Starring Tom Hardy, Tony Todd, Rutger Hauer, Ingrid Pitt, Michelle Van Der Water, Lex Shrapnel
Directed by Jonathan English
Distributed by Lionsgate
To say that Jonathan English's Minotaur is loosely based on the classic Greek mythological tale of an evil tyrant that sacrifices virgins from a nearby village to a half-man/half-bull creature that lurks within an elaborate maze until the heroic Theseus finally stands up for his people and slays the beast would be quite accurate.
First of all, the film's Minotaur is no longer half-man. It has no human characteristics. Despite maintaining the Queen of Minos being impregnated by the bull god they worship in order to create a perfect being origin, this Minotaur looks like a huge zombified bull. While the four-legged bull god's decaying features do make it quite a nasty sight, stripping away what little human characteristics it had makes this Minotaur more of a typical rampaging movie monster with penchant for gore - literally. I do believe this film has the most number of people you'll ever see on any given screen getting gored by a bull's horns outside of footage from the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Despite discarding that human element from the beast, this Minotaur is still a worthy new entry into the ever-growing world of movie monstrosities.
The smartest move the filmmakers made was to use more practical effects over CGI to bring the beast to life. The computer generated Minotaur scenes in the film are the least effective and most obvious, although vastly superior to what you typically see in Sci-Fi Channel and direct-to-DVD monster movies. However, I seem to notice a continuity issue regarding the creature's size; maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me but I'd have sworn the size of the beast seemed to change between really big and friggin' huge depending on the scene, sometimes looking like it would be too big to get around the cramped quarters its housed in.
If there's anything that I found really disappointing, and I'll be the first to admit that this may just be a personal taste of mine, I couldn't help but feel that the labyrinth itself should have had a life of its own. By that I mean the maze should have felt more like a maze; it should have led to more confusion as to where you're at or where you're going. The maze should have been as much a character in the story as a setting but here it’s just a series of interconnected caves devoid of any real sense of vastness or confusion. Characters have seemingly little difficulty navigating the caves or locating others and everyone always seem to be within fairly close proximity to one another. The legend of the Minotaur is the classic tale of a monster lurking within a maze; the film reduces it to being roughly the equivalent of a tunnel version of the Rancor monster pit from Return of the Jedi.
Another noticeable change to the legend is that the heroic Theseus is now known as Theo. The son of the leader of the village that is forced to sacrifice eight youths to the Minotaur every three years as atonement for the murder of a royal Minosian prince, Theo (Layer Cake's Tom Hardy) is essentially your average angst ridden college age kid, albeit one that works as a shepherd and looks like Strider Aragorn’s understudy. Theo is hardly the dashing sword & sandal type hero usually found in films of this type. His only concern is saving his girlfriend Fiona, who was taken in the last sacrificial round-up and who he is led to believe may in fact still be alive somewhere within the labyrinth. Despite his father and other villagers protecting Theo from being taken for sacrifice, since he's supposedly being groomed to become leader one day, Theo manipulates his way into the latest round-up not so much because he wants to save his friends or put an end to the barbaric practice, but because he hopes to find his lady love and killing the beast is the only way how. This changes later on, but even then he never really comes across as the legendary champion he should be.
Along with Theo, the other seven in the group to be sacrificed include the best friend, the hot head, the girl that secretly likes the hot head, the overly superstitious girl, the idiot, the one that believes they should be honored to get sacrificed to a god, and the mute girl that the laws of cinema dictates will not be mute for very long. All of them are more individual attitudes than fleshed out characters, something that isn’t that big a problem since many will be dispatched with quickly.
If its characters you’re looking for, look no further than Tony Todd as the hedonistic ruler of Minos; he’s quite the spectacle. Todd spends much of the film looking like something from Vincent D’Onofrio’s subconscious in The Cell and behaving a lot like Alfred Molina’s Boogie Nights character, prancing around and rambling on in a barely coherent manner while completely zonked out on this narcotic gas he huffs from a bull skull. The guy comes across less like a tyrannical overlord and more like a pitiful junkie with too much power for anyone to attempt an intervention. He really seems to have no agenda other than to get high huffing that gas as often as possible, sacrificing these youths every few years to his bull god, getting as much body art done as possible, and convincing his beautiful sister to give it up to him so they can procreate and conceive what he feels will be a more "pure" heir to the throne. The sister may be down with his love of body art, gas huffing, and occasional sacrifices, but incest is where she draws the line, leading her to eventually align herself with Theo.
Rutger Hauer also turns up early on as Theo dad, the village leader. Nothing much comes from his character. An unrecognizable Ingrid Pitt, a veteran of many a Hammer horror film, has a brief cameo as leper soothsayer that advises Theo on his destiny with the Minotaur.
Now while I may have sounded somewhat negative in my opinion of the film thus far, something I attribute more to my own familiarity with the Minotaur myth and longing to see what a truly modern - in terms of technical filmmaking and not by setting it in present day – cinematic take on the legend could produce, Minotaur is a fairly entertaining monster movie. Unlike the countless Alien, Predator, Jurassic Park clones, the film’s grim tone and period setting, if all too modern sensibilities, gives it a distinct feel so that it just doesn’t completely come across as a typical formulaic creature feature even though at times it does seem fairly formulaic. It’s also competently made, well, acted and boasts solid special effects. What the hell was this doing on the Sci-Fi Channel to begin with?
That said, I just couldn’t help but smile that a monster movie, even one set in ancient times, still found a way to work an enormous explosion and a lead character outrunning a ball of fire at the end. You’ve never seen a Running of the Bulls quite like the one at the end of Minotaur.
Minotaur is the sort of film that if you paid to see it in a movie theater you'd probably come out not so much disliking the film as feeling a bit under whelmed by it. But as far as Sci-Fi Channel premieres and direct-to-DVD movies go these day, Minotaur is an above average monster movie that’s definitely worth a look. If for no other reason, see it just for whatever it is Tony Todd is doing here.
Commentary with director Jonathan English and editor Eddie Hamilton
Visual effects montage
Deleted and extended scenes
3 out of 5
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