Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr. takes on the forces of darkness.
Years ago, one of the best RPGs I played on the ol' PC was Ultima III: Exodus, which was pretty simple compared to the big budget fantasy games of today. The graphics were pretty basic, seen from a top down perspective with limited animation. Still, despite the bland visuals, I still found myself lost in the land of digital fantasy, battling terrible hordes of monsters with spells and swords in my quest for virtue in the land of Ultima.
Well, it's at least a decade later and FINALLY, the Exodus movie is now a reality.
Okay, I'm kidding. Exodus: Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom has nothing to do with the old PC game from Origin Systems. It's one of the entries to this year's Metro Manila Film Festival, a yearly event that basically takes over every theater and moviehouse from Christmas Day to New Year's Day here in our parts. I chose Exodus since the posters showed some pretty nifty costumes and I thought, what the hey... it looks a lot better to me than "Ako Legal Wife!' in any case. So, after doing my shopping for a couple of new pairs of shoes and some graphic novels, I bought a ticket and headed in.
Now, let me say for starters that I went in not expecting a lot. I am pretty jaded when it comes to local films, especially local fantasy films. I have to admit that I find that local fantasy just doesn't have the sophistication I am used to. OKAY, I know that expeting something like The Lord of the Rings from local producers is a bit much, but I say, there are things that can give a fantasy movie (or any movie for that matter) sophistication and coolness that don't necessarily require big budgets or gobs and layers of prosthetics, or stiff CG. These things include the following: A Good Script and Imaginative Direction. Sad to say, I have seen few local films in the fantasy genre (be they superhero, sword and sorcery or whatever) that take the effort to have these things. For the most part, these films let the fancy special effects and costumes do the talking.
Exodus: Tales of the Enchanted Kingdom starts off perhaps in the crummiest way possible- by actually showing THE Enchanted Kingdom amusement park. Yeah, shameless plugging there. Apparently, the Exodus movie is a ride as well. We have the logo wizard of the park appear in human/CG form along with a crappy anti-cellphone message (which is STILL ignored by several assholes in the theater, particularly some idiot sitting behind me). FINALLY, after the overlong intro, we finally go into the actual story.
The film is set in a besieged fantasy world where the last few humans are being hunted to extinction by the forces of darkness (Literally... the enemies are 'taong dilim' or night people). Outnumbered, the last remaining human city is called Bantayan, which is relying on the services of a grim, unsmiling mercenary named Exodus (Ramon Revilla Jr.), a man with a 'murky past' (this is from the movie literature). Seeing as they are about to be massacred, the human leaders send Exodus on a quest to defeat the King of Darkness, Haring Bagulbol.
Okay, the first moment we hear the name of the Head Villain, Lord of Darkness and Master of Evil, we do not feel fear or awe. Who cannot help but giggle or guffaw at that fricking name?
Let me name some scary fantasy villains. Darkness from Legend. Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. Black Wolf from Wizards. Nekron from Fire and Ice. Thulsa Doom from Conan.
We got Haring Bagulbol.
I don't care what it means... I'm sure there's a meaning behind the word that made the writers choose it, but DARN IT, listen to how it sounds. BAGULBOL. It's FUNNY. NOT a name for the big villain of your fantasy epic.
GAH. Anyway... moving on...
Haring Bagulbol is played by local matinee idol/singer Jar-R who appears early on in a bath scene, and like young Sting in the old Dune movie appears in his bare essentials no doubt to the pleasure of all the girls out there. Well, they should soak it in since after that one scene he spends basically the whole movie afterwards covered head to toe in ornate armor and masks. What's the use of having him in masks all the time, and having a different voice? Anyway, Bagulbol basically spends the time in his castle, looking over torture chambers and being pretty passive, only sending out his minions a couple of times to hinder the oncoming assassination attempt on him from the humans.
