The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2013) | The 2010s Suck
[Today’s review will be covering the more technical aspects of shot composition and cinematography during the second half of the review, and we get into some pretty interesting concepts and comparisons with other similar films. So if you’d like to skip to that portion and simply get your bearings on the story from the trailer just below, you can scroll down to the header titled “Technical Approach.”]
One of our first live-action films in ages, today we finally look at a genuine bad live-action film that I can legitimately call a “film.” Whereas one of our previous bad entries, “Re-Animated” was a television movie pilot that led to an equally crappy tv show. This isn’t nearly that abysmal, but it fails in perhaps the most disappointing of ways: simply missing the mark.
What do I mean by missing the mark? Well let me rundown the plot for you first and then we’ll get onto why it doesn’t play well on screen.
If you don’t want to read through my whole summary below, the movie’s trailer will do just as well:
The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box stars Michael Sheen, Sam Neill, Lena Headey, and Ioan Gruffudd, and begins with Sam Niel’s Otto Luger searching endlessly for the titular Midas Box: a box that presumably will turn anything put inside of it to gold, but is actually a solid gold block that when activated, can both heal and destroy anyone the owner wishes. And by its very nature, gold is the only thing that can shield one from its formidable power.
In his efforts to claim the box, Otto Luger has purchased a large hotel on a remote island that he knows is on the land where the Midas Box rests. And not only does he kidnap young boys into his workforce to dig for the box, but he also kidnaps Charles and Catherine Mundi: respected museum curators who know where a medallion that is tied to the box is located. Upon kidnapping the Mundi’s, their two boys, Mariah and Felix Mundi, are left all alone and in deep trouble, as two of Luger’s top agents are still out in search of the Mundi children. So Mariah and Felix sneak away in the dead of night, only to find themselves nearly going to jail for having stolen some food the next morning. Unfortunately, when the two boys make a run for it just before they are incarcerated, Felix Mundi is captured by Luger’s men, and Mariah is powerless to stop them. He vows that somehow, some way, he will find Felix and bring him home safely.
Mariah is then quickly befriended by the quirky and crafty Captain Charity, an old war buddy of his father, Charles, and member of a secret organization called the Bureau of Antiquities: an agency concerned with the acquisition and protection of powerful and dangerous ancient artifacts. And Charity promises that he will help Mariah to not only find Luger and locate the box before Luger does, but save his brother, and hopefully rescue his parents as well.
The rest of the film, unfortunately carries out like you’d think it would.
Mariah infiltrates Luger’s hotel as a new Porter. He befriends another staff member at the hotel—a maid-servant named Sacha—to help him in his investigation. He then finds his brother, finds out information about Luger, discovers how to locate the box, Luger catches him in the act, takes the medallion, gets his hands on the box, Felix is very nearly killed, Luger starts to kill people with the Midas box and all hell breaks loose, but not before Mariah figures out how to combat the box, easily distract Luger, and then kills Luger with his own mystical weapon. The end.
Everyone gets medals. Charity claims that he’ll find out where Mariah’s parents are. And then we find out just after the first few credits that Ioan Guffudd’s Charles Mundi is actually the evil “Mr. Big” for a following story. Yeah, as if I’m going to accept that as a sequel beg.
So what exactly failed about this film?
If you couldn’t tell already, this film is obviously based on a tween fantasy novel, called “Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box.” And even if we didn’t know it was based on a book, it would be obvious that it was, because considering the character types presented here, the style of acting, and the clichés prevalent in the plot line, it’s so clear that it has all the elements akin to a fantasy novel made for 12 year olds. The Inkheart movie was like that, the 2003 Peter Pan was like that, Eragon was like that, and the Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was like that. They’re all stories filled with over-the-top characters that chew scenery, antagonists based on silent film baddies and 1960s Bond villains, young protagonists whose parents are kidnapped because of what they know, and ridiculous and improbable McGuffins that you can’t take seriously unless they’re written in a novel (because often-times when you try to make them real, they look and sound stupid as hell)
The dialogue, for the most part, is pretty generic: nothing particularly enjoyable. And I found what little quips or catch-phrases that the film tried to work into the characters’ speech fell flat, as they felt forced and dorky more than charming. The plot line was also simple enough to predict based on similar films and stories, resulting in a film that leaves you waiting for the next major beat to occur, whereas a better film would have given you a story with all the regular elements in more unpredictable and rearranged order.
