It’s always depressing to see a big budget fantasy movie chunder through a boring and cliché-ridden script. But from the opening scene, where we see a young boy’s parents slaughtered by a man with a distinctive tattoo, leader of a cohort of raiders who attack his village, we know there won’t be many surprises ahead.

Wolfhound (Volkodav iz roda serykh psov)More’s the pity, because the production values really are spectacular. The landscape is beautiful, the sets and backdrops stunning and the special effects pretty cool also. The film isn’t as effects-laden as it could have been, which is a relief, and features a CGI pet bat which is at times astonishingly brought to life.

This was apparently the highest grossing film in Russia in 2006, so there’s no accounting for taste. Russian cinema is going in pretty cool directions, what with Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) and its sequels, but where Timur Bekmambetov can’t seem to grasp basic storytelling techniques amidst all the frenzied ideas, Wolfhound is simply too traditional and bland. There’s a couple of really grand set pieces that are fantastic in isolation (and make great trailer snippits) though they don’t always make much sense. They certainly got the look of the film right, even if the most memorable character is a bat. (The coolest thing our titular hero does is tie back his hair before getting mediaeval on the bad guys.)

It most resembles the type of fantasy that abounded throughout the 80s, basically before The Lord of the Rings came along. This felt like the hundredth disappointment in my fantasy film watching career, and made me realise that there are SO FEW quality fantasy movies. Excepting Peter Jackson’s trilogy (which proved that box office dollars don’t always equal mindless crud), there are very few great fantasies that aren’t also kids films. In fact just off the top of my head, The 13th Warrior was the only other truly satisfying film I could think of, and that’s not even full-scale fantasy. Ah well, I can live in hope that the His Dark Materials sequence goes well…

This film will appeal to kids. Fantasy geeks like myself are more then welcome to go and be disappointed, but the rest will simply have their snooty anti-fantasy stance confirmed. It may not be as bad as Eragon, but it’s close.

Rating: 2 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 8th September 2007
Hoopla Factor: 2 stars

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