Meanwhile, Exodus goes off on his quest, collecting the elemental creatures that are to be his allies. He gets four of them pretty easily- a Tikbalang or horse-beast named Tayho (Benjie Paras), a sexy flying aswang femme fatale named Bangkil (Aubrey Miles), a mischievous fire-child named Silab (BJ Forbes) and a lovely but fickle diwata or wind-fairy named Lin Ay (Iya Villania). Unfortunately, the FIFTH elemental being, an elemental of spirit called a Baylan, is supposedly extinct. The only remaining Baylan in the land is Haring Bagulbol himself (NO!) and of course he won't be joining the quest anytime soon.
So, despite the seeming hopelessness of the quest, Exodus finds a new direction from a cryptic vision and with his elemental allies go off to find 'the key' to all his questions. Meanwhile, the forces of evil are closing in on Bantayan, intent on extermination. Will Exodus and his comrades find the last Baylan in time? Can they defeat Bagulbol (snicker)?
For starters, this really is just a dumb fantasy movie to please kids. There are cool costumes and some nifty CG effects, and there are attempts for some wirework sword-fu and stunts. But that's about it- nothing really sophisticated or surprising, notthing really unique to this venture aside from the usual expected fare.
The visuals of the movie are hit-and-miss. A lot of the budget obviously went into the costumes for the main heroes and villains; everyone else is second rate, and it shows. While the art direction and production team tries hard, it's still pretty funny to see people in the fantasy land of Bantayan wearing plaid shirts and polos, or the odd dress which looks picked up from some ukay-ukay flea market. As it is, the look of the film is uneven- some of it looks to be just weird or cool, which sometimes works (Bangkil wears shades, the human 'speakers' of the King of Bantayan wear divers' masks) and sometimes doesn't. Which pretty much sums up everything else in the movie in terms of visuals. Yeah, every one of the extras look like they're extras acting and that probably will never change in local movies. Sigh.
As per the story, again, it's pretty simple and basic- it's a kiddie film, no LOTR or serious fantasy film. There are resultantly few touches of sophistication and lots of leaps in logic. There's glaringly bad pacing as seems to be always the case with 'Quest' films in local cinema- there are FAR too many scenes with the heroes just walking and walking and walking and camping and walking, too few enemy action and encounters. There's little sense of tension or urgency despite the fact that the last remaining humans are supposedly in danger of invasion.
At the start of the movie, Exodus leads a small army of men armed with what appear to be primitive camera flashes to fight an overwhelmingly superior number of dark creatures. Instead of bunching the warriors and the lights together and having good tactics, they basically just do the ol' Filipino way of fighting- Exodus says SUGOOOODDD!!!! (Charge!!!) and everyone runs at breakneck speed into the enemy without any formation or direction except to kill anything that's black. Well, who am I to criticize their war strategy when they apparently win anyway, at least for the time being.
So, why doesn't Bagulbol send his armies against Exodus at the end of the movie? In fact, where are all his warriors then? At the climax, he has four guys (main henchmen who appear far too late and are pretty much clobbered too easily by the equivalent heroes) to defend his turf. Then, there's the inevitable final battle between Exodus and Bagulbol that just boils down to another wire-fu fight to save the world. No tricks, no special obstacle, no riddle to puzzle over- Exodus just kills Jay-R and that's that. Happy Ending. Oh, right, along the way Exodus finds out something, finds the key (LITERALLY... too literally) and the movie's big twist, and that's that.
In terms of acting and performances, it's all par for the course. Bong Revilla basically mugs his way through the film as the stoic, unsmiling Exodus as he does in all of his movies, save with a lot less dialogue. Yeah, he looks cool in his armor and can swing a sword, but that's that. The four elementals could have been given more to say or do at least to show off their characters more, but for the most part are woefully under-used. A lot of potential, wasted. Oh well. At least they all look good posing on the movie posters.
Well, really, Exodus: Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom really is just what I expected it to be... a simple local costume fantasy action movie. Nothing more, nothing less. No surprises here, sad to say. Well, at least it wasn't something I would be ashamed to admit watching, and it was at least a good-natured film (despite the crappy shameless plug at the start). Fun for the kids. Grown-ups and fantasy fans, you'll be thinking of tons of stuff where this could have been made a lot better. Oh well.
There's a few more days left to the Holiday Break. Let's see if I can watch a couple more Festival Films before it's over. Then hopefully I'll be able to watch King Kong finally. Heh.