Crimes of Alorion – An Evaluative Critic Essay
WARNING: This review contains heavy spoilers. Watch ‘Crimes of Alorion‘ first before reading!
The essay may contain strong opinions and heavy arguments in order to form a conclusive review of the film. Please take this into consideration and don’t take offense. All points made are justified with evidence and shall not be taken as aggressive. Enjoy!
I must say, upon initial viewing of this film I was quite taken aback by it and was quite disappointed after entering with very high expectations. Something about it seemed off to me – I’m not sure whether it was the pacing, the character building, or whatever. So I gave it another try a few days ago to see if I’d dislike it… And boy, was I proven wrong.
Crimes of Alorion (0n3Appl3, 2021) is a medieval fantasy minecraft machinima taking place in the TSCStudio world of Royna. It follows the events of Siege (Braigar, 2020) and The Remnant (Braigar, 2021) in a world where Ravagers are scarce and are being hunted down after Rebecca Lathein’s death. However, it is the setting of this film that makes it so different from the others. The machinima is set in Alorion, a small naval town in the region of Urkim, far North in the continent of Landra. This location is absolutely perfect for the film, however it is only one of the many reasons as to why Crimes of Alorion is an absolute masterpiece of a machinima.
Let’s talk about the Characters
Of course, no film is good without a good story, and a good story comes down to the writing and the narrative. The story picks up with Leonardo’s equilibrium as he traverses the streets of Alorion to find himself a job to work on. However, this is proven to be difficult and he struggles to build up a positive image of himself and gain the respect that he is desperately wanting to get. We are introduced to Leonardo’s ‘want’ here as he is blinded by the foreboding idea that his future relies on fame and acknowledgement when possibly there is more to his character than just that. But nevertheless, Leonardo is the character we are positioned with by the director, due to the opening voice over, the cinematography focusing on him through eye level medium-closeup shots, and of course the humour. Humour is threaded into the film purposefully with the intention of softening the dark themes of crime and murder, and really making sure that the audience isn’t stuck in a depressing forty-seven minutes of tears. It’s minecraft, after all. I spoke to the voice actor behind Leonardo, Tarquin, to see how he felt about the character’s personality: “Originally when Braigar had sent me the role, I had been under the impression that it would be a very serious film, slightly horror-esque in fact… Once we finally received the Crimes of Alorion script, it changed in the best way. The story was still serious but it was playful also. It was nice because instead of having the film become a typical crime drama, it allowed us to breathe a bit easier and play characters that felt a lot more relatable.” In fact, it is truly one of the most interesting aspects of Leonardo’s characterisation, following remarks of famous fictional detectives such as Hercule Poirot, and even Sherlock Holmes. As such, it is very likeable when an investigator shows signs of humour and it ultimately leads to the strong alignment with the character as well as sympathy later in Act 3 when the conflict hightens.
It must also be highlighted that Braigar’s mastery of writing a story definitely came out strongly with this one. For years now, TSCStudio have been putting out hit after hit – The Golden Sword (2019), LATHEIN (2020), The Remnant (2021) and now Crimes of Alorion, and a common ongoing trend with these films is that they get better and better after each one. I’ve already touched upon the significance of Leonardo’s introduction, but how about we also talk about how our secondary character – Stephan – is shown to the audience as well. Seven minutes into the film, we are given a very different scene that stands out from the rest. It is the Tribunal, of course, and it breaks completely from the lighthearted humour of Leonardo’s character, through the score, the composition, the cinematography, and the performance. Interestingly, we open with a shot of the ocean from a bird’s eye view angle which tilts and dollies into the establishing shot of the Isle of Inan on the coast of Abilon. Of course, if you’ve watched DAWN (2020) then you will be aware that the Tribunal inhabits the pirate lairs of Inan, also hinted at in The Remnant, so the establishing shot is all we need to see to know who are headed to. But if you weren’t aware, then perhaps the score by Tanner is what you needed to get a perfect overview of who the Tribunal are. The ongoing repeated high piano notes send chills down your spine, symbolic of the Tribunal’s relentlessly ongoing and impending doom and clearance of path. That’s when we are introduced to Stephan, positioned below the other three in the interior shot. The triangular-shaped composition places Diano in the centre of the sturdiest shape, all attention on him as the leading lines of the floorboards and walls direct our eyes towards him. The composition itself mirrors the shape of the trident in his grasp – the logo of the Tribunal – with Diano, Katherine, and Zladimir the three spikes and Stephan being the direct core; but Stephan is all but a shadow of Diano, a reflection of his leadership and possibly a hint at his role in the future. This powerful and disturbing image is the first impression of Stephan that we get and already – within just the first act – questions arise on his morals, a point I will discuss later in the study.
