October 11, 2011

Review: Ultramarines Movie

Yes, I know. I'm extremely late on the whole Ultramarines movie viewing. Much to my chagrin, I was put-off on taking the time to see it as friends informed me the animation was almost painful to watch. While other reviews I had read made smaller mention of this imperfection, the overall assessment of the movie seemed to be an acclaimed one, critically or otherwise. After almost a year since the movie has come out, I've found a few things in the movie I don't feel others have picked up on. More after the break.

I'm a 40k fanboy. I'll state that fact right now before we go any further. Those who judge the 40k universe without knowing much, if anything, about it I will not suffer; using this ninja-like technique I learned from 2nd grade called "The Cold Shoulder". Goosebumps? I thought so. Despite the _____-can-do-no-wrong coursing through my veins I still have a level head when it comes to assessments and I'm more than willing to admit when something even 40k related is just plain awful.
Exhibit A

This leads us back to the Ultramarines movie. Personally I believe in ripping the band-aid off and getting the bad news out of the way first; no use in delaying or buttering up the inevitable. So let's point out the elephant in the room. Those friends that mentioned the excruciating animation of this film? Yeah, they're wrong. It's far worse than excruciating. I would compare watching this movie's animation to sitting down and playing an hour and ten minutes of Super Mario 64 in the year 2011.
It's Like A CareBear Threw Up On A Rubik's Cube.

Obviously the graphics are much cleaner than Mario 64, but if you're not catching the analogy I'll spin this a different way. In 2001 Columbia Pictures released a computer animated film into theaters...and into our hearts. No, not Evolution. I'm talking about this flick:
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, whether you enjoyed it or not, had some damn fine animation bordering on realism. Sexy sexy realism. Like it or not, this movie set a precedent for all computer generated films after it. The clever bastards at Square looked at their PCs and said, "We can do this better than anyone else. Probably because we're Japanese, but mostly because we won't settle for second best. Except, ya know, with the plot." True story; I was there when this all went down...probably. Anyway, long story short, computer generated films haven't slacked off since, even with silly cartoonish movies like:
I Had A Friend Like Mater As A Child.

And speaking of silly cartoonish movies, there's something that must be stated that has yet to. I cannot be the only one that noticed the toy-like movement of the Ultramarines movie. From hatch doors that flop open like they're made of plastic to battle-damaged Space Marines that rag-doll to their knees or the ground like they're marionettes to the most glaringly annoying movement in the movie; walking/running. If you will, load up your DVD player with Ultramarines and watch the parts of this clip of 1995's Toy Story alongside it:
Seeing the similarity? I did. And I couldn't stop noticing it. At no point in the Ultramarines movie did I believe that the characters were 8-foot tall genetically-modified super-humans. My brain kept making the comparison to this. And when their faces moved to speak? My brain kept making comparisons to Reboot. Anyone remember that show? No? Well, okay, then...

With all of these glaring issues, how does one defend the Ultramarines movie? The first defense begins back with my movie comparison. Since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within's release, ten years have gone by. Roughly nine years in-between it and Ultramarines. Looking at the differences in quality one might think the timelines are reversed between these two films. This is something I think a lot of reviews pass up because of one glaring issue.
I Couldn't Just Type It; I Needed To Hire Someone To Type It Out In A Word Document, Print That Document Out. Then I Had To Hire Someone To Take A Picture Of Another Temp-Hire Holding The Page. I Then Needed To Hire Someone To Scan The Picture And Upload It To This Blog. Oh The Irony!

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within had a budget of 137 million. That's big money these days, but remember, that was 2001. With inflation, that's roughly 175 million today. Ultramarine's budget? Exact amounts were never released, but it's rumored at 13 million which is pretty believable considering the lack-luster animation yet they spent a good chunk on some big names for the cast and crew. So does this make my arguments moot? Has all of this ranting with typed word been for naught? Whether I've wasted my time typing all of this is up for debate, but my argument isn't invalid. Let's take a look at an example of a low-budget computer animated short:
While roughly only five minutes long, this was created by one person on a 300 dollar budget. No, that's not a mistype; one guy and three-hundred dollars. While the animation in the above video isn't Hollywood quality, it's still superb and would suggest more manpower and a bigger budget than what it actually took. And yet Ultramarines cut corners in animation any chance they could.

Example: Once again, pop that DVD back in and take a look at the scene towards the end of the film where the Captain-turned-Daemon Prince attempts to eliminate the three Ultramarines in the cathedral aboard their cruiser. What's the tactic used by the Daemon Prince to try and take out his prey? Apparently it goes something like this:
  1. Slam Space Marine Into Pillar.
  2. Throw Space Marine across the room.
  3. Repeat.
We'll set aside the fact that this heretic didn't choose to rip, cut or smash his opposition to bits even when he had ample opportunity for such a thing. Take a look at the animation for the pillar+floor action. It's the same animation...three times. One of which has the camera angle changed a bit, maybe hoping this was enough of a change so no one would notice? I'm not sure. All I know is this is a cheap trick companies use for even animated films (see: Disney) to cut costs. And along the same lines of cutting costs, the sounds of Ultramarines was painful. Maybe I'm alone in this, but hulking Space Marines walking around in power armour should make a little more noise than a bath robe. Clanging of armour to ground, weaponry, etc was few and far between. Sound isn't something everyone takes into consideration when watching a movie, but it's something my ears are keen on and this movie was disappointing in that respect.

