Damnatus – Effort and Results
Quick, somebody call the internet!
We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Whatever your feelings on the whole issue may be, you’ll remember that awhile ago a group of German 40k fans created a feature-length film based on the Warhammer 40k universe called Damnatus: The Enemy Within. Completely live action without the backing of any studio or anything, I believe. Those who have been following the issue will also know that it ran into difficulties owing to German copyright law, which confers the intellectual property rights of created works to the people that created them, thus meaning that Games Workshop would lose the rights to Warhammer 40k. For a long time, the makers worked together with GW to try and find a solution but eventually the company declared that the matter was no longer open for discussion and the project was suspended indefinitely.
Evils of capitalism or no, it was a big blow to fans as it set a precedent discouraging people from producing 40k fan films and showing them to the public. So, after that crash course, you know why I became interested in Intellectual Property as an area of law…and also will be pleased to discover that the final footage of Damnatus was leaked to the internet. I sincerely hope that the creators do not get in trouble for this, they worked long and hard on this labour of love and I salute them for it, and in respect to that I will not tell anyone where to go find it; not that it’s very hard to find. Because they worked so hard on it, I regret that I am going to have to blast the film.
From this point on there are spoilers. If you care, please close your browser now and come back once you have watched it.
The script was not very well-written at all for a 40k film. I’m not saying that I could have done better if I had started from scratch but the further I got into the film the more places I picked out that it could have been improved. When were these mercenaries hired to do a job for the Inquisition? Why were they hired? Did they have a past at all? A lone trooper of the Planetary Defence Forces simply marches into a meeting point with a sanctioned psyker and demands that they follow his orders. He’s not even an Inquisitorial representative. Okay, they don’t have a motivation for taking this mission on. Fair enough, nobody wants to die for the Inquisition and they don’t really have a choice. The presence of the Inquisitorial agent in the cult is not explained in much detail, nor is the strange woman with the apple who was seen at the beginning of the film but then never heard from again. The rogue Inquisitor’s background is not fleshed out in any detail, he just seems to be the leader of the cult because all chaos cults are lead by radical Inquisitors. I find it amusing that there seems to be more traitors within the Emperor’s most holy Inquisition than within the Adeptus Astartes and the Imperial Guard put together, if you peruse the internet and read all the 40k fluff out there. An Eldar charm, appearing out of nowhere. The presence of the daemon of Tzeentch is not felt at all until the end. It all felt very disjointed and contrived, with no attempt made to explain anything. There was a very distinct feeling of ‘you should know this already’.
The there was the acting itself. There was one thing each of the actors did very well, and that was being angry and hostile. I commend them for that, their reaction to being used and manipulated by the Inquisition was very believable. The only problem was that they seemed to be stuck in this mode even when their lives were at stake and they ought to have banded together to survive once everything went to hell. There were times I couldn’t distinguish between Corris and Wodan except for the fact that one carried a bolter and the other used twin autopistols. Oh and had that silly card gimmick. There was literally nothing to distinguish between the two of them. I guess Corris had some character development later where he realises that he has to cooperate with Adeodatus to get out alive but it was handled poorly and the change appears abrupt, like once he realises there is a daemon in the base manufactorum. The interplay between Nira and Hieronymous VI von Remus (I like how his name sounds in German so he’s the only one who gets a full name) was also very awkward. I wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to be developing feelings for him or what but…well…let’s just say I had no idea what was going on with the relationships between any of them. I think there is something to be said about the quality of acting when the character I cared most about was the Tech Priest, Oktavian, and then he died. That made me sad. How does a Rogue Trader even have a Tech Priest in his retinue? Is Hieronymous even a Rogue Trader? I got that impression. Sword fight did not seem well coreographed at all, there was no feeling in the strikes. It could have been a lot more dynamic.
Visually I would say, Damnatus is really impressive for being just a fan film. I found some of the spacious underground places in the Underhive breathtaking, especially the manufactorum and the massive gibbet square that the warband find themselves in for no apparent reason. Warp space was handled really well I thought, and hell all of the space scenes were really cool. Data slates, skull probes (they really seem to have some kind of skull probe fetish, they’re in like every other scene, heh…), Mechano-vision from Adeodatus’ bionic eye and Oktavian, and one particularly memorable scene in which an Inquisitor’s ship is contacted by a Grey Knight who informs him that it will be impossible for them to intervene in time. Memorable for me anyway. Oktavian’s costume was also top notch, as were the power field effects on his cog tooth halberd, I was really impressed. The only way it could have been done better in my view is if they had motion capped him and rendered the entire thing in CGI. An interesting way of doing Polymorphine but not entirely unexpected. Seriously, I was hoping the woman with the apple was going to be a Callidus assassin. Unfortunately the visual beauty is somewhat marred by the fact that they cut corners on the Exterminatus scene. That could have been done really well if they had added a lot more explosions, cyclonic torpedos, lance batteries firing down on the planet, the entire thing breaking apart. That would have made the entire film worth it in my eyes.
I don’t know, I find myself wishing that the movie could have been enjoyable but it just wasn’t. It was pretty but just not very well written or acted. It’s clear that the whole team put in a lot of effort and they’ve got lives so they couldn’t just do retakes as long as they wanted until the actors did a good job with their lines. Nor are they trained so I realise my expectations are a bit high. But there are times when effort and results are not on a 1:1 ratio. The amount of effort you put in does not always equate to how good the film is going to be and Damnatus is living proof. I really don’t want to have to say this but it’s the truth. I want to support the creation of more film projects like this but yeah…I’m still waiting for one I can rally behind.