Starring Kristanna Loken, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, Meat Loaf, Udo Kier, Billy Zane
Directed by Uwe Boll
An awesome looking movie about a bad ass vampiress in a sexy black outfit that uses her vampiric skills and a variety of weapons to battle and destroy an evil vampire lord bent on vampiric domination of the world and in between battles she even finds the time for some hot and sweaty sex. But enough about my thoughts on the Underworld: Evolution trailer, I’m here to review BloodRayne.
You know you’ve got a problem when there’s a trailer for a similarly themed movie before the movie you’re about to watch and when the movie is over all you can think is that the trailer you saw before the movie is what the movie you just watched should have been. I have never played the video game BloodRayne but am familiar with the character and know enough about it to know that this whole 18th Century origin film that Uwe Boll and screenwriter Guinevere (American Psycho) Turner have concocted is precisely the wrong approach to have taken for a movie version, and I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. A co-worker of mine is a big time gamer and one of her favorite games just happens to be BloodRayne. When I informed her a few months back that a movie was coming out soon she was ecstatic. Mind you, she doesn’t follow films like some of us do. She knows nothing of House of the Dead or Alone in the Dark. If you said the name Uwe Boll to her she’d probably think you were talking about a piece of German Tupperware. She had no expectations other than giddy excitement at the prospect of seeing one of her favorite video game characters being brought to life on film. Then I showed her the trailer for the film and instantly declared that he had “ruined it”. Uwe Boll with BloodRayne, Roland Emmerich with Godzilla… what is it about German genre directors that leads them to make movies based on popular characters so wrongheaded they only succeed in pissing off the target fan base?
It’s after watching BloodRayne that I think I have finally figured out, and mind you this is purely theory on my part, where Boll keeps going wrong. As much as many people like to proclaim him an idiot, he’s clearly quite an intelligent person and a shrewd businessman. But from everything I’ve read of his and listening to the audio commentaries on the DVDs of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark I get the impression that Boll is one of those people that gets an idea in his head and becomes so fixated on what a great idea it is that nobody can talk him out of it, and considering that Boll operates outside of the studio system and pretty much has creative control over his films, there is no counterbalance to tell him otherwise. The biggest problem with the Hollywood studio system is that most of the people in charge often squelch creative vision in favor of what they think the audience wants through endless marketing research, polling, etc. to the point of making almost consistently banal productions that when they suck they do so in roughly the same sort of manufactured manner. Still, there are talented producers and other creative forces behind the scenes in the development process that help focus the filmmaker’s vision and sometimes even have to tell them when something they want to do won’t work. The best filmmakers know how to balance the expectations of the audience with their vision of the movie they want to make.
This is what seems to be what’s missing in the world of Boll. It’s entirely about his vision and source material, fans of the source material, and naysayers be damned. House of the Dead had virtually nothing to do with the game it was based on outside of people with guns shooting zombies. Granted, there wasn’t much more to it than that, but still. Other than a few names and concepts, Alone in the Dark had nothing in common with the video game it was based on, or even basic human logic for that matter. Now we have an unimaginative BloodRayne origin film that fails to capture what it is about the game or its title character that made it popular enough for him to want to buy the film rights and turn it into a motion picture to begin with. This is not the film that fans of the game wanted to see. I’ve never played the game and even I can say that this isn’t the take on the character I would have preferred to see. Boll has said in interviews that he’d like to do a sequel set in the Wild West. Dude, that’s not the BloodRayne movie anybody is clamoring for, either. Now he’s claiming in interviews that Konami is talking to him about making a Metal Gear Solid movie. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I’ll just go ahead and tell him right now that nobody is interested in seeing an origin film about Snake going through the training academy. Most view Boll as a hack; I see him as an undisciplined filmmaker in desperate need of that person or persons to serve as a counterbalance when his misguided enthusiasm supersedes practicality.
Of course, everything I’ve just wrote would be moot if BloodRayne had turned out to be a good movie. It isn’t. It’s essentially a feature length version of what could have been told in a five-minute flashback sequence during a real BloodRayne movie. Contrary to what many online critics have said, BloodRayne isn’t so much a bad film (at least until the awful third act which I will unleash my wrath upon shortly) as it is a very pedestrian one that comes to life for fleeting moments but rarely rises above the quality of your average Sci-Fi Channel production. You’ll find a more interesting story, a more compelling heroine, a more sinister villain, and more exciting action scenes in any random episode of “Xena, Warrior Princess” than you will here.
