Ator The Fighting Eagle

Director: Joe D'Amato
Miles O'Keeffe, Sabrina Siani, Ritza Brown

As I've said several times before in past reviews, I have a very big imagination. After all, when you are diving into the world of unknown movies, you have to have a wide enough mind to examine the many kinds of cinematic obscurities. But I don't just apply my imagination to the world of unknown movies - there are plenty of times when I just sit back and entertain myself with a number of "what if" situations. It may come as a surprise that much of what I imagine is not that far removed from how things are in real life in the present. I am for the most part content with how life is for me and others at present. But sometimes I imagine this life of ours to be even better, letting my imagination think of things such as evil and corrupt governments in this world of ours to be toppled and new freedoms being introduced. But there are also times when I picture in my imagination a world much different than it is now. In past reviews, I have mentioned my love of westerns, and that I sometimes dream about being one of those cowboys that helped win the west. And sometimes I dream of worlds that never were. One such world I dream of time to time is the sword and sorcery world. I've never mentioned this before, but for a number of years right now I have been forming a sword and sorcery world in my mind, with various characters with various powers and goals. The stories of these characters have gotten so big it could be written in several books. In fact, I plan one day to write it all down and get it published. Though first I have to figure out how to find the time to write it all down while maintaining this web site... and figuring the right way to format it in my word processor program... and figuring out how to copyright it... and figure out how to find an agent or figure out how to self publish it... and...

As you saw from my remarks at the end of the last paragraph, I've realized that there is a lot of knowledge needed to get a sword and sorcery story to the public. An additional piece of knowledge that writers need to know is to give the sword and sorcery audience what it desires. Over the years of slowly forming my own sword and sorcery story and character, I've learned various kinds of appeal the genre has to offer. More often than not it's a world where fantastic things are prevalent, things that are impossible in the real world. These fantastic things range from mythical creatures like dragons to magical powers. It's a world where there is a lot of action, from swordplay to wizard duels. And there is often a sexual degree, starting with women who more often than not have breasts the size of grapefruits. Yes, the genre has a lot of appeal, so one may wonder at first why nowadays there aren't a lot of sword and sorcery movies being made. If you have a good idea of what it takes to make a movie, more likely than not you have in your mind the main reason why few movie producers these days venture into making these movies: the expense. It takes a lot of money to make a cinematic sword and sorcery world come across as convincing. You have to make convincing costumes, you have to make believable props, you have to build realistic sets, you have to hire special effects artists to come up with plausible-looking effects... the list of expenses goes on and on. It should come as no wonder why even major studios with plenty of money to spend have for the most part shied away from the sword and sorcery genre.

When it comes to movie studios that make B movies, like the major Hollywood studios, they haven't made that many sword and sorcery movies since the 1980s. No doubt that they feel that any effort they make simply wouldn't hold up. But that's not to say that their efforts couldn't be Ator The Fighting Eagleentertaining. I once read an fantasy film essay by a trash film scholar who made the following observation on the entire fantasy genre: "Through an energetic display of imagination - or an energetic lack thereof - fantasy adventures can, I've found, much more often than not be relied to provide a fair amount of entertainment." In other words, an inept sword and sorcery movie can be a lot of fun. The Italians in the 1980s made their share of low budget sword and sorcery movies, and I have fond memories renting and watching them as a youth, finding them entertaining in ways not intended by the filmmakers. Ator The Fighting Eagle was one such movie I remember being tickled by. When I recently found out it got a DVD release, I knew I had to give it another go. Typical for movies like this, it takes place a long time ago in a land far away when sword and sorcery still existed. The title hero Ator (O'Keeffe, Escape To Grizzly Mountain) is a young man living in a small village who is preparing to marry his sister Sunya (Brown, Tuareg - The Desert Warrior). Don't worry - Ator had moments before the marriage ceremony found out that he was adopted. What Ator doesn't know is that his biological father was the legendary warrior Torren, who dared to defy the cult of the Spider God, headed by a high priest. Torren died in the attempt, but after dying various prophets declared that he would have a son that would defeat the Spider God cult. In the years that followed, the high priest and his goons did everything they could to track down and kill Torren's son as well as various other enemies of the cult. One day, the high priest learns of an old enemy near the village of Ator and Sunya. The high priest's goons crash Ator and Sunya's wedding ceremony and proceed to slaughter everyone. During the massacre, Ator gets knocked unconscious, and Sunya is kidnapped. When Ator regains consciousness, he sets out to rescue Sunya from the high priest and his cult. Along his journey he gets trained in swordplay by a mysterious mentor named Griba (Edmund Purdom, Titanic: The Animated Movie), and once he resumes his journey is joined by mysterious female warrior Roon (Siani, The Sword Of The Barbarians). But even with all of this help, can Ator defeat the high priest and rescue Sunya before she is sacrificed to the Spider God?

