Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Cinema File #194: "The Legend Of Nethiah" Review

Today’s movie review is one of those obscure little gems that you will probably never see, but that I just can’t help but talk about regardless. I have this game I play on my podcast and on this blog called This Meets That, where I take two movies at random and try to distill the two plots into an original story. One of the rules I have for this game is that one movie’s plot can never be the frame story for the other, because the goal is to combine disparate elements rather than simply line them up side by side. The Legend Of Nethiah feels like the writers were playing my game without this rule, taking a Chronicles Of Riddick style action sci-fi fantasy epic, and shoving it into an after school special about a young kid dealing with the trauma of his parent’s divorce. While they manage to do a lot with a small budget, to say that these two stories don’t mesh well is an understatement.

The Legend of Nethiah is about a boy who escapes the stress of a troubled home life via the wild fairy tales of his grandfather, chronicling the adventures of an alien space warrior fighting against an intergalactic tyrant. The movie is split up between the mundane suburban reality and a fantasy world with a chintzy Roger Corman feel to it that belies the epicness with which it is treated. That being said, I was surprised by how much I was able to get into it even as I couldn't help but laugh at some of the cheese. Not being young enough to relate to the kid's story, the sci-fi interludes were really the only part I could groove on, and while it never really comes together and relies on a few macguffins, or maybe a deus ex machina depending on where you make the distinction between those two things, just as a visual spectacle it was enough to carry me through to the end.

I say I'm too young to appreciate the present day story of the kid and his parents, but I really wonder what any kid of the appropriate age would get out of this movie. Don't get me wrong, I wish the after school specials I had as a kid were half as insane and action packed as this one, but the message ultimately comes off completely muddled. You would assume that the sci-fi story would have some parallel to the real life one, as its being told to the kid by his grandfather one would think to teach him some lesson, but it never actually comes around to being about anything going on in his life, except maybe in the most general case of never giving up and always fighting for what you believe in. That the whole set up for the story within the story was to teach him not to fight kids in school gets lost as the hero Nethiah beats the crap out of an entire planet of aliens on his way to assassinate their murderous leader.

The whole movie is similarly all over the place in terms of its meaning and utility as a tool to teach, which I ordinarily wouldn't hold against a movie, but this one seems to be trying to impart something to young people, and failing. There's a subplot involving the kid befriending an older man, and just when I think this guy might be a pedophile, the grandfather notes his own suspicions, but then it turns out he's not and nothing comes of it. Then, when the boy finally develops the courage to tell his parents which of them he wants to live with, which I guess was what the story was preparing him for, he tells them to screw off and asks his grandfather if he can live with him. Not out of character or out of context, but not really a good lesson for most kids either. Nothing is resolved, which causes me to question all the time the movie takes to set things up, when they could have just made a really weird sci-fi movie without all that stupid family drama.

The only reason I even picked up this movie let alone watched it was because of Robert Picardo, who plays the grandfather, as well as a character in the sci-fi story he tells. Picardo's always good in my opinion, and no less here, giving his all in a movie that doesn't always seem to know what to do with him, or any of the elements they've cobbled together. There's a good movie in here somewhere, but its lost in what appears to be an attempt to be either moralistic or perhaps autobiographical. Maybe its unfair for me to suggest they should have gotten rid of the real world stuff altogether and just done a sci-fi epic, considering I know I'm not the target audience for this, and that audience might get something out of what I didn't like. But really, the parts without aliens and special effects that bored me probably wouldn't be all that meaningful to kids anyway, and might just serve to confuse them, as would the juxtaposition between the two plot threads.

Overall, I can't say The Legend Of Nethiah is worth being all that passionate about. It might not be worth the effort of seeking it out given how obscure it is. Its entirely watchable, at least for someone as used to schlocky special effects as I am, and there's enough in the style and performances to have fun with it, but not enough to justify the undertaking. At the very least, I think they could have taken more of a cue from The Princess Bride and simply used the real world plot as a wrap around. As it stands, there's too much filler in between what you want to see, and not enough time spent to develop it as a result. That being said, If you happen upon it like I did, give it a watch. I wouldn't bother trying too hard to get your hands on it, but there's enough interesting material to merit at least one viewing.
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