Find a script for all three Lord of the Rings movies. Next, do a word search and replace, with a combo of "bloodsteel" and "crucible" taking over every reference to a "ring". That's pretty much the extent of "Knights of Bloodsteel", a miniseries put on by RHI entertainment. Now, imagine if it actually wasn't all that bad, and you've got this predictably yet undeniably satisfying production that assuredly has no qualms in existing in the same space as the Tolkien films. Beat for beat, you're not going to push the similarities out of your mind; however, with attention completely surrendered, you'll discover the same sort of enjoyment that you would with watching the likes of "Hercules" or "Xena".
Following a similar structure, four strangers -- a rogue-ish assassin name John (David James Elliot), an upstanding yet talented female elf Perfidia (Natissa Malthe), the rough-around-the-edges magical goblin Ber-lak (Dru Viergever), and a charming con artist Adric (Christopher Jacot) -- come together as a "fellowship" of sorts in the land of Mirabilis to stop an evil warlord, a Tim-Curry-in-Darkness wannabe named Dragon-Eye, from hunting down an all-powerful relic called the Crucible. The arm's length ring-leader of this outfit, Tessalink (Christopher Lloyd), happens to have been training Perfidia for this specific reason for years.
In this realm, anyone can use a special metallic element called bloodsteel to either grant them special powers or counterbalance their handicaps (cure blindness, super strength, etc). Final Fantasy fans can look at as something similar to "mana", filling in gaps both in the human themselves and in their weaponry where they lack prowess. You really better get used to to hearing the words "bloodsteel" because it crops up in just about every conversation -- bloodsteel slingshots, bloodsteel glasses, potions, etc. Almost any situation can be rectified by the application of bloodsteel, and it comes across as just a bit easy. Even so, the search for bloodsteel fuels the mad scramble between the forces of light and forces of dark, and soaking in to the search is fun in many of the ways that the hike to Mordor can be.
Secondary dialogue and politics get scattered into "Knights of Bloodsteel", including some keynote razzmatazz about a tribunal between orcs, humans, and elves, but we're mostly concerned with the hunt for bloodsteel, Dragon-Eye, and The Crucible as a struggle between good and evil. It's a loud, long barrage of action that fuels the hunt for the enemy, featuring our heroes taking on enemy after enemy -- whether it be goblins minions or fire-breathing dragons. Part of the miniseries' scattered strength largely relies on its ability to hold a fantastical energy, keeping action-packed, semi-suspenseful sequences spaced in a way that doesn't slow it down. It's one-dimensional and wholly cribbed, but still brisk for a TV-influenced piece.
Knights of Blood Steel isn't without a few issues, namely patches of sketchy visual effects and overly bold dialogue. Followers of similar productions, namely the Hercules-Xena canon as well as the Armand Assante-led "Odyssey", will be more forgiving since those productions have weathered fantasy fanatics to taking low-ball effects at face-value for effect. Still, you'll have to swallow down one or two effects that overstep their means -- especially with the two primary dragon elements. The effects even lack some awareness of tangibility when compared to that of Dragonheart, a film 13 years its senior.
To smooth over the parts where the miniseries lacks, "Knights of Bloodsteel" asks us to place our faith in bolstered, brassy characters for its entertainment factor -- and, though none of them are terribly unoriginal, they work. Notably strong is Natissa Malthe as Perfidia, who carries an action-ready disposition not without a glimmer or two of internal intrigue. Sure, she's only a step or two beyond Liv Tyler's Arwen, but there's something attention-grabbing about her intensity that even makes some of her dodgy lines of dialogue work more than they should. It's a shame that she's matched against less-inspiring variants on other characters, like the Aragorn-Braveheart hybrid John Serragoth. Though the acting pair have decent chemistry, it's not enough to sell most of the script's romantic notions.
It'd be a lie to say that "Knights of Bloodsteel" didn't entertain, even amid its unoriginal rhythm and stilted, blunt-headed delivery. You'll likely have to be "in the mood" for this style of production, one where the mood becomes extra lenient towards popcorn-level medieval action made to be seen as epic-scaled fare with a smaller scope in mind. It must've been that way upon this screening, because it satisfied similar urges that other productions of its ilk have done before -- just in a lesser fashion. Yep, the acting isn't all that hot and some of the special effects flop outside the realm of believability, but the fantasy-fueled energy behind the storyline almost covers its follies.
Originally a two-night event on the SciFi Channel on April 19th, "Knights of Bloodsteel" retains that structure by separating the program into two 90-minute segments. Both sides are available on the same side of one disc, which means little room for any special features on the disc.
Video and Audio:
"Knights of Bloodsteel" comes presented in its 1.78:1 original television showing and enhanced for widescreen televisions. We're working with a three-hour production with lots of movement and plenty of expansive shots, all crammed onto one disc -- so expectations shouldn't be exceptionally high for the quality. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised with the sharpness and color solidity, along with the nice replication of the dingy brown-ish green palette. It naturally has compression and fluctuating contrast issues, along with some issues during movement that cause a bit of pixilation, but some of the nature cinematography and costume work looked decent.
Sound comes in a Dolby 5.1 that supports the material, just not to any terribly dynamic degree. Vocal clarity gets strained in numerous sequences, though the gist of the words can be discerned well enough. Effects like billowing fire and crashing swords fill the speakers well enough, though they don't go to the lower-frequency to the degree that you might like. It's fine for the track, but nothing special. No subtitles are available on this release, as are any other language options.
Low-budget, watchable fantasy is the name of the game for "Knights of Bloodsteel", never claiming too much originality nor offering anything dreadfully off-putting in the flow of it all. For a direct-to-video / television style miniseries, you can do much worse. Give it a Rental if you're in need of a fresh adventure; just don't expect anything distinctive or unpredictable.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site