Whoever dreamt up the beguiling concept of Age of the Dragons – Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick by way of a medieval dragon-slaying adventure – certainly gets a few points for originality, but that’s also where the praise ends. It is otherwise a mostly mindless act of misguided reinvention, a melange of risible special effects, shoddy acting and direction that, without exaggeration, staggeringly manages to make Uwe Boll seem semi-skilled. Proof that no novel, no matter how accomplished, is free from a gawdy cinematic molestation, director Ryan Little has managed the incredible feat of pipping the likes of Season of the Witch and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son to the post for 2011′s worst film thus far!
The core structure of the novel remains the same here; Captain Ahab (Danny Glover) has been attacked by a dragon, severely deforming him, and he is out for revenge. He and his crew pick up the drifter Ishmael (Sorey Sevier) on their travels, who promises to aid them in their quest, while taking a shine to Ahab’s daughter, Rachel (Sofia Pernas). As their mission drags on, however, they are forced to consider whether the price of revenge is really worth it.
It’s clear from the initial low-fi special effects shot that Age of the Dragons is no great shakes in the presentation department, but what’s truly offensive about it is how it lacks even the most common decency to not take itself too seriously. Fatally lacking a shred of self-awareness, this isn’t just some poorly-constructed albeit harmlessly silly adventure guff; it also incredulously manages to try and take itself really quite seriously.
Judging by his brief screen time here, it appears that the filmmakers could only coax Danny Glover out of glorified retirement for a few days, for he’s nowhere to be found for the first half hour, and even when he does show up, several scenes feature Ahab wearing a mask, making laughably obvious use of a stand-in. Vinnie Jones‘ face time (as one of Ahab’s brash crewmen) is also dispiritingly brief, exiting after the first act, leaving it to Glover’s scant mugging alongside a band of cohorts who, let’s face it, aren’t household names for a reason. If we never see Danny Glover again, you can blame Age of the Dragons for shaking his faith in good cinema.
Fascinatingly, it appears the day has finally come that Vinnie Jones has delivered the strongest, most convincing performance in a film, despite Glover’s own hammy efforts. Jones and occasionally Glover aside, the stodgy dialogue is delivered with the verve of the most amateur college production, and to boot, the cast have absolutely no chemistry, rather dilluting the film’s half-assed attempt to create a brotherly bond between the ragtag team.
While there is a surprising amount of gore for a slumming fantasy film, there’s still little to distract from the outing’s sheer dull soullessness; it plays out like a film someone had to make after losing a hefty bet during a weekend in Vegas. Try to convince yourself that it’s a DTV-relic from the mid-90s and you might make it through, though there’s still no escaping the horribleness of the butchered Melville you’ll have to endure.
Only once the characters band-up and trawl through a dragon’s nest late in the third act – in a scene reminiscent of at least one Alien film – does Little manage to generate even a basic morsel of excitement or tension, yet it’s too little, too late, and is largely lost amid the inane squabbling of the team and the who-can-top-this ham contest which transpires between the cast.
Redeemed by neither the admirable battiness of its premise nor the abundance of blatant cleavage shots, this poorly conceived gunk forges new cinematic lows not previously thought possible. When the dystopian future envisioned in Blade Runner finally comes to fruition, Age of the Dragons will be used to distinguish humans from replicants, because if you’re not in teary despair by the film’s end, you probably aren’t human.
Age of Dragons begins a limited U.K. cinema run from tomorrow.