Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: "Fullmetal Alchemist: Exposition" - er..."Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos" is a painful disappointment

Film Rating: F

Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my absolute favorite stories of all time, a franchise that means something far greater to me than mere entertainment.  My younger bother and I are very close, and I’ve therefore always loved stories about healthy, meaningful relationships between siblings.  Fullmetal Alchemist, in all its forms, epitomizes that theme, and it’s part of why my brother and I latched onto this series when we were younger.  As undeniably masterful as Fullmetal Alchemist is, a critical success on just about every level, it’s how my brother and I have been able to share this story over the years that truly makes it special to me, and I treasure the series in the same way I love franchises like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. 

I tell you all this so that you may understand the full gravity of my following statement: “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.”  There.  I said it.  It goes without saying that I went into the film with high hopes, but just as when Edward and Alphonse Elric thought a dark alchemic ritual would bring back their mother, the experience beat me to a pulp, hurting me on emotional and physical levels.  I may not have lost my arm or my leg, but for a good chunk of the film’s 100-minute run-time, I felt as though my very heart were being ripped out of my body. 

Okay, that’s a slight overstatement.  Nevertheless, the film – playing now at the Denver Film Center//Colfax, who I applaud for programming the movie despite its flaws – is still a disgusting stain on the good name of Fullmetal Alchemist, and you can read why after the jump….

Let’s start by explaining just what this movie is: Fullmetal Alchemist, as a franchise, began in 2001 as a manga (Japanese comic) written by Hiromu Arakawa and published in Monthly Shonen Gangan magazine.  This is the original, definitive version of the story, and it finished publication in 2010.  An anime (Japense animation) adaptation, also titled “Fullmetal Alchemist,” began in 2003, and ran for 51 episodes.  Because the manga was still ongoing, this series used the original premise and characters but told an entirely different story from the one Arakawa was writing.  After this anime finished, a theatrical film – “Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa” – was released in 2005 to conclude the story left open in the anime.  In 2009, as Arakawa came close to finishing the manga, a second anime series began in Japan, again titled “Fullmetal Alchemist” but released with the subtitle “Brotherhood” in other territories.  Unlike the first series, this anime was a direct adaptation of the original manga, making few alterations to Arakawa’s story.  It is, therefore, the superior series of the two (though I would recommend both).  The new movie, “Sacred Star of Milos,” is based on the second anime, and (ostensibly) takes place around the middle of the series. 

Okay, now that we’ve got all that out of the way…just what is this movie about?    

Boy is that the million dollar question. 

I would like to give you a plot synopsis.  I really would.  I do it in all my reviews.  But I simply can’t figure out what words I would string together to give you, the reader, some idea of what this movie is about. 

See, the core problem with “The Sacred Star of Milos” is that it is, in essence, one-hundred uninterrupted minutes of exposition, characters explaining, in excruciatingly precise detail, every single minute facet of the story, most of it entirely irrelevant.  When they aren’t going over the plot, they dive into backstory, exploring the history behind the narrative.  When they aren’t doing this, the characters inexplicably decide to relate everything they are feeling, describing every emotion or thought as though it is worthy of Shakespearean scholarship.  Even in the midst of a big-action set piece, the characters will still find time for long, droning exposition.  That is what this movie is about.  Exposition.  I can now say that I have watched a movie that was about exposition.  I wish I could describe to you what all that exposition was saying, or what plot rose out of all this endless explanation, but it’s all so boring, so uninteresting, so inescapably dull, that about 40 minutes in, I simply had to start tuning the exposition out.  It assaults so relentlessly that the only way I could watch the film was to tune the story out, to detach myself entirely and let the mountains of dialogue wash over me, doing my best to ignore it.

And even though the film devotes so, so, so much time to elucidating the proceedings, the story still makes precious little sense.  To say “The Sacred Star of Milos” is riddled with plot holes would be an insult both to plots and to holes.  The ‘story,’ such as it is, involves three nations, a town, and a great big valley, and figuring out where all the characters fit in, who they work for, or what they’re trying to accomplish is a fool’s errand, because what may be true one minute could be entirely false once the next plot contrivance arrives.  The new characters, of which there are many, are wildly inconsistent, getting a personality transplant or swapping motives every few minutes, and the characters we know and love don’t always act like themselves.  In the last act, the film’s last vestiges of coherency are torn asunder by a number of twists that make so little sense it’s a wonder they don’t rupture tears in the film’s space-time continuum.  I have never before seen a movie that was both largely incomprehensible and fetishistically devoted to clarifying its own story.  Usually, it’s one or the other.  With “Sacred Star of Milos,” it’s both.

