There are a few universal warnings that everyone should heed: "look both ways before crossing the road," "don't drink and drive," and of course, "watch out for snakes." I'd like to add "directed by Albert Pyun" to that last, because if film history tells us anything that phrase spells disaster. Operating on a roughly $1,000,000 budget, Pyun's latest movie "Tales of an Ancient Empire" is one of the most baffling 89-minutes (more on that later) I've ever witnessed in any medium. I only mention the budget because I'm not sure where it went, especially in the wake of a movie like "Hunter Prey" which operated on a fraction of the cost but looked like it cost 10x as much. Pyun's film is also the sequel to his first and arguably only good movie, "The Sword and the Sorcerer" a perfectly serviceable early 80s B-movie. If this fact alone has you thinking of seeing this film, please spare yourself the pain I endured.
"Tales of an Ancient Empire" is at least honest with it's awful quality within the first minute, having the gall to open with a 10-plus minute narrated credit sequence that is supplemented by rudimentary sketches of the events being relayed to the audience as well as obviously green-screened footage of bit players miming out other events. It's such an insufferable, poorly crafted bore it took me three times to muster the personal energy to sit down and watch this pathetic excuse for a moving picture from stem to stern. What little plot there is, remains incomprehensible for a good portion of the first act, with Pyun using his third-rate smoke and mirrors routine to "wow" audiences with stylized visuals that would have been laughed at a decade ago.
The basic gist of the story is an evil vampire Xia (Whitney Able) threatens a third-rate fantasy kingdom and it's up to Princess Tanis (Melissa Ordway) to find her father Oda (Michael Paré). Obviously there's a snag in this straightforward plan and soon Aedan (Kevin Sorbo), Tanis' half-brother is involved in a quest no one cares about. Generally in a bad movie, the goal is to identify the major problem areas, but "Tales of an Ancient Empire" redefines the meaning of "bad movie" to the point where it's easier to say what's good about it. Well, for starters Michael Paré's fake wig is hilarious and the 89-minute film ends at 10-minutes prior for a slow credit roll that well (also worth noting on this DVD, there's a trailer for the newest "Conan" movie that tells a more cohesive satisfying story than the main feature). To be perfectly blunt, calling this a film stretches the definition of said art form because, SPOILER ALERT: the movie has no ending. Some might call it a cliffhanger, but generally cliffhangers follow some sort of development. This just ends and makes vague references to further adventures.
I would have probably been able to stomach "Tales of an Ancient Empire" more easily if someone had told me it was actually a collection of cutscenes from a mid-90s CD-Rom adventure game. The repetition of the one plot point coupled with abysmal production values, stilted line readings, non-existent to limited action, and a score that is all over the map would easily fool any fan of that game genre into thinking that be the case. In my time watching films over the years, I've encountered only a few I refuse to concede any level of merit to, but "Tales of an Ancient Empire" easily earns that distinction. It's a waste of time, money, and the raw materials required to press the disc, print the artwork and seal the case. The take home lesson, if you're still following is should you see the phrase "directed by Albert Pyun" attached to anything, follow the words of Gandalf the Grey and "fly you fools."
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is all over the place in terms of quality. At best, it captures the hazy, mostly focused film as best as one could hope. At other times it's plagued with noticeable edge-enhancement, compression artifacts and terrible contrast. There are a handful of shots that feature clear fine detail, but they are major exceptions to the rule.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is a little better than the visual presentation, but suffers from occasionally muddled dialogue and poor use of surrounds. The track at times is a bit tinny in some scenes and only utilizes the low-end of the spectrum a limited number of times. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Far more fascinating than the film, is the nearly 40-minute "behind the scenes with interviews" feature, which confirms just how haphazardly put together this film was. You'll see actors flailing in front of green screens with Pyun directing the action as well as the advertised interviews where everyone at least seems to be having a good time. The film's theatrical trailer is also included.
I've reviewed my share of Uwe Boll films and after seeing the latest offering from Albert Pyun, I will defend Boll unto the end of days, because his crime is being lazy, having proven he can make an engaging film and sometimes a passable B-movie. Pyun's "Tales of an Ancient Empire" is a sad train wreck from start to finish that doesn't even have the decency to offer viewers a disappointing resolution. Skip It.