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Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2006 8:09 pm    Post subject: Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King Reply with quote

I've noticed a great many "fantasy epics" crowding the new release shelves at Blockbuster recently, so I decided to give one of these a try. I came across Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King as I sought out a film I hoped would be both well-made and thought-provoking. In all honesty, I didn't expect either quality, but I hoped...

I learned (after watching this film) that the title for this made-for-tv movie from 2004 was originally Ring of the Nibelungs - a much more fitting title. But the all-knowing executives at Sony Pictures decided to go with something a little more "sexy," thus we have Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King. Dumb.

For those of you who are as unfamiliar with the German legend of the Nibelung as I was, here's a little background:

The Nibelungenlied (the "Song of the Nibelungs") was a heroic epic poem written in Middle High German, most likely in Austria, during the early 13th century. The Nibelungenlied was another version of the Nibelungen cycle that was different from the Icelandic works. It was the most popular epic written in medieval German, since half-dozen complete manuscripts had survived.

Like the Icelandic saga, the Nibelungenlied was a tale of the cycle of betrayal and revenge in the cursed Burgundian royal family.

The film is set 1,500 years ago (around 500 AD) in Northern European countries that I've never heard of (other than Iceland). The sets are unremarkable...until you discover than none of them were actually there. Nearly all of this film was shot with blue screens and filled in with CGI later. You should spend the time to watch the five short featurettes in the Special Features (Behind the Scenes, Fight Choreography, Special Effects, Behind the Myth, and Interviews with the Cast) to learn more about this and to be amazed by the technical prowess of the filmmakers.

Siegried, the main character, is played by unknown German (to me) actor, Benno Fürmann. I thought Benno would have made a better Conan than Arnold Schwarzenegger - though he's not as muscular, he seemed to fit the physical descriptions of Robert E Howard better (in my mind's eye). The film also stars many more familiar actors: Kristanna Loken (as the warrior Queen of Iceland), the lovely Alicia Witt (as the sister of the king of Burgund), Max von Sydow (as the wise and kind-hearted blacksmith who raises Siegried), and a dark-tressed Julian Sands (as the evil vizier who secretly aches to usurp the king in the tradition of all viziers).

Despite the fact that it was made for TV and probably with a minimal budget, this film was actually quite good. The Fantasy elements were admittedly cheesy, but it managed to avoid the tired cliches that so many of these fantasy films seem unable to. According to IMDB, the Nibelungenlied is the Nordic legend that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm not sure that this claim holds any merit, but I know Tolkien was a great scholar of European legendry, so it wouldn't surprise me if he found inspiration there.

The themes of this film aren't the expected Good vs Evil or Mighty Heroes facing insurmountable odds - it's about betrayal, deception, the unholy temptation of immeasurable wealth and power, and maybe even the cleansing power of redemption. I found myself much more involved in the "story" than I typically am with these types of films. The ending, true to the legend, was also surprising and unexpected.

All told, this is a film worth seeing. I wouldn't mind seeing a squel (the Nibelungenlied legend doesn't end here).

To pique your interest, check out this gallery of screen caps.
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