Starring: Melantha Blackthorne, Tara Alexis, Dale Denton, James Ray, Raw Leiba, and Fiona Horn
Director: Sean-Michael Argo
Rating: Three of Ten Stars
What starts as a simple assignment to break up an illegal Quiji Board smuggling ring, brings the City of Fable's top freelance trouble-shooter (Blackthorne) into conflict with a demon planning to destroy the hidden city and shred the veil between the magical world and the modern one.
"Fable: Teeth of the Beasts" is a film I really wanted to like. The press release included with the screener the publicity rep kindly sent me caused me to put the film near the top of my review stack. It's basic concept is one that I love--a dark fantasy movie set in a pseudo-modern environment. It's the sort sort of story part of me wishes I would force myself to do.
Which is why I wish I liked this movie more than I do, because I love genre mash-ups and there are things to like about "Fable".
Lead Malentha Blackthorne does a good job as the magical bounty hunter with a troubled past, and Dale Denton is one heck of a scary demon underneath some strange, anvil-jawed make-up. The use of digital blood-spatter, sparks, and muzzle flashes is far more adeptly used here than in films made with budgets of many hundreds more than what was spent here--like The Expendables and Machete. It's great to see a low-budget film show up the big boys like that.
The script by Matt Yaeger (from a story by Argo) is just about perfect, striking the right balance between a hardboiled detective/action film tone, an R.E. Howard vibe, and a Tolkien Universe gone seriously bad. So as far as that goes, I like this film for all the same reasons I liked the other Argo/Yaeger collaboration I've watched and reviewed, 'Johnny Sunshine', which was a genre mash-up of cyberpunk and zombie movies. I will probably watch and review any other film by them I come across, because I think they are both talented writers and directors, and I hope that they'll get it right eventually.
Argo also leads with a bit of filmmaking that I first thought boded ill but which turned out to be one of the cleverest things he did. Some scenes use "digital sets," mostly in the film's beginning, in a clever reversal of what is expected; actors in the "real world" are placed in digitally generated streets that lend a phony look to the action, while the "fantasy world" is all gritty and real. It's the opposite of what was done in "Despiser" and it's a great touch.
Much as I liked "Fable" for some of the reasons I liked "Johnny Sunshine", the film has some of the same problems, attributable in both films to inexperience of directors and cinematographers. Once again, this is a film with numerous fight scenes that not only feel under-rehearsed, but they are badly photographed, with camera placements far from optimal. I'm also not sure Argo has a feel for creating cinematic fight scenes... his editor certainly didn't!
But these technical complaints are dwarfed by the film's gigantic, insurmountable problem: That this is that it never should have been made. Or at least not made in the way it was here, because it is a movie that required a far bigger budget than what the filmmakers had to work with here.
"Fable" has at its foundation a script that would have made a great Japanese cartoon (or anime, for those of you who feel you're too grown-up to be watching cartoons). Its main character is a sexy babe who kicks ass with magic and guns. She exists in a world that is supposedly full of legendary magical creatures and demons where she is disliked just as much by the creatures she fights as by the Powers That Be. Heck, even the way the dialogue is delivered and the pacing of the film reminded me of anime. But animation is far more costly than the price of getting a few actors and a small technical crew together in a building slated for demolition (or some similar site).
And getting those actors together is a good fallback position, assuming you have the budget for great costumes and/or creature effects to populate the City of Fable with minotaurs, winged fairies, weird creatures flying through the air or perching on stools at the local bar, and all sorts of other visual madness. Or at the very least SOME costumes and creature effects aside from the single demon that is the film's main bad guy. Because one single actor in heavy make-up doesn't do the supposed realm where all magic and magical beings retreated to when humans and their Reason and Logic started taking hold and shaping Reality. All that does demonstrate the vast missed opportunities and squandered potential that this film represents.
"Fable" is a movie I hope gets a remake someday--a hope held in vain, because no one ever remakes movies because they need to be remade. Or maybe the script could be adapted to a graphic novel format, because it would make a great comic book as well. But this is not good movie, no matter how much I wanted it to be. It really is only of interest to those who are absolutely fanatical in their love of urban fantasy, and who must see or read everything that appears in that genre.
Here's hoping there'll be a third outing for Argo and Yaeger... and that the third time will indeed be the charm!