From the creators of Tin Man, the sci-fi re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, comes this sub-Lord of the Rings fantasy adventure. In the realm of Mirabilis, humans, elves and goblins depend upon a mystical ore called "bloodsteel" of which there is a drastic shortage. Monstrous sorcerer Dragon Eye (Mark Gibbon) wants a monopoly over the ore so he can revive his comatose son and go on to rule the world, but elven sorcerer Tesselink (Christopher Lloyd) learns of a prophecy foretelling the rise of four brave knights able to seek out the Crucible: a near-mythical inexhaustible supply of bloodsteel. Leading this quartet is his granddaughter, kickass super-babe Perfidia (Natassia Malthe), accompanied by vengeance-seeking Irish warrior John Serragoth (David James Elliot), sickly albino goblin Ber-Lak (Dru Viergever) and dandyish rogue Adric (Christopher Jacot). Together they embark on a perilous quest.
More Gary Gygax than J.R.R. Tolkien, Knights of Bloodsteel lumbers confusingly through a lot pseudo-mystical hoo-doo with conflicting prophecies and characters developing new super-powers at convenient moments in lieu of compelling human drama. The juvenile plot has that make-it-up-as-you-go quality in common with fantasy role-playing games, but while Dungeons & Dragons fans may warm nostalgically to familiar sword and sorcery situations involving latex goblins and CGI dragons, less forgiving viewers will find themselves faced with more questions than answers. Why do the elves have fangs? Why is Dragon Eye's son a human boy? Why does rescued peasant girl Maya (Deanna Milligan) harbour such contempt for heroine Perfidia? Why does Grell (Michael Heltay), the blind monk on whom our heroes rely to translate sacred scrolls, behave like such a panicky idiot? What happened to Christopher Lloyd's career? The Back to the Future star is wasted in the token Gandalf/Obi Wan Kenobi role, making an early exit.
On the positive side, this two-parter does take a brave stab at depth and complexity as an array of occasionally obtuse subplots finally coalesce into an intriguing theme of free will versus destiny. There are a handful of unique tweaks to the fantasy formula such as secret negotiations between minor good and evil characters to end hostilities, and the atypical allowance of goblins to be noble, self-sacrificing heroes. Despite sporting the same post-LOTR gritty, rough-hewn, Celtic visuals that have left so much fantasy cinema so tiresomely identical, there are some cool steampunk concepts and visuals with endearingly loopy ideas including clockwork grenades, propellor-driven missiles and a remote-controlled cyborg killer barmaid!
Hoary dialogue abounds and performances are largely pitched at pantomime level, with one or two exceptions. Christopher Jacot is great fun as foppish womanizer and wheeler-dealer Adric, who rouses an imperilled village into battle and learns he isn't quite as mercenary as he thought himself to be. Norwegian star Natassia Malthe shoulders most of the dramatic weight, sporting a clipped British accent and cute fangs, bringing conviction to a cliché. With feisty fantasy roles in the likes of DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), Skinwalkers (2006), and the forthcoming Vikingdom (2011) among others, Malthe is fast becoming DTV cinema's definitive amazon warrior-babe, though one wishes some writer would pen a sword and sorcery romp more worthy of her.