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More accurate title for this film might have been TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE: PART ONE. Those expecting a typical sword and sorcery adventure, featuring many sword fights and sorcery action, dungeons - all that stuff - will be sorely disappointed. Instead we get an ungainly amalgam of the HBO series Rome, with its complex intrigues and characters and Magnificent Seven with its banding and bonding of iconic types for a good cause. Kevin Sorbo fans will not be disappointed as the former Hercules star is at the top of his heroic humorous game. Indeed he is the best aspect of this low budget epic. Without giving away too much, its the story of a dysfunctional family. In its lower class way, a adventure fantasy Lion in the Winter with five bastard children seeking dear old Father and clearly his acceptance and approval. The core story is a legendary mercenary warrior impregnated a number of wenches, evil sorceress vampires, Queens and common village women, in his years of adventuring. Then after bedding them, he moved on to further adventures and conquests. Its not that unbelievable that it probably happened often back in medieval times. Left behind were his children, all wounded and damaged. When we meet each, its clear they are struggling to reach a peace with the abandonment, but its doomed each to shady lives as thieves, whores and essentially losers. The conceit of this movie is that a Princess (Melissa Ordway) needs to find her Father because it was he who saved the kingdom years earlier. She is the love child of this mercenary warrior and the Queen of a kingdom called Abelar. Her quest to find him, brings her into contact with her half brothers and sisters. They need to find Father not just to win back Abelar but, most importantly, to heal their wounds of abandonment. The biggest stretch is the film's primary villain, a sexy vampire sorceress (Whitney Able) was also seduced by the mercenary warrior and produced a child called Kara (Victoria Maurette), who Xia had surrendered her baby, when she was reduced to dust years earlier by this mercenary. Its a bit convolute but easy to track. Kara somehow becomes part of the Queen's court by the time she's a young adult and the movie tracks her quest to become who she really is, child of a vampire. She's chosen to shadow the Princess and to learn where her Father is. For the most part, the film works really well. Ordway is a good Princess, Maurette is a superb Kara, and the action there is are as good as you would expect from the man behind Cyborg and Nemesis There is also a deft comedic touch in the right places – Kevin Sorbo and the other siblings make sure of that - and the gentle laughs are spaced well between the questing. So why is this only a 6 rated film? The problem lies in the bigger story around the bastard kids, which attempts to make their Father a larger than life mythical warrior. The issue is we never get to SEE him. Oh, we hear him (not too good voice actor) and see his hooded shape but never the man himself. He's a total cipher and therein lies the biggest failing of the film. It leads to big expectations of finding Father, then once found, it leads to a great reveal of this great warrior, but the film simply ENDS. Tales of an Ancient Empire gets bogged down repeatedly in its exploration and reveal of the dense back story which initially works in context at first, but soon becomes a millstone around the movie's neck as the characters are forced to talk about Father's legend rather than see his exploits play out. Even this would have been forgivable if not for the ending, which pushes all the wrong buttons in its attempt to be an iconic grand finale and effectively undoes much of the movie's good work. The weak visual effects does the film no favors either. With its limited budget, Tales of an Ancient Empire looks great but this is not the gritty sword and sorcery adventure that many had hoped for - in fact, it hardly even counts as a sequel to the director's The Sword and the Sorcerer. What it does have is a dense, but compelling narrative, a visually inventive style and great bits of acting from the attractive cast. Able, Ordway and Maurette might be a touch too earnest in their performances but they give the film an underlying emotional depth not usually seen in this genre. Both are, of course, gorgeous to look at. Its just too bad it doesn't end with a proper climatic battle.
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