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The Strange Things Boutique




DVD region 2. Metrodome.

Barbarossa: Seige LordThis epic feels rather like one of those pan-European TV mini-series that used to be made in years past – which is rather what I suspect it is, as the story reaches a cliffhanger conclusion almost exactly midway through the two hour running time. As such, it never reaches the heights you would hope for from the material.

Rutger Hauer plays German warlord Frederick Hohenstauffen, better known as Barbarossa, who is ruling various Italian city States with an iron fist. When the people of Milan start to get uppity, he sends his army in to lay siege to the city until it surrenders. Scattering its people across the land, Barbarossa heads to Rome to be crowned emperor, but the surviving soldiers are regrouping, ready for a decisive climatic battle.

This all has the potential to be a thunderous, bloody epic, much like recent releases such as Ironclad, but unfortunately, it spends too much time on politics and intrigue, and scant little on action. This might be acceptable with a tighter screenplay and better actors, but here it tends to lead to a fair amount of tedium, as the overdubbed leads make their plans and chew the scenery, and a whole bunch of characters are introduced without any background information as the film sets up the story. The first thirty minutes or so are a confusing mess as a result.

Hauer is a solid enough title character (though he rarely seems more than mildly interested in proceedings), and F. Murray Abraham brings a degree of life to a slimy traitor, but otherwise, the cast are pretty one-dimensional. What’s more, the screenplay falls back on too many clichés – while Hauer’s character starts out as a refreshingly layered leader, keen to avoid violence where possible, by the second half of the film, he’s little more than a comic-book bad guy (and hardly seen). Rebel leader Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan)) is little more than a stereotype himself, and Kasia Smutniak, as Alberto’s great love, tries hard but is saddled with an annoying character whose gift of premonition is over-egged considerably (every bad thing that happens seems to come with a shot of her jumping up with a start, having ‘seen’ it).

It’s a pity, because the two set-piece battles are pretty impressive – the initial siege is both epic and gritty, while the final battle has a gory, hands-on brutality to it that suggests director Renzo Martinelli could do better with less turgid material. But there is far too little of this sort of thing in the film.

Obviously influenced by both 300 and Lord of the Rings, Barbarossa: Seige Lord is a sadly wasted opportunity to create a blood and thunder spectacle.





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