Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moby-Dick as Quest Fantasy: The Age of the Dragons

In her novel Ahab’s Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund tells the story of the sailor’s wife only briefly mentioned in Melville’s Moby-Dick. An intrepid band of filmmakers did her one better, introducing viewers to Rachel, Ahab’s adopted daughter-crew member, whom Melville must have surely implied, but just never got around to writing about in his great American novel. They added dragons too. Yes, Moby-Dick is reset in an epic fantasy universe. A real curiosity piece, Ryan Little’s The Age of the Dragons (trailer here) is now available from Go Digital Media Group on platforms like itunes and pay-per-view youtube.

In this world, dragons are hunted for their vitriol, a highly combustible and expensive form of fuel. Of course, Ahab is not in it for the money. He wants revenge from a great white dragon—just like the book, except not really. Ishmael, should you chose to call him that, is a dragon harpooner looking too sign onto the crew of the feared dragon hunter. He and his moody sidekick Queequeg are hired by Ahab’s adopted daughter, Rachel (presumably a nod to one of the other ships mentioned in the Melville novel). Of course, she is attractive, generating all kinds of helpful sexual tension within the crew. This most definitely includes Ishmael, but she does not seem to mind his attentions as much.

Age would probably have worked better if they had been hunting sea-dragons, because that would have given them an excuse to serve aboard a ship. Instead, the Pequod is an anachronistic armored wagon that could have been a castoff from the Jawas. Shockingly though, the dragon effects are not all that bad, but brother, Danny Glover sure is. Perhaps Ahab’s make-up is partly to blame, making Glover look as if he were simply drizzled with candle wax. However, he is so overwrought and pointlessly venomous, he single-handedly reduces the film to low camp.

As the romantic leads (in Moby-Dick?) Corey Sevier and Sofia Pernas are a bit stiff perhaps, but not to a debilitating extent. Frankly, ex-footballer turned genre movie heavy Vinnie Jones steals the show as second mate Stubb, exhibiting charisma and energy well beyond viewer expectations. Unfortunately, the film inexplicably kills off their trump card before it even reaches the third act. Still, David Morgan also adds some nice supporting seasoning as the morally ambiguous first mate Starbuck.

Age actually had a theatrical release in the UK (where it was critically pummeled), but here in America it suffered the indignity of airing as a Syfy original movie. Granted, Melville given the fantasy once-over is definitely gimmicky filmmaking in the Corman tradition, but some credible work went into it. To their credit, Little’s effects team did not skimp on the dragons. There are scads of them and they look decent by outside-of-Hollywood standards, particularly when seen flying in the distance. However, the screenplay’s contrivances make it devilishly difficult to buy into the lunacy. Still, it is hard to resist checking out such a wacky high concept. So now you know this exists. It can be found on itunes.