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Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Barbarossa: Siege Lord

Directed by: Renzo Martinelli

Produced by: Renzo Martinelli
Vlad Paunescu
Riccardo Pintus

Screenplay by: Renzo Martinelli
Giorgio Schottler
Anna Samueli

Story by: Renzo Martinelli
Giorgio Schottler

Starring: Rutger Hauer
Raz Degan
F. Murray Abraham
Christo Jivkov

Music by: Aldo De Scalzi

Cinematography by: Fabio Chianchetti

Editing by: Osvaldo Bargero

Studio(s): Martinelli Film Company International

Distributed by: 01 Distribuzione
Metrodome Distribution

Release date(s): October 2, 2009 (Milan Premier)
October 9, 2009 (Italy)
April 4, 2011 (United Kingdom, Straight-to-DVD release)

Running time: 124 minutes

Country: Italy

Language: English

Budget: €10,000,000

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)

Hey folks, there isn't really much to say, seeing as how I haven't done much at all apart from some quality bonding time with the dog over the past couple of days, so, let's talk about the future. Being topical at the moment, I must declare my love for Halloween. I prefer it to the Christmas festivities, for unlike that season almost-forced cordiality, Halloween is about letting all the freaks come out to play. There is a liberation, freedom and unity in dressing up and losing all inhibitions. In the past, I have dressed as The Joker, Robert Smith and an early-80s English skinhead (this time last year, I was bald, no thanks to drunken debauchery at a house party!). This year, I'll be dressing up as The Crow, a character from both the film and even better graphic novel by James O'Barr. I read it earlier on this year, and although really liking the movie, the raw purity of a man's soul being bore upon the page makes for some powerful reading. Alongside Watchmen, it is my joint-favourite graphic novel, and in tribute of O'Barr and his wonderful work, I pay homage by donning these colours at Halloween.

I know, that doesn't have much to do with film, but as Bill Hicks said to the Christians whom he offended, "forgive me." Anyway, here we have Barbarossa: Siege Lord to swallow, if indeed it is a film possible to be swallowed. To be frank, I bought this film on a whim. I saw it for £3 in my local Tesco, and despite being a direct-to-DVD flick, thought it'd be good to review: it stars Rutger Hauer, one of my favourite actors, as Barbarossa, in a film surrounding his struggles with the Lombard League, who attempt to maintain independence from the Holy Roman Empire. I figured, it couldn't be that bad, it's got Rutger Hauer and F. Murray Abraham, who I haven't seen onscreen in some time, and is going to at least a decent flick with some good production design and battle scenes. As ever, I apply the same rules to my reviews as I do the films I judge, so, whether or not I did or did not like this film is still up in the air, though congratulate yourself if it is so predictable to you the direction I am going with this, and shame on me!

Okay then, let's start off with the good about Barbarossa. For a feature that I have just found is budgeted at €10 million, there is a well-established mise-en-scene. The costumes are all reflective of the period that the film is trying to represent. Also, there is some strong production design, lending the film a certain sense of believability and legitimacy. Finally, I thought that F. Murray Abraham was good, and that there was a decent character arc for Raz Degan as Alberto de Guissano.