For these reasons and more, I just don’t have it in me to write my usual synopsis.  So, to hell with it, I’ll let our good friends at Wikipedia do the job: “After a mysterious prisoner with only a few weeks left on his sentence breaks out of prison in Central City, the Elric brothers attempt to track him down. The search leads them to Table City in the southwestern country of Creta, where Alphonse rescues a young alchemist named Julia from the very man they are trying to capture. In the thick of the fight, they literally tumble into Julia's home turf, the slums of Milos Valley, and are embroiled in the grassroots rebellion of her people.”  I think that may vaguely represent the movie I just watched, but to be honest, I have no earthly idea at this point. 

Still, the film’s ultimate insult may be the animation.  Neither “Fullmetal Alchemist” TV show broke any new ground for animation, but they both looked very nice, and I assumed, going into “Sacred Star of Milos,” that even if I didn’t like the story, I would at least get to bask in the warm glow of big-screen visuals.  Nope.  “Milos” looks like garbage.  No, worse than garbage.  This is some of the most incompetent animation I have ever seen, not once coming even remotely close to the worst looking scenes in the TV series. 

The backgrounds look okay, I suppose, but the character animation is simply an abomination.  Unless a character is placed in the immediate foreground, the artists can’t even be bothered with facial features, either putting three dots on the face to represent the eyes and the mouth or not illustrating the face at all.  The animation of bodies and heads is embarrassingly inconsistent; Alphonse Elric suffers the most, his big metal body only looking correct once in the entire movie.  The rest of the time, it’s just distractingly awkward looking, and Edward doesn’t fare much better.  I can barely remember what the new characters look like, because their faces and bodies never appear quite the same from one scene to the next.  Overall, I’d say that at least 25 percent of the character work looks as if it was done in Microsoft Paint.  I’m not exaggerating.  I have seen video projects done in Microsoft Paint that look as good or better than what’s on display in this theatrical motion picture.  It’s truly painful to watch. 

Personally, what disappointed me the most may have been that the film is so overwhelmingly bad that it brings the English Dub down with it.  But let’s back up for a moment – as you know, I normally hate the practice of dubbing foreign-language films or TV shows into English.  I simply don’t like dubs, and even I did, I find they are typically poorly done.  The only exception I have ever had is “Fullmetal Alchemist,” because FUNimation did a truly marvelous job dubbing both series.  I won’t say their dub is better than the Japanese version, but it’s on par, and overall, it’s the version I prefer to watch.  But even the normally fantastic dub sounds awful in “Sacred Star of Milos.”  The performances are fine – Vic Mingona and Maxey Whitehead simply own their parts as Edward and Alphonse – but the writing is so thick, clunky, and unappealing that every word out of the cast’s mouth sounds forced and hollow.  I don’t think it’s their fault – the Japanese version probably sounds just as bad – but it again underlines how terrible the film’s story is.  The actors simply cannot perform when tasked with delivering such overwhelming amounts of exposition. 

“The Sacred Star of Milos” is a horrible movie.  There’s no getting around that.  But it’s not all bad.  After all, when all is said and done, it was another memorable experience I got to share with my brother.  Our hopes for the film we were so looking forward to may have been quickly tarnished, but if we had to suffer through this movie, I’m glad we got to do it together.  We laughed at the worst spots in unison, whispered incredulously at the various plot holes, and when it was over, looked at each other with expressions that showed we understood exactly what the other one was thinking.  I had my brother with me to share in this misery, and in that way, it was kind of fun.  Even at its absolute worst, Fullmetal Alchemist still has this wonderful power to bring us together, so in its own weird, terrifyingly awful way, “Sacred Star of Milos” is a memory I’ll treasure.    
If you enjoyed this review, please consider donating to support 
"Jonathan Lack at the Movies"

1 comment:

  1. Read this as soon as I finished watching the movie.
    As soon as the movie ended i was amiss in many things the amount of plot holes in this movie gave me the itch and the dull dialog gave me a headache.
    like you I also have a brother, my older brother actually and we both love FullMetal Alchemist because of the same reasons. We can relate.
    At the end of it all I feel like it was indeed a bad movie for a movie i had high hopes for.
    I do hope that they continue the series in these movie fashion like Conqueror of Shambala because this will always have a special place in my heart and as much as I didn't like the movie I did enjoy seeing them again.