Rayne is a dhampyr, a half-human/half-vampire conceived when the evil vampire lord Kagan raped her mother. Years later, he finds out a child was born from their unholy union and sets out to kill it because normal vampires are extremely fearful of such offspring for reasons that are rather vague just like much of the reasoning and explanations for things throughout the film. She watches on from a hiding place as an angry Kagan slaughters her mom, and then as best I can figure, Kagan just gave up on finding and slaughtering this girl for about fifteen or so years. Little Rayne suddenly grows up into uber babe Kristanna Loken and gets captured by some circus folks that put her on display as part of their traveling geek show. Why she takes so long to escape is anyone’s guess but she finally does, unlocks some repressed memories of her mom’s murder, and begins slaying every vampire she crosses. After an encounter with an old gypsy fortune teller that helps her fill in a few more blanks, Rayne is hellbent on killing Kagan, but since getting to him in his dark palace is virtually impossible, the gypsy advises she seek out this mystical eye thingamajig that Kagan has been seeking for some time to draw him out. Along the way, Rayne aligns herself with a not-so-clandestine vampire hunting organization called Brimstone, the current leader of which seems to regard Rayne as being Neo to his Morpheus. All the while, Kagan sets out to destroy the Brimstone society, kill Rayne, and retrieve these mystical bodily organs that will make him lord and master over human and vampire kind alike or something along those lines. Well, actually, Kagan doesn’t do anything but sit on his throne and casually order his top henchmen to lead his legion of thralls to destroy the Brimstone society, kill Rayne, and retrieve the mystical bodily organs.
Aside from a surprisingly good action sequence involving a monstrous guard and a trap she has to get around, as well as the welcome appearance of Kristanna’s breasts during an awkwardly staged love scene that comes quite literally from out of nowhere, the only thing really noteworthy about the film is the weirdness of some of the performances. Poor Kristanna Loken does what she can in the title role but like every other character here, it’s a completely underwritten role and she’s never allowed to fully realize the attitude and molten sex appeal of the video game character. She has her moments but mostly just comes across as Kristanna Loken doing medieval fantasy cosplay. The primary members of Brimstone are composed of the grossly miscast yet perversely entertaining Michael Madsen as Brimstone’s current leader Vladimir, who looks and sounds like a character from Easy Rider that has been magically transported to 18th century Europe. He’s flanked by Michelle Rodriguez as her usual angry self playing the daughter of Brimstone’s founder that distrusts Rayne; a subplot that is poorly developed and culminates in an anticlimactic fashion. Plus, there’s a young scruffy guy and potential love interest for Rayne played by some guy I’ve never heard of but if there was a WB Network in 18th century Europe he’d be on it.
There’s an old saying about a hero only being as heroic as the villain they are opposing. If so then that’s another major strike against BloodRayne. On the villainous side is Ben Kingsley as Kagan, a vampire lord so all-encompassing powerful that he has nothing better to do than just sit on his throne looking bored out of his mind. Then there’s Meat Loaf, who turns up all too briefly looking like the unholy lovechild of David Lee Roth and “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes in Amadeus attire. Meat Loaf is the only person in the whole damn movie that seems like they’re having any fun at all and his all too brief hammy performance (Do I dare coin the term “hameo”?) makes you wish he had been the villain instead of Gandhi’s blank stare. Billy Zane even pops up in the all but pointless role of the former leader of Brimstone and Michelle Rodriguez’s father (I’ll buy that for a dollar!) that got turned into a vampire himself and now lives in exile where he secretly schemes to dethrone Kagan and become the supreme vampire himself. Zane’s performance is just plain odd, but not nearly as odd as the inclusion of this character since he completely vanishes from the film after three brief appearances without any payoff for his subplot. Yet he, too, would have made for a more acceptable bad guy than the guy who probably cannot believe how big his paycheck was just for agreeing to sit in a chair and mutter a few lines of dialogue.
