DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Wolfhound

Tuesday 18 August 2009


Wolfhound (2007) dir. Nikolai Lebedev
Starring: Aleksandr Bukharov, Oksana Akinshina, Aleksandr Domogarov, Igor Petrenko


Perhaps it’s the sheer size and uncompromising environment that brings out the heart and soul of the Russian people from their art. Though it’s no “War and Peace”, or “Doctor Zhivago” “Wolfhound” – a large scale sword and sorcery fantasy is in the tradition of these “big” stories. Billed as “Russia’s” “Lord of the Rings”, it comes close to being one of the best in the genre of medieval fantasy.

“Wolfhound” towers over and stomps on most other medieval epics like a blow from a blunt mace to the head. The opening sequence establishes the lead character’s journey, when we see in flashback our hero’s innocent farming parents brutally murdered right in front of the child’s young eyes. Like William Wallace after his new bride is murdered, “Wolfhound” makes it his lifelong mission to avenge their deaths.

When he takes down his first victim in a violent and brutal fight in a castle, he takes with him a female tagalong Princess Helen, a Russian Goddess who will soon be crowned Queen of land. Wolfhound and Helen are joined in their quest by a blind wizard and a few other warriors, slaves and scholars, Wolf's pet bat as his sidekick – a definite first for the genre. Like R2D2 or Twinkle Bell his bat as his trusted ally comes to his aid on a number of occasions. There’s also a love story between the scarred warrior Wolfhound and the Princess. Of course, her hand is already taken by another prince, but Wolfhound’s sensitive power is able to win her love. It's all food for the sweeping majesty, melodrama and gleeful enthusiasm for the genre.

“Wolfhound” apparently had the largest post-Soviet budget for a film. And it’s on the screen. The special effects are mostly invisible to the eye. Even though people told me the bat was CGI, I still couldn’t tell. The film also has an early 80’s Dungeon's and Dragons-era feel to it, like genre classics “The Sword and the Sorcerer” or “Flesh and Blood”. “Wolfhound” is no nostalgia-fest though, it’s taken very seriously and there’s ample bucks on screen to make it look believable.

Direcor Nikolai Lebedev crafts at least 6 to 8 blood pumping, adrenaline flowing actions sequences. At one point Lebedev intercuts three transition scenes – the Princess’ coronation, the evil lord’s preparations for battle, and a ceremonial goat killing –set to a heart pounding drum score, turning what could have been a perfunctory montage scene into fun music video style exercise. There’s great battle between “Wolfhound” and a lifelike white fog that’s one of the more creative action sequences I’ve seen in a while and Wolf’s final battle against the tornado rock creature has certain biblical allegories and Lebedev’s framing of the gothic imagery feels like a Wagner score put to life.

Lebedev is clearly steeped in the cinematic fantasy and action cinema. There’s lot of “Excalibur”, “Braveheart”, “Gladiator”, “Lord of the Rings”, and a subtle dose of “Raiders of the Lost”. Though there’s a lot Spielbergian camera movements, it’s the attitude and joyful cinematic tone of Indiana Jones that really shines through. Corniness goes over-the-top and indeed the love story and Wolfhound’s overly dramatic arc of revenge moves well into sappy melodrama, but it’s a genre film, and though it may not match “Lord of the Rings”, there’s plenty of room at the top to make it worthy companion film. The Russians wear their hearts on their sleeves and considering their history of pain and suffering, and the damned cold weather, they are allowed to rejoice loud and grandiose as they want. I'll always listen. Enjoy.

"Wolfhound" is available on DVD in Canada from Alliance Films

1 comment :

Laughing Stars said...

This looks like something my family would enjoy. Thanks for the intriguing review.