Heavenly Sword

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seven years after Heavenly Sword was released for Playstation 3, a film adaptation has been released as a direct to video DVD/Blu-ray. Video game movies have historically not had the best track record, as quite a few of them have been terrible in every way. But despite this, I was curious as to exactly what Heavenly Sword would be like. I didn’t buy a Playstation 3 until recently, so I haven’t had the opportunity to play through the game yet, though I have seen a considerable portion of it on YouTube. Was the film able to make me more interested in the game, and is it able to break the trend of terrible adaptations?

Unfortunately, right from the beginning it becomes clear that the answer is going to be a resounding no. Heavenly Sword runs for eighty five minutes, and even though I haven’t played through the game it was obvious that this is not enough time to fully represent all of the events that occur. The plot tells the story of the Heavenly Sword, a magical sword that grants its users immense power but also ultimately curses them. Nariko is part of a clan that has protected this sword for generations, but despite her devotion to the clan and her father she is treated very poorly. The reason for this is that legend said that a male heir could be the reincarnation of a deity that will wield the Heavenly Sword and bring peace to the land. Since she is not a man, Nariko is regarded as a failure, though she has been trained in secret to become a formidable warrior.

Nariko’s clan is attacked by King Bohan, who wants to take the sword and destroy it so that nothing will be able to stop his world conquest. Early on in the film Bohan’s forces attack the fortress where the clan lives and Nariko is forced to flee with the sword. She joins up with Kai, another girl from her clan that’s not quite right in the head and makes a game out of killing. From there, the two set out on an adventure to try and bring the sword to its rightful heir and defeat Bohan once and for all. Unfortunately, that’s really the extent of the plot as the rest of the film moves from one fight scene to the other, with awkward exposition in between each one. What could have been a fun action film with engaging characters is ruined by awkward pacing and a lack of development. Since an entire game’s worth of story has been crammed into eighty five minutes, events come and go rather quickly and character motivations change in a matter of seconds. Everything seems just a little too simplistic for my taste, as Bohan is the stereotypical evil king that you’ve seen in just about every other fantasy action movie and all of his minions have no role other than to step up and attack Nariko just because they were ordered to. Every time I was introduced to a new character or enemy I got the impression that had this film been just a bit longer they would have been developed rather than just coming off as a fantasy movie stereotype.

To be fair, I would have been completely fine with the plot jumping around too quickly and characters lacking depth if the action had been able to make up for it. But the animation is a bit too jarring and somehow manages to look worse than the seven year old video game once things get moving. It’s evident that the studio that did the CG did attempt to mimic the look and feel of the title and when they do close-ups of faces things don’t look that bad. But once everything starts moving the quality goes down significantly, as the movement looks awkward during the majority of the scenes. The environments don’t fare much better, and there are a handful of locations that feel like they could’ve been from one of those low budget kid’s CG shows from the early 2000s. It’s not the worst animation I’ve ever seen and it’s likely that the staff working on the film didn’t have the same budget that Ninja Theory did years ago, but it’s hard to give too much credit to the animation when it doesn’t stack up to its seven year old source material at its best and resembles a mediocre CG television series at its worst.

Some of the voice talent from the video game has returned for the film, as Anna Torv once again plays Nariko. But there are also a considerable amount of changes, as Andy Serkis is out as King Bohan and has been replaced by Alfred Molina, and some of the other characters now have new actors/actresses portraying them. This didn’t bother me that much as a newcomer to the franchise, but I imagine that some of the changes might be a bit too much for those that really enjoyed playing through the game and wanted to experience it again through the film. The actors/actresses generally do seem to do the best job they can with the script, though Thomas Jane delivers one of the most phoned in sounding performances ever as side character Loki. Music in the film is nothing to write home about either, as it consists of the standard sad/upbeat material depending on what is happening on-screen but often sounds like it was added in after the fact rather than being specifically written for each scene.

As much as I wanted to give this film adaptation of Heavenly Sword the benefit of the doubt, it just doesn’t deliver. What seemed like an interesting plot with an eccentric cast of characters has been stripped down to a basic fantasy action storyline where a hero fights a whole slew of enemies in an attempt to stop an evil king. Scenes jump around too much, and the quick pace makes some of the plot twists have little impact. Combine that with animation that doesn’t reach the same level as its source material and distracts the viewer with some awkward movement, and you have another example of how not to do a video game adaptation.



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