Reviewby Zac Bertschy, May 31st 2012
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker
Cassandra is a Seeker, an elite killer whose job it is to watch over the Chantry's Templars, destroy deadly dragons and the Blood Mages that try to control them. Her path is derailed by an elaborate conspiracy that intends to destroy the Chantry (the religious organization that controls the use of magic throughout the land) and the Templars (the order of knight enforcers who do the Chantry's bidding, hunting Blood Mages). In the end, Cassandra's wits and strength will be tested, and the fate of the land will be determined.
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker is the first in a series of co-productions between Funimation and Bioware, based on the lengthy fiction that surrounds the Dragon Age videogame franchise. What that means is that this is a film that basically requires that you're somewhat familiar with the Dragon Age fiction, and also requires that you've never seen decent CG animation.
The story is a bit of a mess even if you've played the games. Cassandra is a Seeker, someone who has to keep tabs on the Chantry's guard dogs, the Templars. In the world of Dragon Age, the Chantry is a religious organization that controls the use of magic, and the Templars help them keep rogue magic users – namely Blood Mages, a bunch of satanic wierdos who wear black robes and sacrifice virginal innocents – under control. There are also Circle Mages, who are tolerated by the Chantry, and are allowed to exist outside the system so long as they don't get down with any magic that's too crazy. Seekers are trained to hate mages, so when Cassandra comes across a Circle Mage, she's ready to kill him, even though the movie makes it very clear that he's going to become her lovable rakish sidekick/unlikely love interest.
Still with me? Okay.
So we're following Cassandra, who the film really wants us to love – mostly because she's so brash, serious and in need of an ass to kick. They give us no reason to care about her other than that. She winds up embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens the Chantry and will ultimately wind up with Cassandra slaying a bunch of demons and dragons, and almost none of it feels like it means anything, particularly if you've played any of the games this film is based on. This is all fluff material; it's a side-story, something you don't need to know about even if you can't wait to play Dragon Age III.
The worst thing about Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker is the animation, and this is what's holding productions like this one back. The CG is handled by T.O Entertainment, a studio I am not convinced knows what decent animation looks like. They know what mocap is – we've seen their shoddy cut-rate work on things like Appleseed before, and it's very clear they're using cheap software and lots of really badly implemented mocap to get this thing done. I have never been more convinced that this studio doesn't care about quality.
Throughout Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker we get multiple sequences where the characters in frame do not move their hands, even when they're grabbing at something, and sometimes they're not even moving their mouths when they're supposed to be talking. Characters in this film don't move their mouths convincingly – which is particularly tragic because this is pre-lay work, so the lips are supposed to match the English voice cast, but it's all embarrassingly stiff and unnatural. The editing doesn't even make sense – there's a scene early on where a bunch of the film's cast exchanges dialogue in a massive throne room and it feels like you're watching an XtraNormal video; long pauses in between dialogue cues, weird glances, lighting that seems like it's designed to highlight how cheap and strange the characters look.
There's a moment later in the film where Cassandra rides on a white horse, and it looks like they didn't even have time to finish this sequence –the horse is outlined in black, but it's as if the people who animated it had never actually watched a horse run. I don't know why this movie looks so bad. It's a CG animated movie produced – and this is a presumption on my part – over the last 2 years, but it makes no sense that even on an HD setup, there's aliasing every time the lines get a little too thin. Cassandra's mentor – a bearded sage who sets her off on her quest and dies really soon – has a ponytail that is aliased every time we see him on screen. There's no excuse for this stuff.
The dub is fine; it's a bunch of faux-Euro dialogue by established anime voice actors Mike McFarland, who directed this dub, Luci Christian, Brina Palencia, Colleen Clinkenbeard and others. Nobody really makes an impression, but they aren't really supposed to with generic medieval material like this. I'm happy for them that they got to do pre-lay work and finally the lip flap was based on their performances rather than the other way around. Those people are all very talented actors and they do a very admirable job trying to bring this incredibly limp material to life. If only Mike McFarland's lust for quality were matched by T.O Entertainment.
There's a pull quote on the back of the box for Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, from Mike Laidlaw, creative director at Bioware. It says “An action-packed look at the origins of a character destined to shake the very foundations of the Dragon Age world”. Having played both Dragon Age games, this seems like a shallow promise: I seriously doubt that anything that happened in this movie will have any impact on whatever Bioware decides to do with the Dragon Age franchise. Funimation has a Mass Effect anime coming up next; here's hoping it's a little more substantial and at least better animated than this thing.
Overall : D
Story : D
Animation : D-
Art : D
Music : B
+ People who really need more Dragon Age right now might love this thing.
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