So this is what happens when a couple of stoners try to make a post-apocalyptic kung fu flick.
The movie is called "Black Pearl," unless you're looking at the DVD box, which lists it instead as "10,000 A.D.: Legend of the Black Pearl" on the front and as "Black Pearl: 10,000 A.D." on the back. It turns out distribution company Indican was trying to spin the low budget effort into a possible "10,000 BC" knock-off but stopped caring about halfway through.
It's the far future, long after we've bombed ourselves back to the stone age. The planet is now populated by dreadlocked white guys who, between Phish concerts and rounds of hackey sack, beat the snot out of each other in poorly edited fight scenes. Yes, this is another film where everyone thinks they're an awesome martial arts superhero while the filmmakers are stuck having to hide their actual mediocre talents behind clumsy camera angles, incomprehensible edits, and a collection of over-the-top sound effects that gives every punch a taste of cracking celery.
Writer/co-director Raul Gasteazoro stars as Ergo, a beefy warrior of the elite Huron tribe (side note: in the post-apocalyptic far future, eyebrow piercings will still be totally available); his wife was killed by the villainous group called the Sinasu, and now he's sworn revenge. The Hurons can also see the future, and that's how he learns young Kurupi (Julian Perez) is the Chosen One who will defeat the Sinasu, restore balance to the world, the usual. But first Kurupi must learn the warrior's ways from Ergo, the most bad-ass of all the Huron.
Early in the film, characters alternate between English and some sort of made-up future-tribal language; the concept is eventually abandoned, for no clear reason other than maybe the filmmakers saw "The Hunt for Red October" and felt they could play by the same rules.
After a lengthy training sequence that's admirably honest about its absurdly homoerotic tendencies (Ergo and Kurupi spend hours staring into each others' eyes; they giggle and swoon as they roll around shirtless on the beach; they watch the volleyball scene in "Top Gun"), Kurupi sets out to wander the various state parks that double as futuristic wilderness. It's there he stumbles upon Sinasu agents who hope to "turn" him before he can collect a series of magic rocks leading him to a giant marble called the Black Pearl, which does, um, magic stuff.
"Turning," by the way, is some sort of vague vampire movie-esque thing that's done to Huron heroes, making them baddies. It's one of several elements dumped into the plot haphazardly, overloading the story to the point of impenetrability. There's too much going on, as if Gasteazoro worked up a complex backstory then refused to cut any of it out of the final script - and then thought it'd be a great idea to make most of the plot points a mystery to be discovered later on, so we're constantly playing catch-up. It's a jumble that frustrates more than it intrigues, and by the time things become clear, we're too lost in the rest of the terribleness to care.
And oh, what terribleness. It's easy to forgive the clumsy production values, considering this is a film made on a shoestring. Not so forgivable, though, is the ineptness of co-director/cinematographer Giovanni Messner's photography, full of stumbly handheld work and bad angles. (Messner and Gasteazoro also edited and produced, making most of this film a mere two-man project) Gasteazoro's script, meanwhile, is loaded with cheap fantasy formula and dialogue that would still be laughable had the entire cast not been amateurish. Consider this exchange between Kurupi and Tukten (Loukas Papas), Kurupi's previous trainer who returns after months of unexplained absence:
Tukten: "I am your mentor, Kurupi!"
Kurupi: "You left!"
Tukten: "Now I am back."
It's a stupid kind of earnestness - or is that an earnest kind of stupidity? - that quickly grates. And it's not enough that Gasteazoro fills his screenplay with a sort of faux-poetic rhythm that fails in its attempts to sound intelligent; the filmmakers then decide to dump on top of this a series of thick, strained environmental themes. It seems the majority of the non-kung-fu-awesome population (called "Plaebians," because who needs subtlety?) is growing at a rate that will ruin the delicate balance of nature thanks to their abuse of natural resources, and it's up to those Huron hippies, so in tune with nature they're the only ones who actually understand the environment, to save the day. Or as Ergo puts it: "The birds sing with sore throats as the fish slap on dry and dirty shores!"
One imagines each day of filming ended with the crew nodding slowly as they watch the dailies through a fog of pot haze, responding to each shot with a groggy "yeah, man, yeah." "Black Pearl" is as deathly dull and as largely incoherent as any stoner's unchecked ramblings, but with bad punching and kicking.
Video & Audio
Non-anamorphic grumbles aside, most of the problems with the 1.85:1 flat letterbox transfer (incorrectly labeled on the box as 4:3 full frame) are the fault of the source material itself. "Black Pearl" was shot on standard definition digital video at a 30 fps rate, giving it the clear-yet-flat look of crummy home video. While some scenes reveal great detail and a nice range of colors (mainly the state park/beach sequences designed to show off the scenery), darker scenes are awash in grain and muddy black levels.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is passable enough, even though the sound effects are mixed in far too loudly, for unintentional comic effect. Dialogue levels are fine, even when the actors are stuck mumbling their way through that dopey fake language. No subtitles are included (except for the burned-in subs used during the fake language sequences.)
Messner and Gasteazoro deliver a chatty commentary track that's honest about the film's shortcomings, if a bit deluded about its quality.
The film's trailer (2:00) and a batch of previews for other Indican titles are also included; the previews also play as the disc loads.
"Black Pearl" is lousy enough on its own, even without the added-on Roland Emmerich rip-off title and lousy non-anamorphic presentation. Skip It.