"I'll make my own film, with blackjack and hookers!"
Futurama reference aside, this is the sort of declaration people have made more than once in response to a failed outing. When fans are jaded, some will be pushed so far as to make their own stab at producing something, with past results ranging from The Punisher: Dirty Laundry to Hawk the Slayer. Yeah, just because a devoted enthusiast knows what they want doesn't mean they're the one who can bring it to life.
Still, after more than a few audiences were left disappointed with Ultramarines: The Movie, one in particular decided he was going to bring a better example of Warhammer 40,000 to the small screen. Now, after years of behind the scenes videos and trailers, we at long last have some solid footage. The only problem is that this is a cold opening; a warm-up example before the main event to truly get viewers invested. As such, this may or may not be quite the video you were expecting.
Set on Holy Terra itself, a celebratory procession of armed Imperial troops march across the skyways. With Lord Inquisitor Torquemada Coteaz himself sitting atop the central plinth, the Emperor's mailed fist tower before the cheering citizens. However, even in this moment the Inquisition moves to silence those who would blaspheme against the Emperor's name. Acting under Coteaz's orders, Acolyte Marcus Allenbrisk leads several agents to end the life of a corrupted noble in the uppermost houses...
In each and every trailer, fans were drawn to one thing above all else - the visuals. Gorgeously detailed and eclipsing the examples found even in big budget modern shows, forums were abuzz with excitement at the idea of seeing the Imperium truly brought to life. Well, if that's what you're after you won't be disappointed here. This isn't so much scenery porn as full on landscape orgy, as the video pans across Terra, starting from space before moving down to the vast cities themselves. Taking elements in detail by detail, the viewer is given a stunning view of a high class Hive City, and the odd culture clash of Imperial life. While certainly not nearly so extreme as some literary examples, the city manages to nail the Blade Runner meets Napoleonic Europe look, with stately homes and streets alike proving to be a perfect blend of each aspect.
The procession itself offers a great example of the sort of visual qualities and direction in the film to come. Between remarkably high tech Guardsmen, Imperial Fists, Dreadnoughts and even more unusual machines, there is plenty to enjoy. Special mention needs to go to the astartes here, as the video captures their strength and sheer brutal immensity in a several second clip. Something people would want to be reassured of given the involvement of the Grey Knights in the upcoming film. What's more though, it manages to tip the hat to the more obviously dystopian elements without taking things too far. Copious numbers of skulls aside, the march itself is reminiscent of a fascist army on the march during certain shots, and the sight of servitor slaves pushing a giant vehicle is inserted at several key points.
The music and sound quality here is also absolutely top notch, capturing the deep Gothic atmosphere while giving a sense of weight and presence to each of the troops. Given the sheer scale of the procession, it would have been an easy thing to screw up, but what we have is absolutely perfect. Equally, the cinematography is definitely competent, and while lacking some of the finer points of shooting a closed environment or capturing a quiet moment, it does a good job of pairing up two very different events simultaneously playing out.
Unfortunately, the audio quality only serves to highlight the film's more obvious failing - the voice acting. Even from the trailer, it was clear we weren't going to be seeing so clear and talented a set of vocals as Terence Stamp or Sean Pertwee. In fact, parts were downright cheesy at times, and that hasn't helped here. What we have here is akin to Team Four Star in their earlier years, where you can see some talent behind the mic, but between the muffled tones and more openly scripted speech, it's a bit hard to appreciate. It doesn't help that the script only allows Allenbrisk to voice his thoughts, and his actor has a habit of chewing the scenery.
The actual key event - capturing the noble - is relatively unremarkable. The man barely resists and there's no major fight of any kind. As such, besides reflecting upon the more oppressive nature of the Imperium itself, it's more of an opportunity to look into the writing behind the film. While Aaron Dembski-Bowden himself has admitted that he left the project before its completion, this opening does show more than a few of his fingerprints are present on the script's final draft. The actual staging and story structure is reminiscent of his other works - particularly Throne of Lies - and Allenbrisk's lines do set him up as one of the snarkier figures who often show up in his books. Beyond this there is very little to say at the moment, save for Allenbrisk's nature as an Acolyte - Cocksure, snarky and teasing. He's a younger man who knows of the power he carries and flaunts it with glee.
While unfortunately by no means another Prelude to Axanar, and lacking a more independent story structure to help it stand out on its own, the prologue is a hit. It offers the kind of proof of concept fans have long been waiting for and leaves hope for the future. Hope that we'll see a classic film worthy of the decades old brand, and that we'll see the film hit Youtube before the century is up.