It’s an unavoidably tough storytelling endeavor - - making a flick out of any game that’s explicitly built on the premise of allowing players to shape the story for themselves. It’s even tougher, perhaps, when the cut scenes in the game veer so damn close to movies already. Taking out the element of choice at that point is something like making a print adaptation of a musical. Certainly, it’s doable. However, even when “transmedia” - - the notion of pushing a story franchise into every available medium - - is invoked so commonly that it may as well be recognized by the dictionary, it’s still clear that one size doesn’t fit all.
There’s an invisible voodoo to figuring out which ingredients define the brand. Is it the characters? The actors? The setting? The themes? The soundtrack? The attitude? Or some combination thereof?
This media theorist’s screed seemed necessary because I haven’t played any of the DRAGON AGE games, so I went into DAWN OF THE SEEKER relatively cold. Not totally cold, of course, because my roommate was recently so obsessed with DRAGON AGE’s sister game, MASS EFFECT, that he played all three of its installments over again just to make totally different story choices. The lesson from that weeks-long marathon - - even by proxy - - was that choice maybe holds importance over even the mythology in these games.
That said, DAWN OF THE SEEKER doesn’t actually suffer from that oft-bemoaned “watching somebody else play a video game” quality which threatens so many genre flicks today. Oddly enough, even while it’s rendered with cell-shaded CG animation that’d befit a feature-length cut scene, it more often feels like the stage interpretation of this sword and sorcery epic. Here’s DRAGON AGE with the scope scaled back and much of the world left up to inference. Indeed, while the dragon duel in a massive castle courtyard is an impressively-scaled climax, there are plenty of forest scenes with trees that look liable to be carried off by stagehands once the dialog’s over.
Though there are some over-the-top action set pieces (an early one even sees the heroine slo-mo running into blood gushing down out of enemies she's just slayed in mid-air!) the bulk of the runtime's actually taken up by the very theatrical untangling of a complicated web of betrayals and frame-ups. Of course, in spite of some dense, mythos-explicating narration at the beginning, the lack of available instruction manual makes me pretty certain I’m going to get plenty of the specifics wrong here.
Succinctly, the movie follows the lady knight, Cassandra, after her rescue of a powerful elven flower child gets her on the wrong side of some corrupt superiors in her order, the Chantry. After she’s framed (more than once,) she sets out to bring retribution to the evil Blood Mages who’ve spun her life, and the life of the child, off on such a horrible spiral. To do this, she’ll need the help of another mage - - a good one named Regalyan who’s probably too scruffy to be called handsome.
In spite of a tragic backstory that makes her conflict with the Blood Mages more personal, Cassandra’s almost a blank slate heroien - - the kind perfect to be projected onto by the player. She's defined by her dedication to the Chantry, her hostility toward anybody who stands in the way of that dedictation and for how she'll err sometimes by going too far over the edge with that hostility. Seeing her in action, it's actually easier to buy that she's just that uncomplicated, since nobody would honestly expect a gal in her position to be as self-aware and reflective as “three-dimensional” protagonists are so often expected to be.
All the same, you can’t help but think about the mixed messages being sent when this empowered lady warrior insists on keeping her sexy thighs bare - - especially during the scary part where she receives a nasty, possibly-fatal cut in that very vital spot. There's no fun in picking the nits in something, but you'd still expect a cunning warrior to be a little more practical about her armor.
Not much time was probably spent on thinking through such silly, little details. That's fine - - the time clearly went into the bravura creature design and rendering instead, which is certainly the proudest feather in the cap, here. The dragons, ogres and assorted monstrosities are absolutely staggering to behold, especially during in the aforementioned courtyard finale. Sometimes, flicks are worth it for their finales alone, and it's that portion which truly makes this game-to-anime's strongest case for your time.
DAWN OF THE SEEKER does a better job at making itself accessible to whose who haven't played the game (* AHEM * ADVENT CHILDREN * AHEM *) but it's still a title with a lot of moments seemingly devised for already-converted fans to hoot about how their favorite particular characters and creatures had made it in. Aside from that, it's a decent enough swashbuckler that makes the most of what it has to work with. If the whole movie were as huge as the climax, a more enthusiastic tuned would have to be whistled. As is, I’m looking more forward to the forthcoming MASS EFFECT anime, which will be animated traditionally and hopefully have a more appropriately epic size for that.