Posted on December 21, 2009 by Jason Thorson
Avaialble at DriveThruHorror.com
Writer/director/producer Christian Petersen’s Midnight Chronicles is an indie film based on the fantasy role playing game Midnight from Fantasy Flight Games. Evil rules in Midnight’s world of Aryth after Izrador, the dark god defeated the free races in a war 100 years prior. Men are now enslaved while Elves and Dwarves have disappeared into the forests and mountains. Hope resides in only the few brave enough to pursue it. As Mag Kiln travels to Blackweir to investigate the disappearance of a fellow priest, others also descend on the small town where a complex web of good versus evil develops that has implications on the future of the dark forces that rule the land.
For as relatively small a production as it is, Midnight Chronicles is incredibly ambitious. And while it surprisingly rises to the level of visual prowess demanded by its subject matter, it falls woefully short in the story department. Like a lot of recent indie flicks, Midnight Chronicles is another impressive-but-flawed realization of a lot of hard work, money, and time and it’s also one hell of a mixed bag of movie pros and cons. Unfortunately the cons are so fundamentally important to the art of storytelling that they are impossible to overlook.
I’ll start with the things Midnight Chronicles does well.
The photography is beautiful and stark, utilizing various filters to washout primary colors and enhance the dark oppressive settings in which this story takes place. Filmed in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Midnight Chronicles’ locations and sets are on par with movies that boast much larger budgets. This is apparent immediately during the film’s large scale opening shot of slaves being marched through a vast valley overlooked by a kingdom nestled in the hills.
Midnight Chronicle’s sound production is also very well done. This movie takes place in multiple and various settings, including large scale outdoor and underground locations. It features crowds, fights, the occasional flock of birds, creatures, magic spells, you name it. Yet the sound mix remains polished and consistent throughout.
The cast is wholly comprised of theatre, television commercial, and indie film talent based in the Twin Cities. Midnight Chronicles has more characters than the average indie movie which usually predicts a huge drop off in performance between the leads and the supporting characters. However, by casting capable actors rather than friends and family, Petersen by and large avoids the aforementioned indie flick malady. While no one here threatens Brando’s spot on the all-time list, more importantly there are no sore thumbs in this group.
From a production perspective – the sets, the costumes, the effects, the acting, i.e. the tools used to help tell the story – this movie is top notch. However, a movie’s entire reason for being is born well before the actors are cast, the sets are lighted, and the cameras role. Storytelling matters most and it’s here that Midnight Chronicles falls short.
Midnight Chronicles’ script appears to have been a structural mess from square one. I consider myself a fairly astute movie watcher and I spent over half the time wondering what the hell was going on. This is because the very basic essentials of plot, specifically movie plot are never clearly defined and in some cases they’re missing all together. For example, the three act structure is a forgotten concept. This makes it difficult to discern who the protagonists and antagonists are as there is no clear main tension established early on. The main tension defines when the first act ends and thrusts us into the bulk of the film armed with knowing who to root for, who to root against, and what they all want. It’s a simple concept the by-product of which results in a compelling story.
Midnight Chronicles also suffers from a considerable lack of originality. Conceptually, it’s extremely similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythos. There are Orcs, and Elves, and references to Dwarfs. Even the proper names spoken throughout the film sound like they were cribbed from a Lord of the Rings improv group. I understand that the source material for the movie is a strain of RPG that owes much of its existence to D&D and by extension the Tolkien books, but this is a level of similarity that’s off-putting and distracting.
It comes down to the fact that I’m on the outside looking in and that usually doesn’t bode well for one’s reaction to a film. It’s certainly possible that Petersen is a bit too familiar with the source material for the film’s own good. And maybe fans of the game will dive right into Midnight Chronicles and feel at home. However, I’m neither familiar with the game, nor am I a gamer in general so perhaps too many of those source elements are lost on folks like me. The bad news for Midnight Chronicles is that there are more of us on the outside than there are on the inside.
Christian Petersen’s film is an admirable effort. Compared to the vast majority of true independent films, this movie is made with a superior level of effort and skill and the aesthetic results bear that out. However, it must not be overlooked that in an age when digital cameras and high-end digital editing suites are commonplace, the production quality of a film is no longer enough to ignore its flaws. As a matter fact, with this technology being both cheap and readily available to the masses it has put an emphasis on the most basic and timeless components of movie making – a creative angle on a well-crafted story. If Midnight Chronicles had succeeded in these areas as well as it has in all other areas I’d be trying to sell you on the second coming of Peter Jackson. Instead, I’m writing about a movie that didn’t quite fulfill its potential.
2.5 flames out 5
Review by Jason Thorson