Seeking A Different Film: A Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker Review

Dawn of the Seeker CoverTwo months after my last Dragon Age post, I arrive for my triumphant return to the series. However, for those of you who may have been hoping for some thoughts on Inquisition now that I’ve had ample time to finish a run-through or two (or… just one as the case may be) will sadly remain waiting. Now, while I am an enthusiast of external media of this series in the form of books and comics, I’m not avidly collecting them. My friend, however, is, and it just so happened that I visited her this week. So when I say that we watched the 2012 film Dawn of the Seeker, I’m blaming the occurrence entirely on her. On the whole, Dragon Age maintains a pretty good—or at least decent—quality of media across the board. In my opinion, this film barely reaches mediocre. This frustrates me greatly because Dawn of the Seeker contains part of the backstory of one queen badass and lover of romance novels, Cassandra Pentaghast. The film even does her justice, but the story just ends up being a mess.

Fifteen years before the events of Dragon Age 2, a cult of mages, headed by the blood mage Frenic, have stolen a small girl from an Orlesian Circle of Magi and seem to believe that if she ingests the blood of a drake, she will be able to fufill her “destiny”. These nefarious plans are put on hold when the Seekers of Truth—an arm of the church which basically act as detectives and interrogators—arrive. All mages but Frenic are killed and the girl is saved, yet as the leaders of both the Seekers and the Templars meet with the Divine afterwards, it’s clear that all is not well. Indeed, there seems to be a lot of animosity between the two powers, especially when the Seekers make a play to keep the young mage girl to get more information on Frenic’s actions. The Knight-Commander of the Templars, Martel, admonishes the Seekers for being reckless in the face of blood magic, and everyone leaves on bad terms. These are only exacerbated when the young girl is smuggled out by two Seekers that night, one of them surprisingly being Cassandra.

Cassandra didn’t intend to help with smuggling. However, the other Seeker—a well respected member—is utterly convinced that there’s a conspiracy going on. In fact, he even admits that the young mage girl would have been used to control a flight of dragons. Before the Seeker can reveal much else, Frenic appears and kills him, stealing the girl back in the process.

Trying to track down the blood mage, Cassandra runs into a different mage, the man who was supposed to take the young girl to a safe place at the behest of the now dead Seeker. Regalyan is a charming rogue, and Cassandra immediately hates him (mirroring my own feelings). He does prove useful in the end, taking her to a safe house after they’re found by the other Seekers who now believe Cassandra is not only guilty of giving the girl back to the blood mage, but also killing the other Seeker. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the people at the safe house turn out to be dead; killed by Frenic.

Cass is not having any of your "romance subplot" bullshit right now.

Cass is not having any of your “romance subplot” bullshit right now.

Through various other twists and turns, Cassandra and Regalyan discover that there is a conspiracy: the Knight-Commander hired Frenic to kill the Divine during an important ceremony where all other nominees for Divine (should the current one die) would be in attendance, just so the Divine’s Right Hand (see: handmaiden) could take the title and rule. Of course the Knight-Commander tries to imprison our heroes to give Frenic enough time to murder the Divine via dragon, but ends up dying by Cassandra’s hand. As does Frenic, who in turn took out the Right Hand in a moment of “ha ha! I was the one who was using you all along!” After Cassandra stabs the shit out of a high dragon in what is one of the best scenes in the film, the Divine gives Cassanda the title of Right Hand and all is right in the world.

Until a certain someone blows up the Chantry fifteen years later.

There is a lot going on in this movie. It tried so hard to be all political intrigue, action-adventure, maybe a little romance and drama on the side, but Dawn of the Seeker just ended up being too ambitious for its own good. There are a lot of good elements, but they just don’t fit together into a cohesive story that’s fun to watch. In fact, I think if they decided to make this a book rather than a film, it would have been much better—considering they already had at least three books by that point, I can’t exactly fault them for wanting to branch out. The pacing was just… terrible, and some of the voice acting left a lot to be desired. But moreso than the story, what I fault this movie the most for is its animation style. I love Dragon Age and comics as much as the next person, but this series just doesn’t work as an anime, CGI or not. FUNimation isn’t a terrible company by any means, but it’s painfully obvious that the company they outsourced this film to didn’t know much of anything about what the DA universe was supposed to look like.

This is not Orlais, I don't care what you say.

This is not Orlais, I don’t care what you say.

Val Royeaux, the most beautiful and cherished city in Orlais—a country known for its opulence—was completely barren of decorations and liveliness, while the Chantry looked less like a grand cathedral and more like an abandoned warehouse. During a huge celebration. And some of the character design choices were legitimately awful. All the “evil” mages were wearing hooded cloaks and dark colors, not to mention Frenic was comically personified as a blood mage with what looked like a glass eye, a snaggletooth, and leather straps on his face for no reason. Most offensive of all, though, was the choice to make Cassandra “girlier”. I think all female warriors are great, and should look however they want to look, but the woman on the screen was not Cassandra. Cassandra Pentaghast would not be the only person in the Seekers to wear a battle skirt—especially when her boots barely provide her legs armor. Cassandra Pentaghast would not agree with the movie’s desire to give her panty shots, no matter how subtle the attempts may be. Maybe I would be a little less harsh on this had my friend and I not also watched the behind the scenes commentary where the people from Bioware basically state they wanted to make Cassandra really hot for this movie. I expect better from you, Bioware.

Despite this horrid, horrid mindset when coming to the aesthetics, most of the main characters were written well. Cassandra was fantastically brave, but also extremely rash and hot-headed, almost single-minded in her pursuit of justice. For example, when she first meets Regalyan, she almost kills him simply because he is a mage (and all mages must be working with the blood mage, right?) She even has a character arc where she somewhat overcomes her anger for mages, and that’s nice to see. What also is nice to see is the lack of a romance subplot with Regalyan, the forced male lead who I would have bet twenty bucks on ending up with Cass. Luckily they don’t, but the end does have this weird scene where she and Regalyan walk down the entrance way to the church with the young mage girl like they were all family. …I have no idea why that was there. While Cassandra is great, the biggest badass of the movie turned out to be Divine Beatrix III. Although she was almost murdered by her Right Hand, she managed to keep the tensions between the Seekers and Templars from boiling over and faced down the dragon herself instead of turning tail and running to safety.

Beatrix III is now my second favorite Divine

Beatrix III is now my second favorite Divine.

Unfortunately, I really, really wish the antagonists had more layers to them. Frenic was a one-dimensional character who wanted power because he was evil, the Knight-Commander was one-dimensional and just wanted to put his lover on the throne, and the Right Hand was one-dimensional (besides being cunning enough to almost pull off a coup) because we never learn why she wanted to become Divine. It sure would have been great knowing what lay behind the new era she wanted to usher in. But no, we don’t get any development there. As such, everything falls a little flat and the stakes don’t feel real enough to become invested in.

Bioware hasn’t always been this beacon of inclusion in an otherwise white cishet male industry, and they still have a long way to go in terms of not being problematic, but at least they’ve grown from the time when this came out. I appreciate them having a story where women are the ones getting shit done (even if the entire cast is white) and where their badassery is never questioned, but why did it have to be in such an awfully paced movie? This trend seemed to be reflected in Dragon Age: Redemption too, which either leads me to believe that Bioware doesn’t exactly know how to write female protagonists starring in a coherent, well-paced narrative or that they should rethink how they approach visual mediums that aren’t video games. I really wanted to like Dawn of the Seeker, I really did, but at the end of the day all I’m left with is…

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.