makes no sense. Priests are still around. Vampires are still around. Priests are trained to kill vampires and only to kill vampires. Yet, to keep the fragile peace, I guess, the Clergy (the Church high council) refuses to let the movie's hero, Priest, leave the city to save his niece.

To its credit, the movie does point out that the Church disbanded the army of priests for fear of their skill and ruthlessness, but two things bother me about this. One: the Church is not made up of vampires, so if these elites were blessed by god with vampire slaying powers, then the Church should have a little more faith in their self-control. Two: There are still vampires around, guys. Shouldn't the priests at least live out their usefulness before you take their teeth out and refuse to give them back? Why do they even have these vampires on the reserves anyway? It wouldn't bug me if the Church at least said, "even these eyeless beasts are god's creation, and so must be preserved." It wouldn't be great, but it would be something. And that is better than nothing.

The credits say that this movie is based on the graphic novel series by Hyung Min-Woo. I haven't read this series, but if the plot summary on Priest's wikipedia page is accurate "based on" is stretching it a bit.

Nonetheless, there is some good in this movie, even if it is a pretty shameless action flic. So what does this movie do well?

Information pacing. Yes, there might not be a lot of it here, but Priest's background story is well presented. We aren't told up front about every detail of Priest's past, and its revealed slowly. I'd compare it to an onion, but it's a little too clichéd to make you cry. It isn't particularly unique, but it was a pleasant surprise to see this kind of character development in a movie like this. Plus, the movie doesn't bust out the dick jokes and bad innuendo one-liners when the question of the priests' celibacy is broached.

Similarly, I really enjoyed the idea that a vampire-human hybrid is such a big deal that it takes a queen, and an active choice to make one. This movie just doesn't handle this aspect very well.

Christopher Plummer. Yes, an actor is not an aspect of story or background detail, but that Christopher Plummer is here really brightens the movie for me. His role as the head of the Clergy doesn't get him a lot of screen time, but he gets right into the part and plays the pompous cleric quite excellently.

The Green Lantern Effect. Like the recent Green Lantern movie, this film is not particularly well done and can easily be reduced to some pretty crummy messages or themes, but it's interesting enough to get me to want to go out and read the original. Also, since Priest is a graphic novel series, I'm much more likely to check it out in the near future than I am to get into the decades-long mythos of the Green Lantern universe.

It all comes down to this: Adaptations exist to increase revenues and exposure. Having grossed $78.3 million to date with an estimated budget of $60 million (all numbers from the wiki page), Priest is not quite a Jurassic Park or a Titanic. But, speaking for myself, it definitely succeeded on the exposure front. I'm intrigued, and, given the chance, I would pick up volume one of Priest. So, in my eyes, this movie overcomes its faults, heavy as they are.

Freya, go ahead and take this one out from the moldering heaps of grisly dead.

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