TV-MA and this is a pretty well-deserved MA. I mean, it's the Witcher and it's anime. While the live-action version is unsettling on its own, the anime feels the need (and rightfully so!) to have bodies explode all over the place. I'm pretty sure some of these bodies are kids. Actually, I know that kids die horrible horrible deaths. There's also some completely unnecessary nudity, but that's something that comes from the Game of Thrones model of fantasy narratives.
DIRECTOR: Kwang Il Han
I'm on this whole Witcher kick right now. It's not like it's an obsession. I'm not there...yet. But I am playing the catch-up game on Witcher because my wife's family got into it and, thus, she was more interested in watching all of it. The Witcher is such a weird franchise. I don't know any series that had three separate mediums that have such wild success individually and in the ways that they were released. The books are the most lucrative literature to come out of Poland. There are die hard Witcher III: Wild Hunt fans. The Netflix show has all this attention. So playing catch up is a little bit daunting.
Before I really dive deep into Nightmare of the Wolf, I do want to ask a few questions to an audience that isn't really meant to respond. I'm almost done with the first book right now and it is a fantastically easy read. Part of that comes with the font that looks like it is stolen from Wayside School is Falling Down, but I also feel really dumb while reading the book. I'm reading these words and just flying through content. I get invested in the story and then there will be a chapter break. There seems to be missing elements of the story that seem to fall through the cracks. I would say it is me, but the TV show kind of does the same thing. All of this, ultimately, leads me to Nightmare of the Wolf. If I had to summarize Nightmare of the Wolf to you, I could totally do it...for the most parts. If you asked me any questions asking me to explain how these things happened, no idea. That's beyond me. I know the chronology of events and the character beats. But there are these elements of these stories that will forever just be puzzling to me.
It makes it hard to really fully endorse something that is enigmatic like Nightmare of the Wolf is. It also didn't help that my wife was in no way interested in the animated adventures of Vesemir, a character that I know is important from the first novel and from the video game. But this is a character that didn't show up in the first season of the show. I know that he's going to play a huge role and the best thing that Nightmare of the Wolf actually contributes to the mythology of The Witcher is the notion of how someone becomes a Witcher. I'm going to go into deep dive nerdom now, but this is a website talking about every movie I ever watch, so damage done I guess. Geralt of Rivia is his own vibe. In the world of The Witcher, there are so many Witchers, but we only really hang out with Geralt (where I am in the disparate franchises, anyway). Vesemir is not at all Geralt. Geralt is this Grumpy Gus in the TV show, so seeing the world of the Witchers through the eyes of Vesemir, he acts more of an avatar to us.
Okay, I'm all discombobulated. Let's talk about Vesemir as the protagonist. While I'm not smitten with Nightmare of the Wolf in general, I get that Vesemir must be an interesting freedom for the Witcher folks. Geralt is almost a boring protagonist. There, I've said it. From what I understand, he's way more interesting in the books, but that's not what this is about. But Vesemir? He's charismatic. He's the product of action movies for as long as we've been telling stories. He's the rogueish archetype, swinging from chandeliers. He smiles when he fights the monsters because he derives joy out of it. While someone like Vesemir might not stick with us long, especially this younger version of him, he is instantly relatable. We know who Vesemir is from moment one because of his brashness. He's the same character we get out of things like Supernatural or the (unfortunate) version of Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing. Laughing at evil is so much more fun than grumpiness, but it doesn't offer a lot of substance. Perhaps it is in the creation of someone like Vesemir that the story doesn't feel very heavy. After all, there is a Castlevania vibe to the whole movie. I wouldn't be surprised if Castlevania was made by the same production studio, because the movie really loves that over-the-top almost comical gore to sequences.
But Nightmare of the Wolf, as I was trying to say before until my undercaffienated mind lost track, is about the world of the Witcher than anything else. Vesemir and his story don't actually seem all that important as opposed to be able to show what can't be seen with Geralt. There's these stories in the live-action show of the violence and immorality of Witcher training. We are told that, by the time that the children are done training, they are no longer really human. It makes it really confusing, especially considering that the Witchers are supposed to be the heroes of the series. Nightmare of the Wolf allows us to see what is being talked about throughout the series. Now, I'm going to flash to Revenge of the Sith for a second. When Anakin turns evil, we really get how far he's fallen when he slaughters the younglings. It's the biggest takeaway for a lot of people in that movie. But we don't really see the murder of the kids. Understandably so. But with animation, there's something less horrific about the child murder that happens in the story. It's still pretty bleak, but it also removes one degree of sympathy that comes from seeing a live-action adaptation.
There's the story of Vesemir's first love and the story of the corruption of the Witchers. But the only thing that Nightmare of the Wolf offers is a background into the world of the Witcher. It feels like the definition of extended universe. Sure, when Vesemir is ultimately revealed in the live action show, I'll have a leg up over my wife about the character. But all of this kind of feels like filler. Filler is fun for the die hard fans. But as not a die hard fan, I wouldn't say that my wife had to really sit down and absorb this. It's a fine episode of something. But as a movie? I don't know if it really hits a lot of the beats. It's fun watching monsters explode and cool fight sequences. However, it never really nails the emotional connections that I was really hoping to get out of the movie. It's fine, but honestly pretty forgettable.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.