So what the hell am I trying to say? Ultramarines could have done better, but I don't fault them for it, but then I do? Am I a damned flip-flopper? The whole point to all of this is targeting the problem. In my less-than-humble opinion there's only one placement for blame, and it may seem quite obvious.
Fuck-Up Free Since 3 Hours Ago

Oh the good ol' punching bag these days: GW. It seems like every other day someone's complaining about the next stupid move the bloated miniatures monopoly has made. Is it all justified bitching? I would wager a large majority of the time, yes. In the realm of Ultramarines we have another classic GW try at money-scooping. I'm talking about attempting to push a product that has zero support or future or even faith given by the company itself unless it makes money the first go-around. That is what I feel this whole Ultramarines movie was, a toe-dip in the movie business for the 40k universe. And without any faith in its success due to a company run by a group of gentlemen that base all financial and marketing decisions off of strategies from the 1970's and that is, in fact, scared of anything past the 1970's, these little projects GW implements are doomed to fail more often than not. And that's what I'm trying to say, in the most long-winded way possible; Ultramarines could have been great and led the way to numerous movies for the 40k universe, but GW dropped the ball.

So what was good about this movie? There had to have been something. I'm not known to waste an entire article on complaining...*cough* In all seriousness, there's a lot of good stuff in Ultramarine. First of all, Dan Abnett wrote the damn thing. If you've never heard of the God-like novelist that is Dan Abnett, get off my blog right now.
Seriously, Get Off My Lawn, Too.

Dan Abnett, writer of such epic adventures as Eisenhorn and Necropolis wrote the screenplay for Ultramarine so hopes were high for a good storyline. Did it live up to the high expectations it set for itself? I wish I could tell you it didn't so I could waste another twenty minutes or so of your time ranting about it, but the story holds up. And it holds up well. We get a visual peek into what "newbie" Space Marines are rushed into after their induction from Scout status.

Seeing the inside of various transports for the Space Marines is something I thoroughly enjoyed as well. Read all the novels you want; with personal perception through written word being a tyrant for grey areas, nothing will give you a clearer view of what an artist's depiction of something like a cruiser is than actually seeing it. This segues nicely into another great aspect of the movie: the animation.
There are certain aspects of Ultramarines' animation that were actually good, namely things that didn't move. The environments the Space Marines ventured into were crafted quite well in my opinion. Cathedrals, alien planet landscapes, war-torn battlefields, ship and cruiser interiors; all beautiful. The issues I described above all had to do with dynamic objects such as Space Marines walking/running, faces and facial movement, etc. As for everything that didn't actually move I give a thumbs up to.

Another great aspect of this movie is the voice acting. This is another one of those things you can read all you want about, but you can never fully grasp a Space Marine's verbal demeanor without actually hearing it. The cast for Ultramarines is top notch and had to have been where most of their budget fled to. If I had the money, I would pay Terence Stamp to just follow me around all day and say words. It wouldn't matter what words, just something. That guy has a way of making even the most mundane statements such as "Strawberry-Banana yogurt" sound elegant.
Gotten Your Fill Of YouTube Videos For The Day? Yeah, Me Too...

Overall, it's hard to rate this movie. It had a lot of good and it had a lot of bad. I see it as unfair to compare Ultramarine to in-theatre movies whether that's due to budgetary reasoning or otherwise. Smaller budget should mean smaller expectations, I get that. I truly do. But this creates a couple of issues for me. First, it could have had a respective budget. GW could buy its own country with the money they net, but instead, drips little bits of cash flow into tiny projects with an expiration date. The other issue is had the money been spent differently I believe a better experience could have been gained for everyone. The voice-acting was as great as one could expect, but I'm guessing other aspects of the movie suffered by the money spent for it.

All in all, it could have been better.
It Could Have Been A Lot Better...

Until next time.


  1. Your exposition, elocution and elegance are just spectacular. Your review actually told me more about the movie than any other I'd read. Since I am ambivalent at best towards the movie, I now have a much better idea of whether I'll see it and if so, what to expect.

    thanks for a great read, dude.

  2. IceStation: I didn't think the "Fall of Damnos" was too bad. I would have preferred more Necron flashbacks and less emo Ultramarines, but when it comes to Necrons you take what you can get.

  3. 95% of FoD was amazing, it was the lazy ending that made that book awful. I'll have an article on it soon delving into that.

  4. Wheeew!...

    I enjoyed FoD and thought for a moment I was in some corner all by myself.

    Thanks for the review Lantz... now buy a watch so you can get it out sooner! :P


  5. No kidding, CK. I'm often late to things, but this one takes the cake!

  6. Story-wise, four things would have made it soooo much better.


    1) Spend two minutes (that were otherwise wasted tromping through the desert) explaining what happened on Algol and who these people are.

    2) Make it the 6th Company instead of the 2nd.

    3) Instead of Sergeant Crastor buying it off-screen, have Scrub #5 get it instead, and then Crastor takes over for Captain NotCato. That way there's not two minutes of confusing filler where this is retroactively explained to be the Captain's wishes in the first place.

    4) Make it 10 Imperial Fists, not 100.

  7. Yeah the animation was painful, but where it really fell down for me was voice direction. You had all these amazing vocal chords assembled in front of microphones, and somehow nobody bothered to explain to them the context of the sentences they were reading. Between the awkward pauses and emphasis in all the wrong places it was clear the actor in spots had no idea of what the sentence was trying to convey. Oh well.... say all the words in the right order and try and give it some gravitas and who cares what the writer intended, right?