Sunday, March 14, 2010

Films in Review: An Analysis of Spiritual Warriors (2007)

I came upon this film haphazardly online and after watching the trailer was rightfully intrigued, especially considering the striking similarity and resemblances it bares to my own feature film, which I've been writing since 2005. Both incorporate such themes as past life remembrances and the warrior's spiritual journey, themes that seem to keep encroaching into media consciousness as we continue to evolve as people in our current turbulent time of transition. Be that as it may, I went into the viewing of Spiritual Warriors excited and eager to see what other fellow filmmakers had come up with in presenting and capturing that often elusive spiritual experience that has taken hold for so many at this time, including myself. However, to my great disappointment I found myself completely unable to connect with it, on almost every level.

The film, while full of compelling performances by actors Jsu Garcia, Shyla Marlin and Robert Easton, lacked a coherent cohesive assembly as a story, one that felt haphazardly strung together with no sense of purpose or connection. It was as if just when one story thread began to develop, we took off into a completely different subplot, then another, with so many tangents that there was no chance for development in any of them. While spiritual truths were touched upon, they were conveyed through characters talking at each other and preaching truth. The old man Roger (Robert Easton) becomes a cliched guru/mentor serving only to be a talking head on screen whose main purpose is simply to spout out wisdoms. They even literally had paragraphs of text of "spiritual teachings" written out on screen intermittently, rather than the concept being shown or explored through the emotional journey of the characters in a deeper way. Film is a medium in which to show, not tell. If I wanted to read about spiritual truths, I would've picked up a book.

In addition to having been poorly shot, the film was compounded with second rate visual effects that feel juvenile and amateur at best (this I could forgive if the story had been masterfully constructed), often overcompensating with special "light effects" to convey spiritual phenomenon in place of actually developing moments of awe, significantly felt within the characters. With the exception of maybe one particularly beautiful closeup of Finn in the heat of the desert, the overall framing and composition of the cinematography is so distanced and uninspired, that it separates you from the main action, making you feel as a voyeur rather than an immersed participant in the drama of the story. Alongside a complete lack of lighting design, scenes appear flat, with no shadow or contrast, which in turn gives this film a feeling of no real depth, intrigue or intimacy which would really be of the utmost importance in order to portray realms of an inner world. The main villain, called the "Prince of Darkness" (Stephen Sowan) is portrayed as a laughable lesser version of Anakin Skywalker, with the only nodd to his dark side being heavily applied dark eyeliner. Otherwise he appears in scenes brightly lit just the same as the others without any shadow or nuanced indication thereof. Not to mention this film was so poorly edited in its construction that they could not even clearly connect that the random African American (E.Milton Wheeler) dressed in a cliched Egyptian costume who pops out of a wall carving was supposed to be the reknowned Pharoah Akhenaten. Really? If I don't "get it" and I'm already familiar with the content having done years of research on the Amarna period, how is a general audience member going to make that connection? Just because the previous scene is desperately over-cut with overlaying shots of the Akhenaten bust doesn't automatically convey or lend significance to this random character in your next scene! It's as if these filmmakers had no idea or understanding of how to go about constructing a film? The overall effect is amateur, flat, and devoid of any real connection to emotion, story, or character (nevermind spiritual truth), the likes of which we'd come to expect from high school video shop (right down to the cheesy rip off red glowing light saber swords).

I am terribly disappointed but I'm glad that I was able to see this film, and see a film that at least tried to articulate truths that were worth the effort. So many films today are empty and spectacle driven without heart, so to their credit, I can sense that the filmmakers here were really after something deeper, without perhaps the tools to execute it. In that way I can give them the benefit of the doubt. However, the one exception that I take to this, is the "surprise twist" ending of the film, for which there is no excuse and is clearly done deliberately. It completely negates any efforts on their part that were invested in the seeking of spiritual truth in a ridiculous attempt to be "clever." It felt like a hat trick that only might've been taken seriously circa the 1980s. Audiences back then might've been "oowwed" but today's audiences having been exposed to the likes of Avatar and The Sixth Sense, really require a directorial savvy applied to their films which employ just a little bit more than commonplace cheap turnabouts "for effect." In short, it leaves you with that rather annoyed feeling of "I can't believe I just sat through this whole movie, for that?"

I'm really quite sorry for having to comment on all of this so unfavorably. I am not one in the habit of completely panning films outright because I appreciate the immense effort that filmmakers undergo to bring something to the screen, especially the independents. So I try to offer some praise of some aspect of the film that was well done. In this case, I'd like to point out that the poster design with the pyramids has a nice sepia colored gradation to it that lends sophistication. The trailer was very well cut to market the film. And the actors involved had a lot to offer, particularly Jsu Garcia as the main protagonist Finn really had a quality about him that lent itself nicely to the role, especially in his eyes. Also Cosimo Canale as Joe was particularly real in his portrayal of a hardened drug runner. And Shyla Marlin as Claire really gave an emotional performance; had she been utilized and shot correctly it would have made a great impact. Lastly, I am eternally grateful to Spiritual Warriors, for venturing out and making all the mistakes for me that I could've ever possibly made in crafting a spiritually focused feature film. Not an easy task as it might seem. And as a wise one once said, "Learn from other people's mistakes, because life is too short to make them all yourself."

No comments:

Post a Comment