The story did include a few things that no one could have predicted, but they quickly prove pointless to the overall story, as they feel more like add-ons from the original novel that the screen-writers didn’t feel should have been removed for clarity. The three biggest elements being Sacha’s father, an angry Irishman who apparently had grown harsh and uncaring towards his daughter after the tragic death of his wife, an old gypsy woman’s deck of magical cards that holds her dead spirit inside of them, and a monster that prowls the hotel’s island at night, which apparently steals children, specifically young boys. This fact explains why the people in the surrounding village are surprised when Mariah arrives on shore and they are shocked at the fact that he is a “boy.”
Now I’ve seen multiple films that involve a monster creature, specifically one that comes out either at a certain time of day, or comes out after dark. And then everyone in the local farming village boards up their houses, locks their doors, calls their children inside, and they all fear the dark. And those elements all seem to be here, but not only are they very thinly established, but it never proves to be a big plot point or story element. This monster never amounts to anything other than being a set-piece for the climax at the end of the film, because as you may have guessed, it’s a giant scary looking machine rather than a monster.
Even if the monster sub-plot was better established and had more of an emphasis, it still would not have merged or clicked with the major story, as it almost detracts focus and serves no ultimate purpose. I understand why the monster is there, because it serves as an excuse for how Otto Luger is able to kidnap many different children into his excavation work-force. But beyond that, it feels like it’s an unneeded tack-on.
Either you have an evil philanthropist own a mansion and have him take control of a small town by terrorizing its families with the legend of a terrible child-eating monster. Or you have this evil philanthropist running a respectable establishment, but then secretly runs a covert operation underground and behind closed doors: sort of like Count Cagliostro in Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. And there was no monster creature in that film, just a secret treasure that served as a grand set-piece for the end of the film.
Now as far as the characters are concerned, in general they are serviceable at best. Not a single character comes off as truly genuine or believable, and all perform their roles as if they are stage actors just trying to play their characters to an “entertaining” effect rather than an honest one.
Aneurin Barnard as Mariah Mundi is…okay, but he never comes off as sympathetic, empathetic, or even really likable. He puts a lot of soft-spoken sap into his performance, nearly crying in every scene, although perhaps that does a disservice to him. Near the beginning I suppose I felt for him and his plight with his little brother, but by the mid-way point, there’s nothing about his character that makes you drawn towards him, or anything that draws you closer to who he is. He just comes off as a whiny, soft-spoken, sunken-eyed, Tim Burton’esque lead character. Even Victor from The Corpse Bride was more enjoyable and attractive as a character, and I don’t even like that film all that much. He also came off as a teenage version of actor Luke Evans: similar face, same accent, same screen presence except for Luke’s dark brooding nature. And I suspect Luke, if he were about 17, could have played the role a bit better.
The role of Sacha ended up being your typical female tag-along with a difficult life, which I find myself rather tired of at this point, even though it’s still a realistic part of many women’s lives, primarily back in those decades. But even so, I sort of wish that either Mariah’s character had been female, or Sacha had been a little more head-strong and intriguing than someone who felt too much like a push-over, or was too nervous about doing something to change her situation in life. Mariah was risking life and limb for a good reason, to save his brother and his parents, whereas Sacha was making up excuses for her father’s inexcusable actions towards her, and felt it wiser to not help someone who genuinely needs it. I understand that having a father who’s harsh and hateful will cause many children to stick around even in an abusive environment, because they feel it’s more important to keep their parents from being angry with them rather than risking the chance to escape, or something in relation to that. But still, I’m finding the whole character type quite tiresome, and I’d rather see more females who are physically capable and independently minded, and yet not too cocky or perfectly skilled at fighting and thievery, as that has also become a cliché to overcompensate for the other cliché.
