One of the problems with such video game-inspired movies as Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life and the Resident Evil flicks is that they usually just pay lip service to the original games. But the CGI animated Heavenly Sword movie — based on the 2007 game of the same name, and being released on Blu-ray and DVD by Cinedigm — goes so far in the other direction that it ends up being little more than a curious artifact.
In his quest to become a god, King Bohan attacks the fortress where the legendary Heavenly Sword is kept. Knowing the consequences should Bohan possess it, Master Shen entrusts his daughter Nariko with keeping it safe. But moments later, when Bohan tells Nariko that her father and sister are dead, she decides to run away in hopes of someday using the weapon to have her revenge.
Written by Todd Farmer (Drive Angry), directed by first-timer Gun Ho Jang, and produced by Blockade Entertainment (who are also making the upcoming Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper animated movies), Heaven Sword is a faithful retelling of the 2007 game’s story. And since it essentially has the same visuals (well, if the playable parts looked like the cutscenes, of course), and has actress Anna Torv (Fringe) again voicing Noriko, this movie is like watching all of the game’s cutscenes edited together. It even includes the hand-animated, comic book-style interludes.
But while this means we again get to watch Nariko kickin’ ass as skillfully as she did in the game, it also means we again have to put up with Nariko’s annoying sister Kai, who talks like a two-year-old and has the same amount of impulse control. The thing is, while her voice was kind of annoying in the game, it’s actually way worse here, as she’s much more prominent in this than she was in the game, percentage-wise. As a result, she ends up ruining this the same way Chris Tucker’s similarly irritating character Ruby Rhod ruined The Fifth Element.
As slavishly faithful as the Heavenly Sword movie may be to the game, it does diverge in some ways. First off, instead of Andy Serkis (The Lord Of The Rings), King Bohan’s voice is done by Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2). Though since he does a good job sounding both regal and evil, it’s just as good as the original.
Similarly, Ashleigh Ball (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) is just as infuriating as the voice of Kai as Lydia Baksh (Doctors) was in the game. Which is something, I guess.
There’s also a new story element — which I won’t spoil — that’s kind of changes things in a rather fundamental way. Which, ordinarily, I’d applaud, but given how otherwise close this movie is to the original game, it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb.
Here’s thing: Part of me I appreciates that the Heavenly Sword movie like watching all of the game’s cutscenes and action bits pulled together. I would love it if I could watch Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and its sequel this way, as well as Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots, and maybe even the BioShock games.
The trade off of this is that, by being so much like the game, the Heavenly Sword movie has the same problem as the name; namely, the aforementioned annoying Kai.
But at the same time, it seems like a missed opportunity. Sure, Nariko owes a lot to Red Sonja (and not just because they use the same hair dye color), but she’s still an engaging character, and it would’ve been nice to see her go on another epic adventure, one I hadn’t seen before.
Either way, watching the Heavenly Sword movie — and I’d probably say the same about the Force Unleashed or Metal Gear Solid movies if they existed — ultimately just made me want to play the game again. Or maybe that was the point.
Whether you’re glad or sad that the Heavenly Sword movie is just a passive version of the game, though, you’ll probably be a little disappointed by the extras included (and not included) on the Blu-ray and DVD.
Along with some trailers and teasers, the Heavenly Sword Blu-ray and DVD also includes the self-explanatory featurette “The Making Of Heavenly Sword,” which spends fourteen minutes taking to Torv, Molina, producers Brad Foxhoven and David Wohl, and Farmer about the movie’s production. And for the most part, it’s what you probably expect: talking heads and little insight. But what makes this different, and not in a good way, is the audio in some of the interviews, which oddly sounds cheap, like it was recorded with a bad mic. Granted, this is not the kind of thing you’ll want to watch more than once, but it’s still strange that the audio quality is this bad.
It would’ve also have been nice if they had talked to the people at Ninja Theory who made the Heavenly Sword game about what went into the original story, and how they feel about it being made into a movie (though perhaps their absence already answers that latter question).
The other problem with the Heavenly Sword Blu-ray and DVD is what it’s missing. Specifically, the five animated prequel shorts, made in the style of the comic book-ish interludes, that Sony released to promote the game. Sure, two were included with on the game disc, while the other three were posted online, but given how little they included on this Blu-ray and DVD, it seems odd that they wouldn’t include them here as well.
In the end, how much you’ll enjoy the Heavenly Sword movie obviously depends on how much you liked the game’s story, and how much you’d like to see it again without being able to pick up the controller and do a little ass kicking yourself. And how you feel about Kai. Which is why I appreciate what they accomplished with this animated movie, I won’t be adding it to my personal collection.