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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Dead Lands

A story from another land, another age

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 28, 2015 -- Seldom have I seen a more foreign film than this one. This is a story set, not only in a language, Te Reo, totally separate from Indo-European languages, but in a very different time and culture, as well. This is a story set in the prehistoric Maori culture (of New Zealand) a time of spears and axes and people walking and talking with the spirits of the dead.

The film starts with a fierce legendary warrior, known only as a monster, or demon warrior (played by Lawrence Makoare) easily killing another warrior in combat. This warrior defends “the dead lands” a tract of land which was once home to a mighty Maori tribe, now vanished. All who enter the dead lands are killed.

The scene switches to a nearby village where the visiting son of another tribal chief, Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) is given permission by the local tribal chief to visit the bones of his ancestors, slain in an ancient battle. But Wirepa is not there to honor the dead, but to avenge them. He makes a false claim that the bones have been defiled, a pretext for war.

Wirepa returns with his warriors and slays all but one of the men in the tribe, but not before he is cursed by the elderly tribal chief. Only one man, Hongi (James Rolleston) the young son of the slain chief escapes the massacre. The 16-year-old Hongi, seeking revenge, sets out in pursuit of Wirepa and his warriors This is clearly a suicide mission. After consulting with his grandmother in the spirit world, Hongi seeks help in his quest from the demon warrior in the dead lands.

Wirepa and his warriors have foolishly entered the dead lands to save time getting back to their own tribal lands. Hongi bravely visits the hut of the monster, telling him he is in pursuit of Wirepa, who has dared to enter the monster's lands. The demon warrior's wife advises the monster to help Hongi for the sake of his own redemption, and hers. The monster sees that he and Hongi are much alike, both are the sons of tribal chiefs, and both are the soul male survivors of wars.

Hongi and the demon warrior set off in pursuit of Wirepa and his warriors. Along the way, Hongi slowly begins to understand the nature of the demon warrior, who teaches him to fight much more effectively. The monster is a tortured soul, who did terrible things to his own tribe. He is a man without honor, denied admission to the afterlife because of his own crimes against his own ancestors. He is a man who no longer believes in honor, or even redemption. He tells Hongi, “Do not mistake me for a good man. I am not the hero from the stories. I am the monster.”

As Hongi and the demon warrior relentlessly pursue Wirepa across the dead lands, the question becomes will Hongi lose his honor and idealism? Will he become a monster like his new mentor? Will the monster somehow find redemption in this great battle amongst the sons of three chieftains? The final resolutions to these questions are somewhat surprising.

I found this story to be very compelling and surprisingly complex. It is a character study, as well as an action movie. There are brutal battle scenes, cannibalism and other terrible deeds in this film, but there is also a code of honor, and a streak of humanity which extends beyond the boundaries of life itself. I found it a wholly captivating tale. Lawrence Makoare's performance as the monster is one of the best I've seen in a long time. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)