Monday, December 13, 2010

Thoughts on Ultramarines: The Movie

Expectations are a complicated thing.

Last night my wife and I watched Ultramarines: the Movie (let's call it U:tM.) I specifically asked my wife to watch it to get her input as a scifi fan but not a 40k enthusiast. Her knowledge about Space Marines specifically is limited to the fact that they wear power armor and that mortally wounded ones can be entombed within a Dreadnought. I asked her to point out anything about the movie that was perplexing in a "I feel like I should know what that means, but I don't" sort of way. As for me, I do not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Space Marines. My knowledge is limited to the codices and rule books, as I have not read any of the Space Marine related novels.

As a movie, Ultramarines is definitely more than just fan service. Dan Abnett's screenplay tries first and foremost to be a story about Space Marines rather than just a series of "I know what that is!" clips. This is what differentiates this endeavor from video-game intros and cut scenes. The Dawn of War intros (inevitably the standard by which any 40k footage will be judged) are beautiful and dynamic, but they are not really storytelling exercises as much as a series of short atmosphere shots or combat demonstrations. They are also very heavy on exposition, something a movie cannot afford to be if it wants to keep the audience's attention. I would also venture a guess and say that the entire budget of U:tM was less than the intro movie for a major video game. The scenes tend to be dark and the animation is mostly non-intrusive, with some awkwardly stiff times. When From The Warp's Ron Saikowski solicited questions from members to ask Codex about the movie the animation of marines was foremost in my mind. Here is my section of the Q/A:
18. I would like to know the challenges of animating power armor, especially in terms of trying to model a realistic human anatomy in there somewhere. Did anything need a "redesign" to make it able to be animated?
It was a challenge to animate the power armour, and we went to great lengths to really think about and explore how a Space Marine wearing it would move. One of the ways we thought about it was to look at someone wearing ice-hockey pads – it gave some approximation of the walk cycle. But, of course, it is power armour so not heavy. Games Workshop’s advice was that the Ultramarines are twice as agile and as fit as any Olympic champion, so the movement is still fluid despite the bulk of the armour.

Codex certainly took the Olympic champion advice to heart, as the marines were quite agile. I am admittedly not accustomed to seeing marines move in that manner, and the armor always seemed like it would have more obvious weight than it did.  It wasn't what I was expecting but I got used to it quickly.  There were some moments where the subjects on-screen just moved too fast to comfortably watch, but that was a function of cinematography rather than character animation.

Story-wise, it wasn't bad.  There's only so much you can do in 75 minutes, and I give Dan Abnett kudos for keeping the story small, which allowed there to be real characters rather than just a series of anonymous combatants.  My wife and I laughed about Allison's blog comment about it seeming very... manly.  It did.  "Are we talking Conan many or Brokeback manly?" my wife asked jokingly.  Let's go with Conan manly.  Only once in the movie did Stef have to ask me what was going on (the extraction of gene-seed, which brought the manly question back up.)  Other than that, it was enough straightforward scifi stereotype fare that she didn't have any trouble keeping up.  She did think the apothecary armor was too Star Wars Stormtrooper-like.  To my surprise, she actually rather liked it.  Not in the "I need to go buy an army now" kind of way, but more in "I just watched a fun SyFy Original Movie" vein.  (SyFy is a cable/satellite channel focusing on science fiction, and known for their crazy original movies, mostly about monsters.)  My overall opinion... it was good, not great.  The plot and execution would have probably made a better graphic novel.  In fact, I hope they do one in the same style as the short graphic novel that came with the collector's edition set.

If Codex makes another 40k movie I will buy.  I suppose that's praise enough.

--side note:  Distribution for the copy of the movie I got came from Datapak in Howell, MI.  Anything contributing to Michigan's terribly economy is good news to me.  Did any other U.S. recipients get theirs with a Howell, MI return address?


  1. Oh I think we both know there's a little "Brokeback" variety manly there ;)

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked the film! I may be a bit of a movie snob, but I suspect that "good, not great" is probably the best that one can expect from something like this. It's unlikely to be the next Citizen Kane.

    OK, apparently I'm a total movie snob :P

  2. just saw it tonight and i was not sad about buying it, a CHAOS / ELDAR / ORK player in 40K since 1st edd. i know a bit more about 40K Lore than the average gamer...CODEX did a GREAT job in make'n the ULTRAGEEKS look cool.... it so inspired me i may even do a Kill Team from Macragge...Heresy!! :)

    #82. Thou shalt not do Spock impersonations around Eldar.

  3. I think mine shipped out of Austin, TX - weird, since I'm a LOT closer to Michigan than Texas...


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