When a film like 'The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box' comes around, it's safe to presume that the studio behind it was looking for the next big tentpole picture that would drive a multi-film franchise on which countless fortunes could be made. And when the film is like this one, it's also safe to presume that such a tentpole was ostensibly built by committee – that is, a cadre of overseers guided every aspect of the film for the sole purpose of ensuring reaching the widest possible audience, thereby generating enormous revenue, which inevitably leaves the film at the center of the equation feeling like something of an inarticulate, fumbling cash-grab.
There are, of course, exceptions to the tentpole rule. Aside from a few miscalculations in the series, the generally well-regarded 'Harry Potter' franchise would certainly count as one of them. And now that the film version of J.K. Rowling's one-woman literacy program has wrapped, there are hundreds of studio executives and producer wannabes with trust funds burning a hole in their pockets just waiting to jump onboard the gravy train that will be the Next Big Thing. However, the thing is: as much as many people would like to believe the dearth of something like 'Harry Potter' means the market is thirsting for another child-friendly, vaguely magical teen hero to fill that particular niche, simply pointing at any Young Adult book with mild similarities isn't going guarantee immediate success.
So when a smaller production attempts to ape the multi-billion-dollar formula that served many a franchise so well – as is clearly the case with the adaptation of G.P. Taylor's Mariah Mundi books – and it does so by making its film appear to have had as many unqualified cooks in the kitchen as possible, the results are, predictably, disastrous.
Set in a vaguely steampunk-y Victorian Era, 'The Adventurer' concerns the once titular Mariah Mundi (Aneurin Barnard) – why the producers decided to change the name is unclear, but one can only imagine it has something to do with the possibility of gender confusion with the lead character's name – and his quest to find his missing parents Charles and Catherine (Ioan Gruffudd and Keeley Hawes, respectively) and rescue his younger brother Felix (Xavier Atkins), who has been kidnapped by the goons of the film's primary villain, Otto Luger, played by a slumming Sam Neill. Luger, for his part, is the nemesis of the inscrutable Captain Will Charity (inexplicably played by Michael Sheen), an adventurer and agent for the Bureau of Antiquities, who seems to have been inspired by everything from Sherlock Holmes to Indiana Jones, and serves as Mariah's would-be mentor and surrogate father (when he's actually around, that is). Following Felix's abduction, Charity has Mariah venture to the Prince Regent Hotel, a giant steam-powered hotel that's located on a remote island where Luger is using kidnapped children – Mola Ram style – to locate the Midas Box, an ancient device that can supposedly turn any object into gold.
Although the plot reads as simple enough, director Jonathan Newman seems unsure of the material's intent, as the film shifts from Dickensian levels of childhood woe, to almost whimsical levels of sci-fi absurdity in the blink of an eye; neither or which are portrayed with any real conviction. The steampunk world presented here is done so almost entirely through the Victorian style costuming, not through any sort of engaged world building. Meanwhile, Sheen's hyperactive acts of tough-love, intended to shape the young Mariah into the hero he's obviously supposed to be, wind up resembling the actions of a deranged person to such a degree it's often unclear precisely what Captain Will Charity's true motives are. Still, despite being last billed, the film hinges largely on the performance of Aneurin Barnard, a relative newcomer who was most recently seen in Starz' 'The White Queen' and who was likely cast for his slightly haunted, but mostly vacant (and considering the material he has to work with, it's hard to blame him) gaze that for some reason seems to perfectly embody the film as a whole.
Unevenly paced and filled with characters drawn with the thinnest of motivations and personality, each one – including Mariah – seems to exist solely to progress the plot. Not an ounce of dialogue is used to develop any of these characters, or to flesh them out in any manner that would make them interesting beyond their perfunctory role in locating the Midas box. Even when the setting is focused at the Prince Regent Hotel, and it introduces the heavily underwritten female roles of Luger's partner Monica (Lena Headey) and Mariah's friend/potential love interest Sacha (Mella Carron), it fails to add the kind of dimension necessary to generate a palpable sense of place, time, or connection between any of these characters. There is a shallow subplot involving Sacha's alcoholic father and an attempt to generate some sort of redemptive arc for him, but he plays such an insignificant role that one wonders why the effort wasn't afforded one of the major characters instead.
A film that makes either entry in the 'Percy Jackson' franchise look like a veritable masterpiece, it's hard to imagine this bland and generic 'Adventurer' series going anywhere after this dull, inauspicious debut. Thankfully, if that is the case, it will allow the talent in the cast to focus their considerable energies toward more meaningful pursuits.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box' comes from Image Entertainment as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There are a handful of previews ahead of the film, but they can be skipped to head directly to the top menu. The menu allows you to choose your audio and subtitles or to view the supplemental featurette.
While it's hard to say a deliberate style went into creating 'The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box,' there is a consistency in the way the image looks, which gives the film its only true sense of time and place. There's a slightly misty, hazy quality to the air around the characters, which generates a cold, damp feeling that, considering what one assumes is part of the steampunk subgenre, seems to be part and parcel to creating atmosphere. The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer does a nice job in recreating that sense of place, without sacrificing too much detail or texture. Generally, fine detail is adequate in wider shots, but it is much more prevalent in close ups, or the infrequent well-lit scene. Despite the haziness of the atmosphere, though, the image does manage to generate very clean, deliberate edges that help characters and objects stand out in impressive fashion.
Contrast is strong throughout with no evidence of banding or crush, and with good delineation in even the most extreme lighting challenges. Color, though deliberately desaturated to a degree still looks vibrant when necessary – especially on Will Charity's costumes, or during some of the opening scenes. Overall, it's a strong image that handles most aspects evenly, and even manages to impress on occasion.
The DTS-Master Audio 5.1 mix offers the kind of audio you would expect from an adventure film of this sort. The dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, spilling mostly from the center channel speaker, but with some scenes it expands to the right or left, and sometimes even rear channels for added depth or imaging purposes. Directionality is also strong, delivering some exciting sequences that are truly immersive and manage to balance the score, sound effects, and dialogue with great precision.
LFE is present frequently, generating everything from consistent low rumbles to larger explosions without being oppressive with the rest of the mix. Overall this mix handles balance terrifically, though there are a few sequences where it feels as though the score overwhelms the dialogue more than it should. Thankfully, this only happens near the end of the film, and by that point, all of the plot-oriented dialogue has been delivered. This is a good sounding mix that, like the image manages to surprise on occasion.
'The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box' is an example of putting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how much the producers wanted this to be the Next Big Thing, it just doesn’t have the kind of wonder and amazement that made 'Harry Potter' or 'Lord of the Rings' such phenomenal presences in theaters and on home video. Listless and meandering, the story of Mariah Mundi never feels like it's about a young man's journey to becoming something worthwhile; instead it's too focused on the titular Midas box to develop any of its characters – main or otherwise – into individuals the audience could actually care about. This might be tempting to rent this for kids, but they'd be better off re-watching any of the movies this one is trying to be.