When asked what he thought of Wiedzmin, a 2001 movie adaptation of his Witcher novels, author Andrzej Sapkowski said: "I can answer only with a single word. An obscene, albeit a short one." Not exactly a glowing recommendation from the guy who created Geralt of Rivia, but is it really that bad? I've heard a lot about this film over the years, but never anything positive. So I decided to watch it for myself, because I figure Geralt is a good enough character that anything featuring him can't be completely terrible... right?
The film begins with an aimless, disjointed montage showing a young Geralt enduring the harrowing Trial of the Grasses and becoming a Witcher. Which made sense to me, being familiar with the lore. But I can only imagine how confusing this sequence must be for anyone going in cold. The film assumes a huge amount of knowledge, skimming over things the script should really take the time to explain. Still, it's cool seeing Geralt's origins first-hand; something the Netflix series has yet to do, at least in its first season.
Then we leap forward to Geralt as an adult, as the film drags us through a selection of famous Witcher stories at a breakneck pace. We see him hunting for a golden dragon; encountering Duny the cursed, hedgehog-faced knight; meeting his beloved Yennefer for the first time; and becoming the Butcher of Blaviken. These are great stories, but not when they're awkwardly squeezed into a two-hour movie. There's too much going on, and too little time spent on the finer details, which makes for a frustrating and unsatisfying viewing experience.
Wiedzmin was shot as a TV series first, then re-edited into a movie after the fact, which explains its odd pacing and incoherent, fragmented structure. It's a mess of a film, but if you treat it like a feature length Witcher anthology, it kinda works. And it's a lot more enjoyable if you know the stories already. But its biggest problem, everything else aside, is that it's just really boring. There are too many lifeless, static scenes of people standing in chambers having boring conversations in bad medieval costumes.
And the creature effects. Oh boy. When Geralt meets the aforementioned golden dragon, the CG is comically bad. And you barely see the monsters he battles, because the camera is trying desperately to avoid lingering on the fake-looking creature puppets for more than a second at a time. You just see lots of quick cuts of Geralt swinging his sword, and the occasional flash of a rubber tentacle. It's unintentionally hilarious, but there's also something charming about it. You can tell they're trying their best.
As for Geralt himself, Michal Zebrowski does a good job. He looks tiny compared to the enormous beast that is Henry Cavill, but he captures the essence of the character well. He's more rugged, a bit rougher around the edges, but also good at showing Geralt's softer side when he's with Ciri or Yennefer. He isn't as charismatic as Cavill, which leaves the performance feeling a little flat. And he doesn't look as comfortable holding a sword either. But he's weirder, which I like. Not as stoic. A little more eccentric.
As for the supporting cast, Zbigniew Zamachowski is great as Jaskier/Dandelion. He's scruffy and mischievous, and not quite as youthful and goofy as the Netflix version of the character. Agata Buzek lends Pavetta, Ciri's mother, a very watchable intensity. There are some songs too, courtesy of Jaskier, although none of them are as catchy as Toss A Coin To Your Witcher. Honestly, the acting in Wiedzmin is one part of the film I never really had any issues with. It's the messy editing, dodgy effects, weak fight choreography, and chronic lack of energy that make it a bad film.
Should you watch it, though? Because a film being bad doesn't necessarily mean it isn't worth watching. I mean, I've watched the 1994 Street Fighter movie like six times, and that thing sucks. Alas, Wiedzmin isn't so bad it's good; it's just very dull. Don't go in expecting a constant stream of rubbery B-movie monster battles to cackle at. It's mostly just people standing around chatting. The Netflix series not only tells all the same stories, but tells them better—and with vastly better effects. So there really isn't any reason, other than sheer curiosity, to watch this.