A SyFy Channel original production, Merlin and the Book of Beasts is a fairly low-budget adventure tale, executed in middle-of-the-road fashion, that puts a savage new spin on the saga of Excalibur. Only genre devotees need enter here.
The age of knights was one of chivalry and honor, magic and mystery, passion and betrayal — qualities all that have long made it a rich setting for heightened-stakes drama on both screens big and small. Merlin and the Book of Beasts, however, unfolds at the tattered edges of that era; what remains is a shadowy world of fear and habitual unrest. Welcome to the dark side of Camelot. King Arthur is dead, the hallowed Round Table is in ruins, and a rogue sorcerer has unleashed a reign of monstrous terror upon the land. For the court’s last remaining knights, their only hopes lay in the powers of the now-bitter and broken wizard Merlin (Battlestar Galactica‘s James Callis, affecting an overly dramatic cadence). Can this once-great man of magic defeat a legion of creatures that includes Dragon Soldiers, Death Hawks and Gorgons, and reclaim the land? Merlin’s daughter Avlynn (Laura Harris, sporting a strange wig) is up for the challenge, and she’s joined in action by Sir Galahad (Donald Adams), the last remaining Arthurian knight; Lysanor (Jesse Moss), Galahad’s son; and Tristan (Patrick Sabongui), the son
of another legendary couple, Tristan and Isolde.
Director Warren Sonoda (Sleeptalkers, Coopers’ Camera) obviously isn’t given a huge amount of money with which to work, but neither does he distinguish himself via his choices in editing and staging. Likewise, screenwriter Brook Durham has an interesting backdrop for the movie, but has a leaden ear for dialogue and seems unable to craft characters that pop off the screen a bit and stand apart from their function. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that the movie is so aggressively cued and forcefully acted that it feels at times like an incidentally screen-captured dinner theater performance.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover with slightly raised cover art, Merlin and the Book of Beasts is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English subtitles. Apart from a trailer for Dead Space: Downfall that auto-plays upon disc insertion, the only supplemental feature is an 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that intercuts on-set footage with brief interview clips. Some sort of exploration of the material’s historical roots, however perfunctory and hokey, would have been a welcome inclusion. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Movie) C (Disc)