That's it. That really is it. There is nothing else that is praiseworthy regarding this film. Now, before I get my claws dug in here, it must be said that since seeing the film I have done some research on Barbarossa. In the United States, it was released as Sword Of War, with an extra fifteen minutes to its running time. Also, in Italy, the country in which the film was produced, it was shown in two parts, both a hundred minutes each, on television. Thus, my review can only be a reflection of the version released in the United Kingdom. In my final example before I get stuck in, Rutger Hauer is marketed as the lead actor in this version, yet even in the finished piece presented to me, it is obvious he is in a supporting capacity. So, to start with what is bad, there is some really woeful dubbing. Each of the lines spoken by the voiceover cast are delivered as though they are reading from the telephone directory and not a script supposedly laden with emotion. Also, the dialogue is not in sync with the actors' mouths: at least Sergio Leone, who could barely speak English at the best of times, understood synchronisation to 'elude' the audience from pointing bad dubbing out. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that Rutger Hauer and F. Murray Abraham speak Italian, so would it not be easier to release as a foreign-language feature, as opposed to the wasted time and effort put in bad dubbing? There is no effort whatsoever made to make the material sound vaguely interesting. Speaking of the material, in fairness to them it would be pretty hard to make this material seem greater than it is. I'm not sure if the bad dubbers are reading off the same hymn-sheet as Renzo Martinelli, but Jesus this dialogue is woeful. If God were a film critic, he'd be going Old Testament on these screenwriters, bringing down plagues and killing their first-born children. It would be funny if it weren't far the fact that it is consistently bad and full of these moments that say, 'isn't this glorious? Come, peasant, hear how we speak like noblemen.' Imagine the voice of a nobleman in your head and chances are you're not far off in being able to improvise everything written in the script by heart. After over two hours, I was just sick of the same old schtick of love, valour, honour, pride, courage and most of all, chivalry. Don't get me wrong, I like The Knight's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which contains all this content (and study Late Medieval Literature), but this just goes on and on and on: the tactic is subtlety and naturalism, and this dialogue is everything but these. This is just dialogue, now we'll talk about structuring. At the beginning of the film, Barbarossa is built up as the main character: we see him talk about various situations and do some brave things: he is set up as the protagonist and a sympathetic character, and in many ways the tone it takes resembles Alexander Nevsky, in that the conquering of the thieving peasantry of Milan is a justifiable cause. Then, less than half-way through, the film does an about-face, and tries to have us sympathise with the Milanese who have just been presented by the film as thieving scoundrels, at the expense of the rape and pillage of Barbarossa and his men. It's an about-turn that never works and may as well have people with placards running around saying 'GOODIES ONSCREEN!' and 'BADDIES ONSCREEN!' Furthermore, the film has way too many subplots and different things going on that it ends up swallowing itself into a black hole created by the sheer molecular badness of the film. Finally, film is a medium of trickery and illusion: even if it is a documentary, the filmmaker's job is to make the audience believe what they are seeing on the screen. At one point, there is a low-angle shot that shows about twenty to thirty cavalrymen go past, which had me think "that's a lot of horses, this film has scale." However, it reveals its tricks in the worst way imaginable: having these twenty to thirty cavalry badly matted on to a background of a hundred really badly CGI cavalry, which resemble the creatures from Attack The Block, but at least that is a film in the dark, whereas this is in broad daylight on a large horizon! This is preposterous, and at one point we what looks like a high-angle shot but was probably a retrograde version of Rome: Total War, as we are shown about a hundred horses do a ninety-degree turn in the space of less than two seconds. Believe me, I counted, and the turn is botched too!

Aside from some good mise-en-scene, acting from F. Murray Abraham and Raz Degan, I have nothing more to say about Barbarossa: Siege Lord. If I ever speak to Rutger Hauer or interview him, I've got to ask him about this film, for the version I saw is woeful. I hated virtually everything about the film, which is no short affair at just over two hours long. It is drawn out, boring and seriously lacking in the things that make up a good film. Seeing as how I had this on DVD, it was the closest I ever got to pressing the stop button and just saying the overly dramatic "no!," a cliche which appears on more than one occasion in this film. With Renzo Martinelli having scribed, produced and directed this terrible film, he has a lot to answer for in the auteur work, and I mean that in the worst way possible. I hated Swinging With The Finkels, but Barbarossa: Siege Lord brings me down to the depths of my reviewing spectrum. I feel like Joseph from Tyrannosaur, and found myself wanting Peter Mullan to just show up, call them all cunts and knock two tons of shit out of them! See what I've done? I hate using the c-word, but that is how low this film brought me. Speaking of Peter Mullan, I bought Neds today, my favourite film of the year. To purge me of the sin of watching Barbarossa: Siege Lord, I'm watching Neds again. Go get it, 'tis well worth every penny, cent, whatever the hell kind of currency you use to pay for things. Barbarossa: Siege Lord? No, no, no!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 0.8/10 (My first 'zero rating' in a couple of years!)

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (considering the venom I injected into the review! Hey, I've got beer, crisps and Neds, and I'm not a bleeding thicky, I'm Billericay Dickie, and I'm doing, very well!)

P.S. I half-contemplated making a Wicker Man to burn this DVD in! More propagandist than Eisenstein, and clearly a poor attempt at harking back to the peplum's of 1950s, which weren't particularly good anyway! Oh, yes, I forgot, the 'masterwork' of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra sucked!

P.P.S. People crying for "freedom" was appropriated by this film from what other film? Hint: not Cry Freedom.

P.P.P.S. I'm going to stop now: I keep remembering bits of the film I hated!

P.P.P.P.S. Come now, let us never speak of this again!