There are a great many cautionary tales that carry the message “Be careful what you wish for.” Some of the most potent come from our own history. For example, never allow yourself to be dared to do something you normally do with compensation for free, just ‘for the fun of it.’ It isn’t fun at all when you need to review a movie like Druids.
The title’s misleading, in a way, as druids only exist peripherally to the historical tale of Gaul warlord and king Vercingetorix. It’s likely that the production companies behind this awful film figured that was too many syllables for large American mouths trying to talk around the processed meat of their Whoppers. Anyway, Vercingetorix united the fractured tribes of Gaul in 52 BC against rising Roman proconsul Gaius Julius Caesar. While other chieftains never managed to get more than a few tribes on their side before another chieftain decided he had bigger balls, Vercingetorix dropped his mighty brass ones on everybody’s faces until they fell in line, and introduced the world to scorched earth warfare. Unfortunately, the tribal leaders remained fractured without his leadership, and when he became beseiged at Alesia and sent out for aid, the aid that came was practically leaderless and faced fortified Roman positions. In the end, Vercingetorix surrendered in person to Caesar, who imprisoned him and later executed the King of the Gauls at his Triumph in 44 BC, just a few steps from the Senate where he would be stabbed to death himself.
As stories go, in and of themselves, that’s a pretty good one. It takes real effort to butcher the narrative into something nearly unwatchable. You begin with your basic Anachronism Stew, which in this case is equal parts middle ages European architecture, horned helmets for the Gauls, period inappropriate armor for the Romans and stirrups on all of the horses. Mix in the facts of the events from a Grade 9 history textbook, write some dialog with the skill and editorial sense of a Final Fantasy fanfic writer, give the actors their direction in the vein of a high school dramatics production, fill the scenes with generic music, and presto! You’ve got a shitty movie.
One of the biggest problems with this movie is that it isn’t sure how best to approach its material. On the one hand, it seems like they’re trying to convey the timbre and timing of the events as they happened before the birth of Christ. On the other, it feels like they’re trying to cast Vercingetorix as the bastard butt-baby of William Wallace and Conan the Barbarian. The involvement of the druids seems to indicate that our hero has a mystical destiny, or at the very least special powers or a magic sword. The way the camera slows down, then speeds up, then slows down again during his ‘training’ certainly point things in that direction. Then again, these shots are so disjointed and crappy I think the director might have been drunk through the entire production.
Get used to that expression, he wears it the whole film.
There are so many bad production and editorial decisions on display, I don’t even know where to begin. Playing the role of Vercingetorix is Christopher Lambert, who delivers his lines so woodenly I suspect he attends Entmoots with Hayden Christensen and Channing Tatum, which says nothing about a stare so dead it shames any game BioWare’s ever made. Max von Sydow is the archdruid and I kept asking the man what he was doing in this turd. Gone is the cultured gravitas of Leland Gaunt or the mystery of Doctor Kynes or the malevolent glee of Ming the fucking Merciless; hell, this makes me want to watch Judge Dredd again so I can see the man do something at least approaching his level of grandeur. And a robot that tears people’s limbs off, and Rob Schneider in a role where I didn’t completely hate his annoying ass. …What was I talking about? Oh, right, Druids. Or The Gaul. Or Vercingetorix or whatever it’s actually called in its native French. What’s French for “Don’t watch this turd”, I wonder?
That’s another thing. This film was shot in both French and English, but it’s all dubbed. One moment the characters are speaking synced English and the next they’re obviously speaking in French but the words we hear aren’t in that language. Hell, some of the English lines are so badly dubbed while English is being spoken it’s like they didn’t know how to speak any language properly. If it had all been in French with subtitles, at least I could change the emoting in my head to spice up the flat, lifeless dialogue. It’s writing so stilted and ungainly it makes me want to cry. People don’t talk like this, even when you translate French to English. Just ask Luc Besson. Or better yet, go watch The Professional or The Fifth Element. Don’t watch this film.
“No, Mr. Vercingetorix, I expect you to die.”
On top of the awful writing, the shoddy direction, the abyssmal soundtrack and the unforgivable abuse of pre-BCE French history, there’s the portrayal of Caesar. It’s one thing to portray one of the most influential figures in Roman history as an intelligent, calculating and ultimately ruthless man; it’s quite another to cast him as little more than a Bond villain. And yet here we have him, a noble Italian gentleman of both arms and letters, played by a roly-poly Austrian dude who’s biggest claim to fame is being… well, a Bond villain. The one from Never Say Never Again, in fact, where he plays a video game with Bond. He doesn’t so much display charm and aplomb as much as he oozes the sort of slimy, ambitious arrogance that just makes your skin crawl. I mean, sure, maybe Caesar really was like that but with this guy in the role it makes the Roman Reich feel a hell of a lot like the Third.
And… now that I’ve Godwin‘d this review it’s probably time to end it. I think I’ve made, belabored and overstated my point: Do not watch this film. Watch the HBO/BBC series Rome for a much better take on the history of the period. Watching the aformentioned Besson films for good French action and direction. Hell, go watch Flash Gordon to see Max von Sydow enjoying himself instead of letting the man who’s been dead inside since he stopped being the Highlander kick him in the ass.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.