A 1992 international co-production released to American home video in 1994, MERLIN is a middlebrow diversion with heroic ambitions beyond the reach of its low-budget talent and production values. An offbeat rehash of Arthurian myth, it needs not one, but three separate prologues to
establish that a mighty sword, forged by the wizard Merlin (Rodney Wood), lies buried near the small community of Lansdown, California.
The locality's resident Evil Businessman is actually the tyrant Pendragon (Richard Lynch), who's spent centuries trying to wrest the artifact from Merlin's ageless disciple Loong Tao (James Hong). Using the sword, Pendragon can command time to cease and plunge the world into October
32nd--chaos--though it's never explained exactly why he wants to do so. Christy Lake (Nadia Cameron), a reporter in town to investigate Pendragon's mining operation, is the reincarnation of Merlin's daughter, the Lady of the Lake, while geologist John Pope (Peter Phelps) is secretly her eternal
warrior/protector/boyfriend. Loong Tao reveals to the pair their respective destinies, and the stage is set for a lot of chasing around in caves. Bullets, spears, and spells are hurled throughout an eventful but eventually tiresome running time of close to two hours. Pendragon ultimately gets the
power he craves, but all Chris has to do is summon Merlin, who dispatches the villain to the nether regions with a simple trick that was explained laboriously to the viewer much earlier.
Devotees of the romance of Camelot may or may not be amused at MERLIN's mixing and mangling of Celtic lore under director Paul Hunt, whose past work on westerns like THE GREAT GUNDOWN (1977) is clearly reflected in recurring cowboy imagery. Pendragon's henchmen are a posse of varmints right out
of "Bonanza," while area Indians turn out to be Loong Tao's longtime allies (though the Asian character adds the inevitable dose of kung-fu). The picture was actually filmed mostly in Czechoslovakia, which doubles convincingly for the California hills but represents a lost opportunity to place the
eon-spanning story in a proper Old World setting. Cut-rate special effects are serviceable (the weakest being the chintzy planetarium-style light shows that demonstrate Pendragon's universe-shaking abilities), and performances engaging, especially Hong, atypically cast as Merlin's hardworking
servant. The title figure comes across as a grouchier version of Obi Wan Kenobi from STAR WARS. As in too many fantasies of this type, prophecies foretell with banal certainty how good will triumph over evil (there goes the suspense) and characters who get killed can be resurrected straightaway
(there goes the sense of danger). The biggest surprise is how long it all takes, though the original cut (entitled OCTOBER 32ND) tallied an even more daunting 126 minutes. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A 1992 international co-production released to American home video in 1994, MERLIN is a middlebrow diversion with heroic ambitions beyond the reach of its low-budget talent and production values. An offbeat rehash of Arthurian myth, it needs not one, but t… (more)