An crowd-funded independent Greek film, made in the fallout of the country’s economic collapse, is an intriguing prospect. When you factor in that it’s an epic fantasy made for a budget of â‚¬10,000, or “the cost of a day’s catering on Game of Thrones”, it becomes downright worrying – plenty of fantasy films have failed miserably with million-dollar budgets. Which makes it all the more amazing that Dragonphoenix Chronicles: Indomitable is worthy of standing beside the original Conan on the list of all-time greats.
The plot initially seems far simpler than it actually is. Our hero is Dragar (Yannis Roumboulias), a slave from the North who is forced to fight in the arena for the nobles’ amusement. When Lord Akilonius (Meletis Georgiadis) buys him for his daughter Valeria (Constantina Georganta), he stages an escape, taking Valeria hostage and trying to get back home. The plot develops considerably from these humble beginnings, and it would be a shame to reveal the details here.
The premise shares more than a little with Conan the Barbarian, and it certainly seems to have been the template which director Thanos Kermitsis was working from – the two films’ leading ladies are both named Valeria, for one thing – but to put it bluntly, this is the worthy successor to the Arnold classic which we’ve been waiting over 30 years to see.
It has everything you want from this sort of film: great characters, a gripping story, bloody action, lovely landscapes, and a genuinely fantastic score. It even has an honest-to-goodness skull fortress, and skull fortresses are always cool. Roumboulias is perfect as Dragar, playing equal parts savage barbarian tribesman and sarcastic, world-weary warrior who just wants to go home. Think Arnold, but capable of expressing human emotion.
Obviously the most remarkable thing is the absurdly tiny budget, and it is nothing short of incredible how far they’ve managed to stretch it. Some of the effects don’t work, mostly ones added with computers in post, but all the in-camera stuff works brilliantly because they had the sense to limit how much we see of it. Instead of trying to serve up expensive CGI and hordes of creatures, we only see people fighting other people for most of the film. The action is basic, but thoroughly entertaining, and the fact that it’s slightly rough and scrappy actually makes it more believable.
Once we reach the end, though, it becomes clear what they saved the budget for. They pull out all the stops for the final boss monster, which seems to have been created by a combination of man-in-suit, prosthetics and stop-motion, and is a legitimately astonishing accomplishment. It’s a great monster by any standard, let alone for a tiny independent film, and effects supervisor Kostis Antoninis deserves all the credit in the world for pulling it off.
Almost the entire film is shot on location in Greek countryside, and while it’s not quite the equal of New Zealand, it doesn’t refer to Tolkien so much as Homer. Gratifyingly, there are a lot of references to Greek myth, from the dragon’s teeth that sprout warriors to the Herakles-esque animal skin that Dragar wears. One of the characters even refers to the Iliad directly by talking about how many stories have been written, and wars fought, for the sake of a woman. By embracing this Greek mythic heritage, the film carves out a fantasy niche all its own, and it would be a wonderful thing to see more of this world on screen.
If you like epic fantasy adventure, this is the film you’ve been waiting for. Clearly a passion project from people who just wanted to make the most awesome fantasy movie they could, it’s nothing less than this generation’s Conan the Barbarian.