Friday, February 25, 2011

#203. Centurion (2010) - The Films of Neil Marshall

Directed By: Neil Marshall

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko

Tag line: "History is written in blood"

Trivia: Temperatures would frequently sink to below 0 degrees Celsius in the Inverness Mountains. Indeed the temperature was -5 degrees Celsius (along with a blizzard) on the first day of filming

Roman history fascinates me. I've read a bunch of books on the subject, and there was a time when I could recite the names of every Roman Emperor from Augustus to Septimius Severus. It's an interest that extends to movies and television as well (my favorite TV mini-series is the BBC's 1976 production of I, Claudius), so going in, Neil Marshall's Centurion had all the makings of a movie I would absolutely love.

Turns out I only like it.

The year is 117 A.D., the setting: Northern Britain. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbinder), a Centurion in the Roman Army, is held prisoner by a Pict tribe, which captured him after massacring an entire Roman outpost. Rescued from his captivity by the army of General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), Dias, who no longer has a legion of his own, joins the 9th under Virilus' command. As luck would have it, he's just in time to march with his new compatriots back into the Northern regions, where, guided by a mute native girl named Etain (Olga Kurylenko), they hope to squash, once and for all, the Pict “barbarians”. Alas, Etain turns out to be a traitor, and leads the 9th straight into an ambush. The entire Legion decimated, Dias, with a handful of survivors in tow, must make his way back to the Roman-controlled south before he, too, becomes a casualty of war.

There's quite a bit to like about Centurion, not the least of which is its stunning cinematography. There are a number of breathtaking aerial shots that show off the Scottish countryside, and even when the landscape is grim and gloomy (there's plenty of fog in this movie, and a whole lot of wintry weather), it's still a sight to behold. The cat-and-mouse chase, with Dias and his men only a few short steps ahead of the Picts at any given moment, is also a plus. These elements, combined with a handful of superior battle sequences, do their part to make Centurion an entertaining film.

Unfortunately, the movie has one huge drawback as well: it's reliance on CGI blood. As you'd expect from an action movie that takes place in Roman times, Centurion is a violent movie, with gore aplenty, but much of the effect is ruined by the filmmaker's decision to use CGI for several scenes of bloodletting. A sword severing a limb or an ax crashing down on someone's head occasionally sends out a spatter of CGI plasma, which looks every bit like computer-generated blood. I was honestly amazed at how awful it is, and there were times it proved a real distraction, often ruining what was an otherwise effective battle sequence.

Neil Marshall impressed the hell out of me with his first three films (Dog Soldiers in 2002, The Descent in 2005, and Doomsday in 2008), and I was genuinely thrilled when I heard he was making a movie set in Roman times.

Sure, Centurion is a good film, but dammit...I had my heart set on a great one!


Ian said...

I watched this on Blu-ray and the CG blood was particularly distracting.

But my least favorite thing about the movie was the voice-over. It made me think of the first theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER, which also had a voice over that did nothing to clarify the action or advance the plot. Perhaps Marshall will remove it someday.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Ian: I also watched the film on Blu-Ray. I wonder if that may have had something to do with the artificial look of the blood? Maybe projected onto a big screen, it didn't look so bad. But yeah, on Blu-Ray it was a joke.

Interesting: I didn't even really take that much notice of the narration, but now that I think of it, it was a bit pointless. I'll have to go back and watch it again (which i plan to do anyway. There was enough "good" in the movie to make me want to revisit it).

Thanks for the comment! It's appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Give us some more horrifying horror movies to buy doctorshock; anticipating the next episode on sunday can't wait to hear about the new releases.

DVD Infatuation said...

Hello, and thanks for the comment!

The next episode of Planet Macabre has been recorded, and I feel it's one of our best shows to date. We have a very special guest sitting in for Lady Phantom (who will be returning for the following episode in 2 weeks), and we really delve into the 5 films chosen by Billchete.

As for Horror on DVD infatuation, I do make an announcement on the upcoming show, as well as a promise to all you Planet Macabre stay tuned!

Thanks again for the comment, and for listening to Planet Macabre.

Sammy V said...

I have had this in my NF queue for some time. Sounds like it's worth watching, but just barely.

DVD Infatuation said...

Sammy: Yes, I'd say definitely check out CENTURION (it has some very good scenes), but don't go in (as I did) expecting something more than it is.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!