I’ve come to the realization that Uwe Boll’s latest film, In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Seige Tale, is an incredible work by a director who has flown under the radar for too long. Rather than churning out just another video game adaptation, Boll has delivered his most complex work, with the only game reference hidden in the subtitle.
Unshackled from gaming constraints, the director was free to gather wild inspiration from masters like David Eddings and Robert Jordan, and through clever product placement and social commentary he recasts medieval fantasy as a tale of the working class and the economic woes that plague it.
Boll has so much to say that he doesn’t dabble with subtlety or layered development during the film’s two-hour running time. He sketches out a world of hard honest work and allows us to slowly watch the lived of common people as a farmer and his family toil in happiness (turnips — the ground’s most egalitarian crop!) until an underhanded power baron manipulates the workforce. Magic and a bestial invading army are his metaphors, but Boll never obscures his true targets: corporations and outsourced labor.
Surprisingly, Boll has some sympathy for the upper class, which might anger the more pure corners of his audience. This isn’t a court beset with parasites and hangers-on. The film’s King is barely attended by anyone; a handful of guards, his oft-absent magus and that wizard’s daughter are all the shorthand the film requires to draw in the ruling court of a great land. Obviously, this is a Democratic monarch with powerful enemies.
All ire towards the corrupt in-pocket lobbies and influential luncheons of the upper class is directed through Matthew Lillard’s wonderfully manic performance as the King’s treacherous nephew. As an actor, Lillard is freed by his character’s greedy nature and lack or morality; he can range from foppish to controlled, from inept to dangerously violent without any line connecting one point to the next.
The King becomes Boll’s tool to address the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, which affects the working class across our nation. Burt Reynolds’ tired, bored expressions obviously refer to the position of the Federal Reserve vis a vis interest rates, and his final speech eschews boilerplate kingliness, sounding instead like a motivational talk given from one realtor to another. He forgot to dispense the most important advice (Always Be Closing) but his time was short and I can forgive the omission.
Don’t mistake this enthusiasm over labor’s plight for socialism. A tempered enthusiasm for the capitalist market is evident in Boll’s revolutionary approach to product placement. Rather than crassly placing products within the frame — a technique not even a huckster would stoop to — Boll constructs character and mise en scene in such a way that a desire for products flows naturally into the mind.
As the evil magus Gallian, Ray Liotta made me long for merchandise representing the ‘DIY’ pop star Prince, so flashy was his attire. And rather than using modern film makeup techniques to smooth Liotta’s countenance, Boll evidently dared him to appear in the film looking puffy and hungover. The trick worked; as the credits rolled I was seized with the desire to purchase Emergen-C, skin tone concealer and Preparation H, the better to dampen my own bender-induced puffiness.
Claire Forlani represents something even more daring. Just looking at her artfully lined face I was overcome with the nostalgic desire to dig up the 1:32 Aurora Ferarri Roadster that used to win slot car races in my youth. Lacking a track, a spin around her nose and mouth would have to do.
These techniques are certainly controversial. As part of his process, Boll has challenged his cast of talented actors to strip away all that makes modern cinema so cushy. No makeup tricks or complementary lighting were allowed. All evidence suggests that the easy road of dialogue coaching was forbidden. Each actor would have to make his or her own way with their everyday accent and inflection. No artificial unity would be achieved through vocal practice and training. It’s a good thing Boll could rely on mainstay Will Sanderson, whose eyes are allowed to be as crossed as they were the day he was born.
That frugal approach carries over into all facets of the filmmaking process. For only tens of millions of dollars, Boll has created CGI structures and magical battles that are, for the most part, better than what I might be able to render on my cell phone. Rather than wasting part of his budget on the design of new creatures and costumes, he modified cast-off Swamp Thing and Gamorrean Guard suits to build an army of illegal migrant workers.
Indeed, that sartorial conservatism is taken to admirable extremes in the appearance of Farmer, the hero played by Jason Statham. This hero never deviates from his peasant attire, even in battle. And no extravagant hairstyle or facial grooming here; Boll allows Statham to embody the proletariat here not only in name and occupation, but through a simplicity in all things. Hair cropped short in a purely functional cut, Statham looks like a man who wandered off the street and onto set, but he acts with such a natural assurance that there’s no doubting his veracity.
In truth, there’s no doubting the intentions, and therefore the purity, of the entire endeavor. Boll cares for his audience; why else would he bring the overpriced Cirque du Soleil into his film’s forest, where comely female gymnasts glide on vines that stretch invisibly into the clouds? Most film audiences could never afford to get to Vegas to see a similar act in the flesh; such a gift!
And rousing music swoops over the action, never seeming manipulative, while the end credits play out under the supervision of a so-called heavy metal song able to rally parking lots full of unemployed workers from coast to coast. The film was completed before the current writers’ strike was set in motion, but we can only hope that the WGA will attend the film en masse, and in doing so find the inspiration that might bring their own struggle to a fruitful close.
A note about the score: I felt compelled to score the film based on how other audiences might see it. Obviously my own score (which is irrelevant in any broad context) is much higher.