A comet piercing through the blackness of the night sky. A plague stripping humanity of life itself, as a small group of Romans desperately search for answers and a cure. Making this title even more interesting? As I'm sure you've guessed, "141 A.D. Mission In Dacia" is a period piece - taking place in 141 A.D. as promised. Hmmmm...
As I hit that play button, and Octavian Repede's full length feature began it's run, I couldn't help but feel excited - and a little nervous. Images of movies such as "300" dashed through my mind and I couldn't help wonder how "141 A.D" was going to play out. Roman period flicks are tough at the best of times - how could an indie, micro movie, possibly be done right? Although I have seen short indie movies manage a great degree of cool-ness, they were short and sweet. They also focused on events of a much smaller scale than promised in Repede's film. Still... the trailer looks cool enough so maybe, just maybe... things would be alright.
The animated introduction was very promising. Everything seemed to be going much better than anticipated. I settled in for the long haul, popcorn in one hand and a coffee in the other. When it was all said and done, and the credits began their march - I was both impressed and slightly, ever so slightly let down. At the end of the day? "141 A.D" was a good film. Nothing spectacular. Nothing Oscar worthy yet still watchable. I also couldn't help but realize that with a little more tweaking, and maybe an editor not so close to the project, this could have been an excellent film. More on that below.
This film has everything. All the components needed to make a great flick. The fact it's a low budget indie is astounding. Cool costumes. Some great fight scenes and even... wait for it... horses! So why then, was it only a good movie and not a great one? A number of factors are at play here and frankly, I'm not even totally sure how to describe all of them. So let me go with what I know.
I watched this film on my sixty inch television. The way movies are meant to be seen. Almost instantly I realized one thing. This film is dark and highly contrasted. The dark scheme is not generally a bad thing, until you hit a point where every shot is near indistinguishable from the next. I even turned up my brightness, and was left with images that almost glowed, in that compressed kind of way... a grey color. Once you reach that hour and a half mark, this becomes highly irritating on the eyes - and brain.
The coloring wasn't the only culprit. Not even the main one. The real problem I had with "141 A.D" was the length. I realize that everyone wants to make a feature length movie. Sometimes however, it's best to cut and cut and cut. Quality over length. Octavian Repede's film feels overstuffed with unneeded images and countless scenery shots. Shots of things like... insects. Ya baby! Lots of spiders! It's cool to establish your world with imagery. Not cool if those shots feel like half hour of the entire run time.
Next up? The editing. I've said it once I'll say it again. Hire an external editor to work on your production! Hell, get a friend to do it - even if he's never really edited before. Odds are you'll still get a slicker piece - because your friend will be editing as a viewer. Not a creator. He'll edit for flow, and not feel the need to leave in an amazing take... even though it doesn't push the story forward.
What was I impressed with? The scale. Not so much the scale of the narrative, rather the scale of the production. Times do exist when this film feels so much bigger. The battles. The props and costuming. Even the locations - all add to the realism of the film. I do wish there was more action... then again... having a shorter film would have fixed that problem.
At the end of the day this was a good film with the potential to have been a great one. I feel most people will enjoy themselves, even if it takes an extra session to watch the entire movie. For a low budget indie, that tackles period movies the way this one does, I am completely impressed by what was accomplished. Having a good indie movie is tough enough as it is. Having a good indie film on the scale presented here... is simply awesome! Congrats to the cast and crew - a nice job all around.