Russia’s answer to “Lord of the Rings,” sword-and-sorcery yarn “Wolfhound” is reputed to be the most expensive post-Soviet movie ever made, and has wrested a hefty bag of gold (more than $20 million) already from local cash registers. Helmer Nikolai Lebedev’s (“The Star”) tale of a warrior on a quest to revenge his slain tribe lollops along nicely and features some impressive set pieces, but pic may be too humorless, too ropey in the effects department and probably too darn Russian in spirit to translate the same theatrical success offshore, though hardcore fantasy fans may wolf it down.
Action unfolds in a vaguely Dark Age period, somewhere in the East (locations used are actually in Slovakia, while rest was filmed at Mosfilm in Moscow).
Opening segment, milked for maximum sentimental effect, shows a young boy (thesp’s name unknown) seeing his dad, mom (eight months pregnant, no less) and whole tribe slaughtered by a warlord called Ogre (Aleksandr Domogarov), his minions and an evil, masked druid with a wolf tattoo on his hand. The man in the mask, it later transpires, is named Zhadoba (actor not credited), who’s bent on evil mission involving the theft of some ancient tablets and the blood of Princess Elen (translucent Oksana Akinshina, from “Lilya 4-Ever”) that, when combined, will raise a malevolent goddess
Years later, the traumatized tot emerges as grown man named Volkodav (the name literally means “wolfhound,” played by local TV star Aleksandr Bukharov), who, after escaping the slave mines, has picked up ace swordsmanship skills, a mean facial scar, a pet bat (CGI-generated) and a quest for revenge.
Various minor battles have to be won and supporting characters introduced before Volkodav finally hooks up with Princess Elen and becomes her bodyguard for the long journey to another land where she will marry the son of Ogre — whom Volkodav has already killed — in order to make peace between two kingdoms. Attraction blossoms between Elen and Volkodav, but he nobly refuses to knock felt boots with her, just before she’s captured by Zhadoba.
While pic’s visual effects haven’t the smooth rendering of counterparts in Western fantasy flicks, filmmakers make up for it with novelty in their beastie design. Standout monsters include mist creatures that suck people out of thin air and a climactic, swirling tornado of rock and fire that — lacking a heart or any organs — can’t be slain by ordinary sword alone. Given the endearingly one-note thesping and heroics-on-a-budget atmosphere, overall effect is not dissimilar to those Ray Harryhausen-effects driven creature features of old, such as “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) and “Clash of the Titans” (1981).
However, pic has a surfeit of minor characters who may be there to placate expectations of fans of the original novel by Maria Semenova, resulting in attenuated running time. Protracted debates about fate and defying one’s class destiny will have more resonance for local auds than offshore ones. Thesping is adequate to meager demands made here.