Although your typical audience for a sword and sorcery movie expects to see a world that is in many ways much different than this world that we live in, I think it's safe to say that there are other things that they also expect, things that they can relate to. Some of these things are the characters in the movie. Sure, the characters may dress and talk a little funny, but can we understand the heroes' motivations and ambitions, and be given villains that we can hate and hope are suitably punished? I'll start with the protagonists, the first being the supporting players. They are a pretty disappointing bunch. We don't learn much about Griba the mentor. He only shows up for a few minutes in the first half hour before disappearing for most of the rest of the movie. There is a twist with his character near the end, but if you have been paying attention, you'll guess what the twist will be long before it happens. We also don't learn much about Ator's sidekick Roon, save for the fact that she's greedy and only seems to join Ator for the opportunity to collect riches. And her obligatory nude scene is botched by having her so far from the camera you can't see any details. Maybe making her a woman as well as somewhat selfish was meant to build tension with Ator, but there is pretty much no chemistry of any kind between her and Ator. And then there is Ator himself, who despite being the main hero of the movie comes across as extremely overwhelming. Now, actor Miles O'Keeffe does look somewhat muscular and seems to be comfortable in his surroundings. But the script and direction do him no favors, making his character come off as somewhat dumb, not just for the fact that his character does not understand why he can't marry his sister. He seems slow-witted, injecting "...uh...", "...but...", or lengthy pauses between his words. When his sister is kidnapped, he doesn't seem that upset or concerned, and various dangers along the way also don't spark that much emotion in him, like when he's captured by Amazons and sentenced to stud duty. The bear cub that accompanies him during his quest has more charisma and emotion than this guy.

It doesn't help that O'Keeffe has been given a silly-looking '80s metal band haircut as well as goofy leather pants or fur-covered shorts to wear. Maybe this ridiculous get-up was intentional, to make the chief villain of the movie come across as more imposing in comparison. But in the end, the main antagonist doesn't manage to make much of an impression. True, he looks less ridiculous than Ator, though his gold metallic eye shadow do provoke a few chuckles. The main problem is that there isn't enough of this guy in the movie. In the first twenty or so minutes, this high priest only makes a few short appearances, then he disappears for more than a half hour before making another (very brief) appearance. Then he's gone for another long time before showing up again, though by then there's not much more of the movie to run. There is not only just a limited amount of footage of this guy, there is also very little shown to make him a real good evil character. Yes, he orders people to be killed, but that's about all, and it's not enough. The best we learn of this guy is that he repeatedly likes to pet tarantulas. Instead of developing the high priest character more, the movie is more devoted to various vignettes along the way, vignettes ranging from unrelated enemies threatening Ator and Roon to Ator getting a magical item to help him on his quest. I know that this may sound like excuses for good action sequences, but they end up missing the word "good". The action in the movie is extremely underwhelming, whether it ranges from sluggish swordplay to feeble hand to hand combat in a barbarian watering hole. Watching these fight sequences, you almost sense that the fighters are treating the combat as a kind of joke, though more likely than not it's because they have been given little training and they are afraid of hurting themselves.

I didn't buy the world of Ator The Fighting Eagle, and it wasn't just because of the weak characters, weak both in their construction as well as their fighting skills. The parts of the world that surround these characters are also quite a letdown, a world that doesn't seem to know the term "production values". The only majestic mountains and volcanoes we see are obvious stock footage, the wilderness sequences look like they were shot at a public park on the suburbs of a nearby city, and the scenes taking place in caves are obviously shot on soundstages (and it appears that the same cave set is recycled several times.) The lowest point comes during the climax, when Ator has to battle a giant spider that not only is only seen in its front half (they apparently couldn't afford to build a full spider), but you can see wires pulling the legs of the spider up and down. Now, that scene did provoke some chuckles from this viewer, and I must confess that some of the other stuff that I told you about in the above paragraphs was also found to be so bad that it was amusing. So the question comes up as to whether this movie is so bad that it's funny. Well, the movie does have a fair share of laughs, but the laughs are kind of spaced out and not in the quantity that I would have liked. More often than not, I was wondering how the production team could have stumbled so badly, such as with the musical score by Carlo Maria Cordio (Troll 2), a score that often doesn't feel right with what is going on the screen at the same time. Still, I must confess that part of me had a good time watching the movie. What? Let me explain. Though it gets slow and sluggish a lot, it never got to the point where I was bored. And I could see that the filmmakers had their heart in the right place, even though their minds were obviously in another place many times. But I think the reason why I found the movie watchable was that in this present time where I watched it, I was starved for sword and sorcery. As I indicated earlier in this review, we are living in lean times, and I was so hungry for the genre that even a somewhat poor movie like this one provided needed nourishment. However, if the sword and sorcery movie genre ever makes a comeback, and some genuinely good new examples of the genre get made, I will not hesitate to change my viewpoint of Ator The Fighting Eagle to one that is much more negative.

(Posted August 7, 2017)

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See also: Hearts And Armour, Quest For The Mighty Sword, The Sword Of The Barbarians