I usually tend to enjoy Sam Neill in the roles he chooses. He has a certain air of respectability and aged charm to him since he’s almost always been about 30 years old or older in every film I’ve seen him in. I would even say that he’s almost this generation’s James Mason, as both of them have a similar facial and performance quality. From Jurassic Park, to Merlin, to Bicentennial Man and onward, he’s always been a likable actor, even when he’s playing the villain, or a character that turns dark later, like in the eternally disturbing Event Horizon. But I have to say, he really doesn’t impress me here.
He comes off as if he just read his lines the day before, and hasn’t figured out a way to make them read with any real conviction. His evil, rich, philanthropist facade is paper-thin, whereas someone like Ralph Finnes, or even the real James Mason I think could have given it a much stronger flavor and a better aspect of perceivable authority. It’s much more about how you approach or understand a character you’re playing than whether or not the dialogue is realistic or interesting. Because while the dialogue is often generic (and again, predictable), it is by no means horrible or reads unconvincingly on its own. It’s all about the conviction. It’s all about how you present the dialogue and perform it. And I think if someone more intimidating to begin with had been cast in the role of Otto Luger, the character would have played better on screen, and would have had a bigger and more present looming shadow over the events of the story. As it stands, Sam Neill proves to be one of the least formidable villains I’ve ever watched.
Then again, I think even someone like Michael Sheen, who is giving his character of Captain Charity his very best (as far as I’m concerned), has his limits when it comes to how much honesty and conviction you can draw from the dialogue provided.
For the most part, I think Michael Sheen is the single most enjoyable and fun character in the film. He’s the highlighted figure on the poster. He is the special treat of the trailer. And he is the top billed actor. And why not? He comes off as a mixture of Floop, Willy Wonka, Sherlock Holmes, and David Tennant’s Doctor Who, but in 19th century England. What better character could you ask for? And I’ve always felt that Michael Sheen was perfect for that sort of role, so I’m glad to see he was able to give it a go. And what I found even more enjoyable is that for half of the film, he dons the disguise of a Russian magician, named Biz-Miller, and puts on this—albeit ridiculously cliché—accent, and yet he really has a lot of fun and creativity with this alternative part. The makeup is fantastic. And his mannerisms and portrayal of this new persona totally plays very well. You almost forget that it’s Captain Charity in disguise and think of him as just a separate character simply played by the same actor.
I guess my feelings towards Michael Sheen are that his main character of Captain Charity was fun and entertaining, but a bit overdone in spots. And while I think he just barely managed it, he ends up slightly unconvincing as the suave, dashing, and capable comedic hero (better portrayed by Danny Kaye in The Court Jester); whereas he was much more entertaining and fun as the Russian magician, Biz-Miller. But in all cases, he was the best actor and character in the film, hands down.
The last thing I’d like to particularly touch on as far as story goes is the Midas Box itself, because I didn’t think it would become as weird as it did.
Initially, the box is claimed to be part of the Midas legend, where it can turn stuff put inside it to gold, rather than Midas having a golden touch. But then that legend is turned on its head, in favor of yet another alternative telling where the McGuffin in question is an evil weapon of destructive power, capable of reducing people to ash, as well as prolonging or saving their lives, depending on how you use the device.
Now that overused aspect aside, what really makes the Midas Box laughable is when it’s coupled with the medallion from earlier, and it transforms into a “wrist-mounted energy blaster.”
I mean… WHAT!?
What the hell is this thing?! Why did the box rotate, twist, and expand into this Atlantian monstrosity? What does King Midas have to do with ancient alien energy-weapon technology? And why is that now also a cliché? It looks stupid. Sam Neill looks stupid wearing it. Its concept and execution come off as ridiculous. And it ultimately doesn’t amount to much because only a few random henchmen get killed with it (as is usually the case in these low-budget fantasy/sci-fi family flicks). And then somehow the protagonist gets it off the villain quicker than you can say “monkey’s uncle,” and he destroys the villain with his own weapon.
