KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC. Neither fantasy nor science fiction. Mr. Bagiński, you can do more

Impressions after watching Tomasz Bagiński’s exceptionally dismal debut in the category of full-length live-action films.

Jakub Piwoński

3 December 2023

It’s surprising that a director and creator so highly regarded and sought after in Poland has only now made his first feature film. Even more surprising, however, is that we’re talking about a completely failed project, which even on paper had potential close to zero. Tomasz Bagiński once taught the Art of Falling, and I hope he remembers that lesson because “Knights of the Zodiac” certainly did not elevate the native creator.

This is a symbolic year for Tomasz Bagiński. Exactly twenty years ago, in 2003, our artist, an animator, was vying for an Oscar. He was nominated for this award for “The Cathedral,” a short animation loosely based on the story by Jacek Dukaj (with whom he later collaborated continuously, designing covers for his books). From a perspective of time, it doesn’t matter that Bagiński ultimately didn’t receive the statuette because his career exploded at that time, and he managed to take advantage of it. Collaboration with Platige Image continued to be fruitful; new short films emerged, including the aforementioned “The Art of Falling” and “Cinematograph” (to this day, Tomasz Bagiński serves on the supervisory board of this company). A few years ago, the “Polish Legends” project was particularly interesting, in which Bagiński transformed native stories into the language of science fiction.

In recent years, Bagiński has been overseeing the production of the TV series “The Witcher,” for which he was an executive producer. How did this happen? Thanks to cooperation with CD Projekt RED, he directed an animated trailer for the game. Then the idea for the film was born. However, it was such a big project that it probably exceeded the creators, which Netflix took advantage of, investing money in an actor’s series with the assumption that it would be created by other people. We already know the rest of the story. Platige Image branches are also located in Japan, so, why not, there appeared an option in the forty-something-year-old Tomasz Bagiński’s career to direct a large, international live-action film, and it’s no wonder he took advantage of this opportunity. However, it was necessary to read his script first.

This script is bursting with foolishness. The story based on Japanese anime, originating from Japanese manga, is an impressive but kitschy combination of fantasy style strengthened by Greek mythology and elements of science fiction, enriched with superhero cinema. We are dealing with a classic and painfully overexploited theme of “from zero to hero” because the protagonist is a boy who doesn’t really know what to do with himself until suddenly, one day, the world speaks to him. The reliable Sean Bean invites him to his house, gives a quick lesson on the basics of Greek myths, and voila, our hero is ready for action. Of course, an impressive exposition of his combat skills had to take place earlier so that we have no doubts that the boy will handle troubles.

There is also a girl who inevitably crushes his heart, and guys who check his muscles. There is Famke Janssen, who still wants to be sexy, and there are also brought back from oblivion Mark Dacascos and Nick Stahl, who still want to be extra. Everyone is posing on the screen like at a fashion show, apparently putting effort into the action, but there is not a drop of authentic sweat here. This film is one big special effect, something that Bagiński knows better than anyone. The catch is that this rubber band formula may not necessarily be suitable for wearing on the head. It looks ridiculous, works only briefly, and… breaks when colliding with reality. Another matter is that there is no story here that could carry and strengthen this effect. Completely, and I mean completely, it doesn’t matter who is with whom and where; what matters is only how it looks, and it may look nice, but mainly garish. The problem is that there is no strong reason to follow these images. Moreover, sometimes I have the impression that there is not enough air for it, as Bagiński often activates acceleration in the action, and then forgets to turn off this button.

The film premiered at the end of April. It earned just under seven million dollars on the international market. It should have been at least ten times as much, considering that the production of the “Knights of the Zodiac” devoured sixty million green dollars. For some time now, the film has been available on HBO Max, but I doubt that it will have a second life in this way. I dare to say that this is one of those films that no one was waiting for and that everyone will quickly forget. And that’s quite an art – to make a film so loud, so spectacular, so virtuoso, so bombastic, and at the same time… so bland. As if all these vivid colors were drawn with washable markers. That’s all the magic. Even the infamous Power Rangers seemed to have much more flair.

I don’t know how Tomasz Bagiński’s career will unfold, but I don’t think the failure of the “Knights of the Zodiac” will harm him in any way. I would even venture to say that this film was supposed to serve a purely marketing role from the beginning; there were fewer personal ambitions and a desire to tell something interesting. It can’t be called a disappointment because no one had big hopes for this project. It had its character, such expectations, so the cosmos didn’t stand still. However, I wish Tomasz Bagiński, a creator whose career I have been following for years, would dare to work with slightly more demanding material someday (what about the highly anticipated “Hardkor 44” – anyone, anything?).

Mr. Bagiński, you can do more. It’s been twenty years since the premiere of “The Cathedral.” Create something like that again that will make our jaws drop, not our hands. We’re waiting.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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