Heroic Class: Farmer
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Uwe Boll is not a good director. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say he's a terrible director, one of the worst working in the film industry (if not the worst, hands down, period). He makes cut-rate, low-budget schlock, and, to his credit, has made a career out of those kinds of films. They are neither watchable not good, however, sitting somewhere just slightly above the works of the Asylum, if we're being charitable. His films aren't meant to be good; they're designed to eke as much profit as they can from as little budget as possible, all so Boll can go off and make his next film as quickly as possible.
It's not surprising that Boll became the trash king of video game adaptations. Games-to-film was a genre that Hollywood failed to understand for decades (much as they failed to understand how to adapt comic books into movies for decades). Thus, the licenses to make video games into films were relatively cheap. For Boll and his production partners that meant they could snatch up licenses on the cheap and put out films with baked in "name brand" associated. Sure, they weren't the biggest games, with the biggest names, but if a title could drag anyone into the movie theater then that was enough. You just had to get asses in seats.
Hell, one could argue that the asses in seats weren't entirely necessary so long as, over the life of the franchise, enough money could be made to recoup all expenses. Certainly that seems to be the reason why we have not one Dungeon Siege film but three, all under the "In the Name of the King" branding. This first film was a total flop, pulling only $13.1 Mil off a budget of $60 Mil, but two direct-to-video sequels followed, made with much lower budgets, and presumably Boll got his pay day... eventually. If not, how else do you explain how he keeps working, why he keeps making sequels, and why his churn never ends?
When I watched In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale back in 2011, I called the film "barely passable" and "not entirely unwatchable". At that point I had probably already suffered through a few of Boll's efforts and found the movie to be not as bad as his other works. That may be true still, but in the intervening years I've largely forgotten all that I suffered through at the hands of Boll's films, and thus I don't have such a charitable opinion of this movie. Now, just on its own (and not taken with any context), In the Name of the King is a tedious and tired affair that doesn't really suit the talents of the actors in the movie. It's slow, leaden, and hard to watch. It is, in fact, peak Boll insofar as it's everything you expect from one of this movies, to a tee. It's awful.
The movie (like the original game) focuses on Farmer (Jason Statham), a simple guy living a simple life on his farm. He has a lovely wife, Solana (Claire Forlani), and a cute little moppet of a child, Zeph (Colin Ford), and the trio enjoy their quiet days working on the farm while entertaining Farmer's friend, Norick (Ron Perlman), most evenings. Farmer's peaceful life is contrasted with that of the king, Konreid (Burt Reynolds), who has to deal with the struggles of a willful niece, Muriella (Leelee Sobieski), a nephew, Duke Fallow (Matthew Lillard), vying for this throne, and a court Magus, Gallian (Ray Liotta), plotting war on his people.
That war comes in the form of the Krugs, ogre-like creatures who invade following Gallian's orders. They attack Farmer's village, killing many of the villagers (Farmer's kid included), before kidnapping most of them to go work in Gallian's mines. Farmer is left with just his friend Norick and his brother-in-law to track down the Krugs, save his wife and, just maybe, save the world as well. Oh, and there might just be a secret from his past that will change the very direction of his future.
In the Name of the King is a sloppy movie, through and through. Where it suffers the most is with all its various plot lines all running at the same time, pulling the film in multiple directions all at once. Is the film about Farmer, who he is and who he was meant to be? Is it about an evil wizard? Is it about the King's niece, who has her own power growing within? Or the evil nephew? Or the king? Or the forest nymphs that Farmer finds, who give aid when needed? It's all of these things and none because the film never really develops any of these storylines in any meaningful way. Everything is thrown together with padding meant to take the place of development.
There could certainly have been a compelling film with the evil Duke trying to steal the King's throne while Farmer rises up to defend it. That's a tight, focused story that parallels the Duke against the Farmer. Two sides of the same coin, but only one would actually be good for the realm. If the film had focused on those elements, and nothing else, it might have had a tight and cohesive 90 minutes of movie. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it, but I wouldn't have been as bored by everything going on.
Or the film could have focused on the niece, Muriella, and given her the development she needed. She's wooed by the evil wizard, Gallian, so he can somehow steal her connection to the land and... do evil things. It's confused and stupid, to say the least, but if the movie had focused on her desire to gain that power, and what it would have meant for her and the realm, that's a through line that could have worked. She wants to be a warrior, her king rejects her, so she turns to the dark magics only to realize she doesn't like where this path will lead. This puts her against the man she trusted, the Magus, and is forced to fight him to save her realm. That, too, is compelling.
Instead of any one of these stories, though, the film crams all of them in to an overstuffed 127 minutes. Nothing gets explored so nothing matters, and each and every little storyline that's raised (and then ignored) only adds to the mess. It all becomes incredibly tedious over time, to the point where I struggled to stay awake. The film needed focus, it needed to pare back some of the elements in the story (that were clearly included because they were in the video games) all so it could tell the kind of tight action tale audiences wanted.
But then the film would have had to deliver on its action. It doesn't lack for stunt performers, or big weapons, or any of the things you expect from large-scale action sequences. What it lacked was a director behind the scenes who understood actually getting good action performances. Instead of cleanly shot, well-performed action, we have sequences where 15 cuts are used to convey one single action. Fighting a krug requires eight cuts. Getting on a horse requires five. Just climbing a ladder needs three. Everything is so choppy, likely to cover for poor direction and bad action performances, that the action never coheres together. It's boring and hard to watch.
But then, the same can be said for the actors themselves. Statham, for his part, only really seems to come alive when action is going on. He's so bored by his character that he phones in the rest of the performance. Most of the actors are phoning it in, though, including Reynolds as the king (tragically miscast in this role) and John Rhys-Davies as the court's good wizard, Merick. Forlani at least tries to give her character some depth, but she's missing from whole reels of this film, her character captured and kept off screen. I'll give Sobieski credit that at least she was trying to give some kind of performance here, but she's just terrible. Shes flat, unremarkable, and boring... like the rest of the film. And if this was her really trying, I guess we can see why she hasn't been in much since this movie.
In the Name of the King is, in short, a terrible film no one should have to watch. I've watched it twice now and I can say, with authority, it only gets worse with time. This is Uwe Boll doing what Uwe Boll does: using his lack of talent to churn out bad movies on the quick. He failed here, as he so often did, but he kept the license around so he could try again... and again... and nothing about his movies will ever improve.