The Sci-Fi channel brings another legendary Grecian myth to the screen – following their Three-headed dog feature Cerberus, with this take on the infamous Minotaur – the beastly half-man half-bull that dwells in the twisted maze of the labyrinth. This update of the classic tale holds much of the legend of the Minotaur true but unexpectedly transforms the setting from a glorious marble columned concept of Ancient Greece to a dirty village and a cardboard cutout soundstage palace, losing much of the grandeur of the old legends.
Theo (Substituting a simpler moniker for Greek hero Theseus) is heir to the lands of his father, Cyrnan (Rutger Hauer). But his village is cursed, and every three years eight innocents, are procured as a sacrafice to please the lord of the lair. Worshiped as a God by the Deucalion (Tony Todd), the Minotaur’s instable thirst for blood must be satisfied. So, once again the time has come for the ritual, and Cyrnan has sent Theo to the outskirts of town, to avoid sacrafice. But Theo has heard rumor that his one true love, taken earlier as an offering, may still be alive, hidden somewhere in the bowels of the murky underground. Now Theo will turn himself over, as fodder for the evil, in an effort to save the one he loves and destroy the hideous creature that lurks in the labyrinth.
For the most part, Sci-fi Channel productions have some solid production values, and Minotaur is no exception. Wisely, the filmmakers keep the creature, cloaked in darkness and shadow for the better part of the film, adding a “Jaws” like level of suspense and making up for the necessary shortcomings of the budget. Sadly the worst thing about the production is the decided lack of effort the filmmakers took in focusing on the labyrinth as a viable character in the film. Something that would seem so obvious that its utter lack of detail is surprising, even for a film working on such a limited scope. Many will make notices about the nature of the beast, as it does not conform to standard definition of the Minotaur, but I found its more animal nature to be slightly closer to reason than a pair of legs attached to the head of a bull. Still, purists are liable to have a bit of an aneurysm when they see the snarling monster for the first time.
One thing that grates on the film are the performances, which, even for TV, are a bit below par. Specifically, Tom Hardy (Layer Cake) who seems far to wooden to elicit the leadership prowess needed to rally a people and take on a mythical monster. Rutger Hauer has precious little screen time as Cyrnan and Tony Todd is left with little characterization so he just chews the scenery as voraciously as the Minotaur feasts on wanton villagers. But regardless of some amateurish acting and a desperate need for some focus, the film comes off as one of the better productions from everyone’s favorite basic cable network.
In terms of blood and gore, Minotaur is sparse, instead focusing on utilizing the darkness and shadow of the labyrinth to mask the terror of severed flesh. Understanding that the end result of the feature is set for cable television, the audience needs to accept that a Romero-esque flesh feast is going to have to be toned way down, even on the unrated DVD release. So if you’re out there in search of some serious splatter, then Minotaur is surly not going to sate your whetted palate.
The DVD includes, amongst other things, a special effects montage that illustrates quite a few effective uses of CGI rendering, highlighting that old adage that a truly great visual effect is when the audience never knows it is seeing one. Unfortunately, the effects reel also points out the problem with CGI, specifically when it is used unnecessarily to substitute for effects that could have been achieved by actual physical means (as is the case with a gruesome spike-through-the-head effect). Also included are 20 minutes of Deleted/Extended scenes, the bulk of which were trimmed from the village plotline. Most of these you can do without, but a final clip featuring Tony Todd as the dethroned king, is worth checking out, if only for the fact that Todd finally gives an understated line reading. Director Jonathan English and Editor Eddie Hamilton contribute to an audio commentary track, and the DVD features the request trailer, which I can only assume ran as some kind of commercial since Minotaur was never intended for Theatrical consumption.
The best thing I can say about Minotaur, and this goes equally for Cerberus as well, is that, perhaps a passing interest in these made-for-TV movies will pique some of your interest in seeking out the original Greek myths, for they most certainly contain more deviant sex and horrific violence than a thousand Sci-fi channel originals, and unlike the myriad of features that inevitably disappoint their viewers, the Television of the mind is almost always fulfilling.