So let’s analyze that third act, shall we? And since Boll says his worst critics are wannabe filmmakers let me just say that what I’m about to write isn’t so much the analysis of a wannabe filmmaker as it is the perception of a guy who has watched enough movies (including many bad ones, and believe me when I tell you filmmakers can learn from watching the mistakes of others) and would like to think that if he ever did get the opportunity to make a movie he’d know better than to make the fundamental mistakes made here. Be warned: heavy spoilers ensue.
We’ve been told very early in the movie that getting to Kagan inside of his allegedly impenetrable fortress is virtually impossible. Unless you’re Rayne, in which case you can just knock on the front door and turn yourself in to be imprisoned, or if you’re the last surviving members of Brimstone, in which case you can blow up the front door and hope that Kagan’s thralls choose to capture you alive and not just slaughter you on the spot. Rayne finds herself in Kagan’s dungeon along with Vladimir and Sebastian while Kagan himself prepares for a ritualistic ceremony where that mystical eye will be removed from Rayne. See, she “absorbed it earlier” and he has to extract it in order to absorb it himself. Exactly how – psychically, surgically, spiritually – is never really explained.
It is here that Rayne declares that she may not be able to defeat Kagan but will fight him until the very end; her speech accompanied by an increasingly rousing score that seems to be indicating that this is the moment where Rayne has truly ascended to being the heroine popularized in the video games. By fight to the end she apparently meant allowed herself to be captured, imprisoned, tied to the ceremonial altar with little resistance other than hurling a few insults at Kagan as he plans to kill her. The only twist is that Kagan opens the box containing the heart, finds it empty, and realizes that she absorbed it just like the eye. I don’t know how this helps Rayne gain an advantage seeing as how she’s still strapped down helplessly for a ritual that’s designed to remove the eye and kill her in the process and it only figures he could just as easily remove the heart while he’s at it. Fortunately, the Brimstone guys have managed to escape the dungeon using a ruse so astoundingly moronic that they actually had to include a line of dialogue marveling about how the guard could be so retarded as to fall for it. They come rushing to the rescue just as our heroine is about to be killed by the villain. Much bloody warfare ensues culminating in Rayne squaring off with Kagan in a sword fight so routine it made me long for the one from the conclusion of House of the Dead. And then it happens: Kagan dominates and is clearly mere seconds from slaying Rayne for the second time when the mortally wounded Brimstone guys spring back to life just long enough to save Rayne from certain death… again! Only then does Rayne manage to turn the tables on Kagan and destroy him.
Okay, a question for anyone out there that has played the BloodRayne video games; does the final boss battle at the end of the game normally involve Rayne getting her ass handed to her and require supporting characters to intervene on her behalf more than once? What happens here is just fundamentally bad storytelling on an unbelievable scale. Why the hell is the badass vampiress getting her ass kicked to such a degree that the only reason she doesn’t get killed on more than one occasion is because of help from supporting characters? This is supposed to be the moment where the character truly comes to be, but instead she only comes across as weakling that needs rescuing. What Boll and Turner have done to BloodRayne is the equivalent of the climax of The Karate Kid, the moment where Daniel finally overcomes the odds and shows up the Cobra Kai bullies by winning the tournament, showing Daniel only being able to get the win over Johnny after Mr. Miyagi runs out onto the mat in the middle of a round and whacking Johnny across the back of the head with a 2×4 more than once. This is an action movie where the action hero is treated as second rate to the villain, made even worse by the fact that she’s battling a third rate villain to begin with. Basic Action Filmmaking 101 – you failed.
But the biggest and most unforgivable flaw is that BloodRayne is almost entirely humorless, at least of the intentional kind. I recall a previous interview with Boll where he talked about being influenced heavily by Brotherhood of the Wolf when crafting this film. This isn’t Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s the tale of a badass, sword-wielding, hotter than hell vampiric superheroine who likes spilling blood even more than drinking it. Where’s the fun? Boll spills plenty of blood; every sword strike seemingly causes an eruption of red liquid, and he isn’t above tossing in some gratuitous nudity either; yet, the movie never comes close to being good enough to be taken seriously. By refusing to revel in its B-movie elements it only manages to burn itself at two ends failing to be either a genuinely compelling film or trashy fun. No, this is not Brotherhood of the Wolf. Hell, it’s not even Deathstalker. It’s Barbarian Queen on lithium.
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