It really should have just been a box that turned people to gold statues or something. At least then I wouldn’t have laughed so hard at its expense. But then again, maybe it would have been worse had I not laughed.
Now, the single most glaring issue with this film is not that it was poorly written, nor that it might have been miscast. Instead I believe that it primarily has to do with the Direction and the Cinematography. And these things can have a much more devastating effect than you think if not handled correctly.
The quirky thing about film is that a script can be gold, but if you cast the wrong actors, the script will sound like garbage. If you have a bad script but brilliant actors, they might sound worse for reading it in some cases, but in others, the actors can actually save an otherwise weak screenplay. But in either case, if the direction and cinematography are flat and lifeless, then both script and actor lose because their performances won’t play as well if they aren’t framed and lit properly. And don’t even get me started on all the damage that bad editing can do. Thankfully that’s not a serious problem here.
Primarily I think the faults lie in the choice of lighting placement, the colors and post color grading, and in the choice of shot angle and shot composition. Many shots chosen throughout the film are incredibly flat and aren’t really framed very well. They feel uncreative, as if a much better shot could have been chosen, but simply wasn’t because the director is not skilled enough in his craft to make shot choices based on what will represent the story best. And that’s an incredible shame, because if it had all been handled differently, this could have been a really fun film I think.
One of the biggest trends with lower budget productions is that they always seem to handle their shot design and cinematography worse than professional films. And yet I’m fairly certain that as long as you’re working with a couple million dollars (this film was made for $25,000,000) then you’re undoubtedly going to get much of the same lighting and grip equipment as any television series or mid-range theatrical production. Heck, Wes Anderson made The Grand Budapest Hotel with $40,000,000. So you can’t tell me that the budget is what made the film’s direction and cinematography fail. Breaking Bad looks better than this. Doctor Who looks better than this. Hell, I’ve seen student films by people that I know personally that look better than this. So the money has nothing to do with it.
For this section of the review, I would like to prove some of my points and present you with some select scenes and shots from The Adventurer, which I will then compare to shots taken from Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes (2008), Gore Verbinky’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 2, in order to show how 5 separate films—each representing their environments with both a classically antique but also colorful approach—handled their shot design and lighting in a way that succeeded.
Firstly, let’s take a look at an establishing shot.
Now on the surface, this shot might look alright. But its inherent problem lies in its composition. I have no idea where my eye is supposed to be focused here. There’s clearly a shift from dark to bright, from the right to the left side, so I assume we’re supposed to be looking at the hotel over there. But then why in the heck is its top cut off? Why are there two ships’ masts on the right side, and why can we only see the briefest bits of them? Why in the world isn’t this shot raised up about 5-8 meters, allowing us to not only see the entirety of the hotel, but to also see a majority of those ships there? At this low angle, it feels like this was meant to be a shot that will rise up later, after some small animal scurries over that squared block of stone there near the bottom center. But since there isn’t an animal in this shot, and the shot stays locked down, its an incredibly boring and pointless image. It looks horrible, and the framing has no justification.
This shot, from later on, is arguably even worse, as not only are we still denied a full view of the top of the hotel, but once again the shot doesn’t move, almost keeping us prisoner back here and not allowing the story to feel organic, transitioning us into the next scene by having the camera move in some fashion. But the shot wouldn’t even have to move in order for us to feel intrigued by it. All it really needs is for that bloody stone wall to get out of the way, for the shot to once again move up about 5 meters, and then maybe back about a mile so we can see the entire hotel. And then once that’s fixed, have a slow zoom-in towards it for suspense. But nope. Yet again it’s another terribly framed static establishing shot.
