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In Association with
Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie (2010)
Director: Martyn Pick

review by Jim Steel

This is a Warhammer 40K Ultramarines versus Chaos animated movie scripted by Dan Abnett, a description that should speak volumes to those who are familiar with this gaming universe. If you fall into this category you'll enjoy it.

For those who aren't familiar with it, here's the universe's evolutionary history. Bear with me; you'll find this more interesting than the film. White Dwarf started out as a generic fantasy role-playing/ war-gaming magazine covering products by other companies. The publisher, Games Workshop, decide to start manufacturing D&D-style miniature figures as a sideline. Then they developmented their own fantasy war-gaming system, Warhammer, for their miniatures which soon pushed the other companies games from the pages of the magazine. They came up with about a dozen races and their armies which would fit with their pre-existing figures. Tolkien was obviously a major influence, as was Mallory and Lovecraft. Renaissance Europe figured strongly and, weirdly, there was also a toad/ lizard race analogous to the Aztecs that suggests someone had seen Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain.

It was a natural step to also bring out a science fiction game and most of the Warhammer races were upgraded from magic to lasers. The Arthurian knights became space marines, borrowing heavily from the Aliens movie. Other influences, such as the Mad Max films, can also be spotted in this universe but they don't really concern us here.

After an initial misfire around two decades ago when Games Workshop hired some of the finest British SF writers of the day who then proceeded inflict literature on their mostly-adolescent audience, the Warhammer novels have pretty much settled down with a core group of writers who know what their audience want and deliver it. Wham-bang action is the order of the day.

The plot of Ultramarines is basic in the extreme, which is understandable since it seems to be based on a 32-page graphic novel (Abnett, in fairness, is a much better writer than this film suggests), and it will be familiar to everyone who has ever watched action films. A group of young, inexperienced, heavily battled-scarred (yes, I know) ultramarines are keen to prove themselves but their veteran leader warns them that war is not all glory.

Anyway, they are sent out to investigate an Ultramarine shrine on a planet that 'has nothing else of interest'. It doesn't even appear to have plant life despite having an oxygen atmosphere, which could suggest that our current views of planetary formation are entirely wrong or it may merely be an example of very lazy world-building. The shrine and the marines stationed there have fallen silent and an investigation is called for. The usual emergency beacon is, of course, still broadcasting.

The ultramarines are dropped off some distance from the shrine and have to walk a considerable distance to get there. Maybe someone further up the command chain thought that they needed the exercise, but all that walking shows up a peculiar flaw in their space armour. Don't get me wrong; the armour looks stunning. The flared legs look great on models and artwork but prove, even through the medium of poor computer animation, very difficult to walk in. The ultramarines have to manage with a peculiar, leg-swinging gait that unfortunately suggests that they are not quite as fearless as their reputation suggests.

They eventually get to the shrine and start to explore it only to find out that it has been overrun by Chaos. They kill a massive Chaos demon after a brutal close-combat fight; rescue a couple of survivors and head home only to find that one of them has been possessed by Chaos. More close-combat fighting occurs that may remind the viewer of John Carpenter's The Thing. You will spot many old favourites here: the coda, for example, is a clich´┐Ż that seasoned Hollywood fans have all seen a thousand times before.

And there you have it. The plotting is basic, the animation is primitive and the script is humourless. But, animation aside, this is what the fans of the game demand from their product. The truly bizarre thing about this production is the cast; the voices are provided by John Hurt and Terence Stamp (among others) who deliver the lines with as much panache as they can muster, but even those seasoned professionals can't do much with this stuff.

There is a bonus disc (unseen) that features material about both the film and Games Workshop. And - I'm just guessing here - I bet you can now get a boxed set of miniatures featuring all the combatants from the film.


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