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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice
The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice
Sony Pictures // Unrated // February 24, 2009
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted February 28, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
When you watch the relatively primitive made for television movies of yore, you can often laugh at their paltry budgets and backlot sensibilities. TNT's The Librarian franchise isn't hobbled by miniscule moolah or being confined to a few sets, but no amount of money or location footage (albeit some of it stock) can overcome cliché ridden writing and some pretty abysmal staging. What was a promising premise has unfortunately not fully realized its potential, and by this third outing in the series, faithful viewers may well begin to wonder if it ever will.



Noah Wyle plays Flynn Carsen, The Librarian, a sort of nerdy Indiana Jones type who manages a secret collection of artifacts kept in the bowels of the New York City Metropolitan Library. His cohorts in this enterprise are the elder archivist Judson (Bob Newhart) and Flynn's immediate boss, Charlene (Jane Curtin). This particular episode starts with Flynn bidding a disastrous amount for a priceless Ming vase which he promptly destroys on purpose to reveal it had contained The Philosopher's Stone, the vaunted alchemical tool that can change anything it touches into gold (obviously writer Marco Schnabel doesn't subscribe to Jungian analysis of what alchemy is "really" all about). Part of Flynn's disastrous bid is the result of him trying to stave off his latest girlfriend from leaving him, which of course she does. That leads Flynn to believe that his duties as The Librarian will prevent him from ever leading a normal life. Judson and Charlene, sensing he's at his breaking point, offer him a vacation.



Charlene discovers Flynn's "vacation" has consisted of lying around the couch at his apartment and she urges him to actually get out and experience some life somewhere. That leads him to New Orleans (enter stock footage of Mardi Gras, ladies and gents), where of course he quickly becomes embroiled in a mystery involving vampires and a precious artifact known as the Judas Chalice, a sort of flipside to the Holy Grail, a cup made out of the 30 pieces of silver Judas was given to betray Jesus.



Whether or not you like individual Indiana Jones films, the fact is that they for the most part base their obvious fancy in some sort of historical fact. The Librarian has unfortunately strayed from that grounding more or less in all three of its entries. While there are allusions to myths, legends and, yes, actual facts, the plots tend to revolve around wholly fictional elements that simply are not inventive enough to sustain the conceit. The Curse of the Judas Chalice has some very interesting characters, chief among them the alluring chanteuse (Stana Katic) whom Flynn befriends in New Orleans who then reveals herself to be the Guardian of the Marker that reveals the location of the Judas Chalice, and, later in the film, something else entirely. Also, an elderly crippled professor (Bruce Davison) who has spent his life chasing after the Chalice has one of the better reveals in the series in the denouement of this episode, allowing Davison to chew the scenery with gusto.



Overall, though, this series is sunk by simply seeming like a second rate retread of a lot of previous action-adventure films. Noah Wyle makes for an appealing hero, one who bounces between bumbling haplessness and intellectual savoir faire, but there's nothing supporting him along the way. This particular episode has some passable CGI and special effects, but is hampered by some really surprisingly bad staging by director Jonathan Frakes. Frakes, who in other films both theatrical and otherwise has proven himself a capable if not exceptional director, frames some of the action in frankly bizarre ways. A sword fight early in this film is actually laughable it's so badly shot. You don't need camera fireworks to make a sequence like this thrilling--simply look at Michael Curtiz' largely static, yet incredibly brilliant, staging of the famous sword fight in Robin Hood. But Frakes is all over the map in this sequence and in many others--weird angles that don't show where the action is, strange quick edits to close-ups that don't add any information, and a lackluster sense of wonder and surprise, which ultimately should be what The Librarian should be all about.



Stana Katic is the real standout in this particular episode. Doing a neat little French accent, Katic seems wispily vulnerable in her early scenes which quickly turns to ferocity and then back to vulnerability as the film ends. It should be fun to watch Katic strut her stuff in the upcoming series Castle. Newhart is fun, if a bit too doddering for his own good (I'd love him just once to get a sentence out without starting it over halfway through), and Curtin is a lovable curmudgeon (curmudgeonette?). What this series really needs is some spectacularly better writing, writing that doesn't depend on CGI nonsense like flying swords to give it some flash. Maybe some research at a local library is called for.






The DVD


Video:
Curse of the Judas Chalice is appealingly sharp with an enhanced 1.78:1 image. Color and contrast are strong throughout, with natural fleshtones and a decently varied palette. CGI is OK to pretty good (don't expect ILM-level magic and you won't be too disappointed). Some of the stock footage is momentarily rough. Overall, though, a solid television presentation.




Sound:
The DD 5.1 soundtrack does best in the effects sequences when the surround channels fitfully kick in. This is not an immersive soundtrack by any means, but what is there is fine and at times very fun (Excalibur the "animated sword"'s noises are a good example). Dialogue is centrally placed and is always easy to understand. Does the Aaron Copland estate know how liberally some of Copland's work is quoted in Joseph LoDuca's amiable underscore? English subtitles are available.





Extras:
Deleted scenes, as well as featurettes on visual effects and an action sequence in a monastery are offered. Nothing very remarkable, but decently informative.




Final Thoughts:
The Librarian is a cute and promising premise that has yet to fully pay off in any of its three installments thus far. Like the previous two outings, The Curse of the Judas Chalice has a moment or two of fun, and all around pleasant enough performances, but it's ultimately unremarkable. This franchise has been a big ratings winner for TNT, so I guess there are legions of fans out there who love it, but as far as I'm concerned, you'd make better use of your time reading a good book. Skip it.


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"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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