Now take a look at this establishing shot from Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
It’s a house in the middle of a desolate field. Its dark, its brooding, and its feels empty and haunted. It sets up a good atmosphere for the scene to come. Oh, and look. Its perfectly framed up at center, and we can see the entire building. What a novel concept.
Now don’t get me wrong, establishing shots do not have to frame up a location dead center, that’s not my point. My point is that we can see the top of the building, and we can see where we’re supposed to be focused. There’s nothing else taking up attention here, it’s just the darn building. No ship masts taking up the same amount of screen space. No irritating wall or rocks in the way. And the top of the roof isn’t lopped off by the top of the frame.
Next let’s take a quick glance at a “wide shot” during a conversation and see if you can spot the problem.
A few things to note: the two lead characters, Mariah and Captain Charity, are in this shot. They are actively conversing with each other, this shot is placed in the middle of one of their exposition conversations, and this shot comes just after we were center punched on Charity’s face. Now the problems with this shot are bad enough as it is, but when the shot starts to move, it’s even worse. So what’s the problem?
Answer: there’s an identifiable bright spot at the center of frame, and there’s an old couple walking in the middle of that bright spot, but the characters that are supposed to be talking are obscured behind a man with a piece of luggage on the right side, giving us virtually no cue as to where Mariah and Charity are within this shot.
This is a problem because–based on the shot that came before, where Charity’s face was at center–when your eyes are focused on an object at the center of the frame (or the right side, the left side, or anywhere), they’re going to stay there even during the next shot, because you can’t anticipate what the next shot will be. This is why it is the director’s and the editor’s job to guide you through the sequence by putting important information where your eyes will naturally go from shot to shot. So since our eyes were locked onto center in the last shot, why is there now an old couple walking around at the center of this shot? I could barely even tell Mariah and Charity were even in this shot until the very tail end. And because the film is so damn dark (which you’ll realize is a serious problem just a bit later on), I can’t even pick them out of a crowd because they have no identifiable clothing or colors.
Lastly on the subject of framing, let me show you what I picked out to be the worst looking shot in the entire film.
Now the failure of this shot, again, is not immediately apparent. But there’s a few tell-tale problems that make this look unprofessional. For one thing, our three main characters are stuck down on the bottom of the frame, legs chopped off by the screen, and they’re put in an area that doesn’t allow your eyes to be drawn towards them. Now this shot, I would assume, is meant to juxtapose these kids against the enormity of their adventure during the film, as well as show how they are relieved that their terrible ordeal is over, as the secret agents escort Luger’s henchmen out of the building. But this shot doesn’t do all that because as the men in black start walking the prisoners out of frame, we are entirely focused on them rather than the kids.
Perhaps that’s the point, then, and we’re supposed to be watching the men in black walk out with the prisoners. Well then why is this moment done all in one continuous shot? Why aren’t we given a few shots of the henchmen grimacing at the kids, as sort of a “you meddling kids” sort of moment, and then we see a closer shot of Mariah and Felix’s reactions to this? Why isn’t this shot framed in such a way to show the kids in a more prominent area so that we can clearly see them, but in a way that also allows the men in black to be visible as well? It’s entirely possible to do that. It simply means that you have to frame up the kids to be more prominent in the composition, but then change the lighting to enhance the men in black, or vice-verse.
As it stands, the kids are almost like garbage on the street, allowing the audience to seemingly pay no mind to them as the men in black go about their business. Something else though, is that the lighting in this shot is ugly and fake looking, and that’s perhaps the worse of the two evils.
Next, let’s talk about lighting: specifically stark lighting, or low-key lighting as its known, and how it was handled inappropriately throughout the entire picture.
One of the key elements of The Adventuer‘s cinematography is that it has an irritating interest in lighting almost every scene with one large white key light, and almost nothing else on the fill side or rim-light side (meaning a light behind the actor’s hair). No matter where we are, or what time of day it is, every single location is lit primarily by one big white lamp (tinted slightly in post, of course). And it looks terrible. It instills no particular mood, no atmosphere, no reference for the time of day or the realistic sense of lighting that’s within the scene itself (meaning that the lighting that we see cannot possibly be coming from the prop lights that are in the room), and the characters always look far too dark. Their faces are almost obscured on one half because of the lighting choices being made, which makes it very hard, and even straining to the eyes to even try to watch an entire conversation without needing to take a break.
