I’m going to the Dead Lands!
If you ever asked yourself why there is such a dearth of Maori period action movies in our pop culture consciousness, then you can be encouraged that the good people at Magnolia have rectified this grievous oversight. I didn’t know that there was a vacancy in my heart for such New Zealand tribal mayhem until I took a stroll through The Dead Lands.
The story is simple: a Maori tribe uses some subterfuge to blow up a treaty and stage an all-out killing spree against another tribe, butchering everyone including the wise old chief. That chief, though, has a son, a spunky kid who lacks upper body strength but isn’t afraid to mix it up with dudes twice his size.
Still, that’s a good way to get yourself harpooned to death, so our pint-sized hero goes off into the “Dead Lands” to search for the legendary “Warrior” (Lawrence Makoare), a supposed unkillable demon presence roaming the cursed countryside. His mission: to somehow convince the Warrior to take up his cause and start smashing skulls.
That’s it for plot. Well, aside from some funky mysticism tossed in to spice things up. Essentially, this is a chase movie, echoing Apocalypto both in tone and look. The rogue tribe, led by a truly imposing bad-ass, are on the hunt — until the Warrior gets involved.
Hopefully I’m not spoiling anything by noting that the big guy decides to eventually mix it up. When that moment drops, the film shifts, the prey becoming the predators. And it works.
As a visceral, unique experience, The Dead Lands delivers. It’s raw and fast-moving and pours on the action from the get-go. While the mayhem isn’t particularly bombastic and wouldn’t come close to anchoring a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s rounded and brutal, two traits that go a long way when it comes to what I look for in something like this.
Lawrence Makoare is a beast, a giant slab of a guy with jagged face. He’s no pretty-boy pugilist, bringing a demonic fury to his bludgeoning, ultimately scaring the living hell out of his pursuers. “The Warrior” is definitely one of the more distinct heroes to stomp across the genre in some time.
A hard-hitting Blu-ray from Magnolia, kicking off with a gorgeous 2.39:1 1080p transfer and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (English and Maori) track. Extras are robust: a making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes footage, a featurette on the set design, a Q&A from the premiere and an interview with James Cameron (?!).
Not Guilty. More Maori mayhem please.