Thursday, 13 January 2011

Review: Centurion (suitable for ages 3+)

As all parents know, there are few things children enjoy more than watching people from the middle ages chop each other up. "More blood, more mud, more pilgrims!" is the familiar cry of tots up and down the land, as they ride terrified Alsatians from room to room and swallow lego brick likenesses of your soul.

"I made Daddy - he's empty inside."

Alas, despite much tinkering by mums and dads, no one has yet invented a time machine to placate the tubby little need-bags. But weep not. An alternative has presented itself. Put down that wrench, discard those flux capacitators and hide that syringe of mercury, because a new genre of action film is in town: the peasant-thriller. Tobias won't have to risk being disassembled in a modified washing machine and re-assembled nine hundred years ago wearing his guts as a hat just yet. Instead, simply lower his medicated body in front of the telly, set up a trough of his favourite brand of chocogruel, and let Sean Bean do the heavy lifting.

Yes, the peasant-thriller is here. It's hot, it's fresh, and it will definitely follow in the abortive footsteps of the last action film niche, the eco-thriller, which was both pioneered and pummelled into oblivion by barrel-bellied, high-waisted, doughy-faced funnyman Steven Seagal. heavy...must play on.

Why is it here? Nobody knows. Maybe it's the recession. The peasant-thriller is pretty cheap to make.  All you'll need are twenty swords, an axe, a spear, ten men in chainmail, ten more in sackcloth, a bag of warts, fifty fluid tonnes of mud and someone who was in The Lord Of The Rings or someone cheaper who looks like someone who was in The Lord Of The Rings. Shake them all together and voila, you have produced Centurion/Season of the Witch/The Last Legion/Solomon Kane/Black Death/Valhalla Rising

A close reading of Neil Marshall's last film, Doomsday, and Centurion is an illuminating exercise:
  • Doomsday: soldiers have to run towards and then away from Scottish people, and Malcolm McDowell. 
  • Centurion: soldiers have to run towards and then away from Scottish people, in Roman times. 
We can clearly see that in Centurion, Malcolm McDowell has been replaced with a Roman setting.  This is probably because they cost the same, and a reasonably budgeted production can't stretch to both.

"A period setting costs HOW much? Well I want the same. I know it doesn't make sense! I'm high. High as a kite. And I'm angry.

The lack of Malcolm McDowell is overcome by an entertaining plot that links each chop to the next with talking, running and hiding. The whole thing is proper Tales of Adventure territory, packed full of tricks and military tactics, such as smothering a small boy. If you like the sound of a close-knit band of warriors deep behind enemy lines, forced on the run by mercenary, intelligent natives, you should visit Nottingham, or see this film.

There is also an enjoyable female warrior.  Most action women are either dressed-up crotch fodder for the hero or an unhappy collection of tough pretensions and lame put-downs. But this one is mute and loveless. Ideal. In fact, there's a strong argument for making the peasant-thriller entirely dialogue-free, because nothing really needs verbalising - it's grim, you're covered in mud, look out, that chap's trying to chop your head off.

So, in lieu of a time machine, try sating your child’s unflagging bloodlust with Centurion. If that fails, there's really nothing more to be done. Run the malevolent critter through with a pike, raise up its corpse, and peg it out in a rough approximation of a Roman soldier's tent. You'll have more free time and a great story to tell your fellow campers.
Graham Willis, 9 and a half, sleeps 6.

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