Now I’ve seen plenty of movies that try to be darker and more realistic with how light and lighting implements function in a Revolutionary or Victorian time period. But this isn’t Barry Lyndon, so you’d be rather foolish to try and replicate that concept too closely without a similar camera. The camera Kubrick used was also one-of-a-kind. And even if you aren’t trying to replicate that look, this isn’t how you design a “whimsical” Victorian-era period-piece. You can’t be this dark and and this desaturated and expect your target audience to be drawn in, it’s just too grim, dull, and uninviting.
There’s also a concept in filmmaking known as lighting ratio, where you work out what you want to have visible to the camera, and what you don’t, and then you figure out what combination of camera settings (like ISO, Shutter Speed, and focal length), lights, and lighting filters or flags that you will need to use in order to achieve that effect. Lighting ratio is also important particularly for mood and genre. High-key lighting refers to when your key light (on one side of your actors) is only about 2 stops brighter than your fill side (the other side of your actor). Key lights and Fill lights can also have numerous different positions and areas that they affect on the subject or actor in your shot, and in some cases you don’t even need a fill light. But when it comes to a film like The Adventurer, even films trying to be darker and grimmer manage to be more visually inviting.
Take notice at these very similar alternative shots from Sleepy Hollow and Sherlock Holmes.
Notice how the two shots on the left are very similar to shots in The Adventurer, and that the four shots on the right are slightly different. The main difference being that the two on the left are stark–a bright white light gleams on the faces of Johnny Depp and Jude Law, with the other side of their faces nearly obscured in shadow–whereas the four on the right show a much brighter fill side on the actors’ face, allowing us to view their entire expression without issue. Something to keep in mind about this is that opposed to The Adventurer, only one scene in both of these films have lighting like the type on the left, whereas the rest of each film is much brighter and more evenly lit by comparison. This is why it is important to light your films based on the emotion and the mood of each scene. Don’t just blanket your film in the same approach for every shot.
Another thing to notice is that The Adventurer has a very orange cast to the entire film, which again makes watching it very hard on the eye. Only a few scenes actually mirror the shots above, where the lighting is more white than it is orange. But I understand why they may have gone in the orange direction, as they probably wanted to do what I initially suspected, which is to aim for a more colorful film rather than a bleak and pale one. But look even further below.
The shots featured below all have an orange cast to them, and yet the only one that fails to impress or bring me in is the one from The Adventurer, the one with Sam Neill on the top left. For one thing, it’s far too dark over-all. If you want a shot to look good, you have to find a level of light that you want to start with (depending on how bright the scene is meant to be), and then you have to even things out just enough to allow the image to look balanced, and to have a center of focus. The shot of John Hurt from Hellboy 2 on the right isn’t very bright, but the entire frame is bathed in a golden hue from all of the flames and lamps in the room. The shot of Nicholas Cage on the bottom left is brighter, but its evened out by allowing for the fill light beneath him to give his entire face enough light to be seen, and his face is highlighted in frame because of the hot spot on his forehead. But then we have Keira Knightley on the bottom right. That shot is relatively dark, about what you’d want for the Sam Neill shot, and yet once again, we can see her entire face, whereas we can just barely see Sam Neill’s. It’s all about light ratio.
So why is The Adventurer choosing to be so dark and dull? Why isn’t there a candle or a lamp on the table to brighten up Sam’s face? Or why isn’t there a bounce card being used to get some more light on the left side of his face? He is unnecessarily and irritating too dark here, and his face is left uneven for no apparent reason, making his first real introduction in the film very unimpressive and uninteresting. I get no chance to connect to his character, and no chance to really understand him because I can barely even make him out.
And trust me, almost every single shot in the film is just as dark, if not darker. One side of the characters’ faces is always lit, while the other side is far too dark to even be seen, which makes identifying and relating to the characters very difficult because they’re far too obscured by darkness. And it proves to be much more of a subconscious negative reaction than it is a problem with the characterization or the performances. Look again at the shot just below.
I mean, what is going on here? We have a shot built on orange and blue: very typical but not a problem. But our actors are extremely dark within the frame. The candle-light is not being enhanced by the stage lights to allow a separation between the characters and their background. The actors faces are left in the dark while Sacha’s right side is being highlighted for no particular reason. The moonlight behind them is far too dim when it should also be enhanced. And the color grading for this shot is altogether ugly. A bit too much green in the tinting is my guess. But look at these very similar shots from Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure, and Hellboy 2.
Almost exactly the same approach to lighting and color, but the ratios between the key light and the fill light are much more effectively chosen to allow for the characters to stand out from their background, their faces in all three cases are the focus of the shot and not their clothing or anything behind them, and each shot actually draws in the audiences’ attention, which helps for the rest of each sequence.
I can almost imagine that if someone were to just do a Levels adjustment to the film, put back in some color, and shift the hues around, we could have a much better looking image. How’bout it, huh? Let’s give that a try and see if we can improve this some.
Now look at that. Look at how much of a difference that makes. This image is nearly 3 times brighter than the original. The characters faces are more prominent now, and the colors are a lot less dull and urine stained. It is altogether a much more pleasing image, even if my photoshop work on it was not perfect, nor necessarily clean or invisible.
Some of you, however, may want to interject that it is blasphemy to try and alter another Director’s vision, because it was their choice to make the film look as they saw fit. And that’s true. The director and cinematographer clearly had a goal in mind, and they went for it. But… there’s a big difference between developing a visual style, and developing a visual style that fails. And in this case, their ultimate approach failed, so I feel that the only way to make this film better than it currently is is to somehow go back to the original raw footage, and not only re-edit it, but revamp the entire color grade. It could prove to be an unbelievable improvement.
One more shot for good measure: this shot is dim, middle of the night, blue cast: but once again, way too damn dark. In other films this shot might work great, but in a film trying to be what this one is, it doesn’t do the scene justice. Just look at these alternatives that would have been just as good if not better. Brighter levels, more even lighting on the characters and faces, less black in the image, and a stronger sense of whimsy.
That’s really the biggest mark that The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box misses: it has no whimsy in its visual design.
All of these other films, whether they be dark horror, dark comedy, gritty mystery, fantasy epic, or super-natural, they all have a strong appeal to their shot design and cinematography that allows for their stories and characters to shine and make an impact on the audience, allowing anyone to be enchanted and enthralled by nearly every shot on screen. The Adventurer on the other hand, fails to meet this standard on any region of the spectrum. It tries to be pale like Sherlock Holmes, but it puts too much color in. It tries to be stark like Sleepy Hollow, but it goes overboard. It tries to be whimsical like Pirates, Hugo, and perhaps even Wild Wild West, but its not nearly funny enough or charming enough in its approach to effectively do that, nor is it colorful enough. And unfortunately, it fails to entice what I assume would be its target audience, 10-16 year olds: because I don’t think anyone in that age range would care much for this, not do I think anyone out side of that age range has anything to enjoy here either.
To sum up, I think the biggest detriment to the film’s success was its direction and cinematography. The framing and compositions were not chosen effectively to respond to and enhance each moment of the film’s story, and the lighting was average (if not mediocre) because it failed to properly highlight the characters as it should have done for numerous scenes and shots. The film, by all accounts, is a dark, dank, drab, and irritatingly bleak looking film that doesn’t live up to the other movies it so desperately wanted to emulate. I can say with complete certainty that it was a far more respectable effort than Inkheart or Eragon, but even at that rate, it’s not worth more than a one-time novelty viewing.