Breaking from the Detective Genre
There are many sequences in the film that stood out to me and I could write about them for pages and pages to try to explore the different meanings and messages that I got from them. In particular, the establishing shots of many scenes were a very strong point, the director 0n3Appl3 adding: “The main skill I learned from this project is the use of establishing shots which are essential to showcase the different landscapes and specific locations around Alorion or the wider Urkim area.” Very clever use of lighting was done in these extreme longshots, I noticed, which can be first seen in the very opening of the film as the long-take dolly pans from the moon to reveal the town of Alorion at night lit by red torches. The same nocturnal setting is used many times in the film which altogether builds up the gothic-horror aesthetic that weaves in and out throughout, taking the already quite complex ideas even further. Writer and producer Braigar said: “Crimes of Alorion is part of a trilogy… The Remnant, Crimes of Alorion, <and upcoming> The Tribunal all add up to one story in the end. It sets up Leonardo and Alorion while hinting at what’s to come.” And having explored the Tribunal scene, it is understandable why this lead-up to the final Tribunal film took a dark route as opposed to sticking to just Leonardo’s humour. This is significant as in the closing scene, Stephan stands over Alorion lit by white lights rather than red as previously, and the final shot finishes upon the sun, a complete juxtaposition of what we were shown at the start.
The theme of the gothic sparks from the nocturnal setting, the use of the moon in many establishing shots, the prepositional sequence of the soldiers being murdered, the mise-en-scene of the masked killer, the Asylum, and many more. Altogether it always keeps us on edge, almost as a horror film would. No, it isn’t a horror movie, however it does follow these conventions of the gothic aesthetic visually as to set up the disturbing mystery of the Tribunal, as well as the mystery of the antagonist. Being a detective film, Crimes of Alorion sets up the ‘killer’ in the inciting incident before the introduction of the protagonist, a common trope which allows the audience to feel the wrath of the antagonistic force before the story begins. In fact, this is also a common opening to a horror film, which is quite interesting as well… Does the villain follow the tropes of a horror villain? In a way, yes. Jedd’s character is unstoppable, he is portrayed as this oncoming force that slowly catches up to the protagonist, the same way in which the Tribunal are portrayed. A crucial message of the film is that although there are antagonistic forces, there isn’t just one antagonist. Jedd isn’t the only ‘bad guy’, as we are always aware of the Tribunal looming over us. But also, the film very much questions the character of Stephan and his morals, right from his introduction. Leonardo’s role in the film is to act as an objective judge of the events unfolding before us, a representation of a normal man and a microcosm of good in the world. The way Braigar put it, “in the end, what I take from <the film> is the complicated relationship between Leo and Stephan and how the film formed Leo’s morals on death,” which is the same message I myself got from watching it.
The film isn’t about Jedd nor about The Tribunal, although it may seem that way at first. It focuses on relationships, and particularly the very complex bond that Leonardo and Stephan try to upkeep, which starts off as a job opportunity for Leonardo and an easy way to gain information for Stephan. However, over the course of the events this unfolds into something much bigger as Stephan sacrifices his most valued ‘want’ – to get revenge for the murder of his parents – in order to save Leonardo’s life. And as such, both characters are revealed to their true ‘needs’ at the end of the second Act. Leonardo does not aspire to be a rich and famous detective, but truly what he really needed was a purpose in life, and being Stephan’s friend fulfilled that role. As for Stephan, he was sent on a mission to eradicate evil and kill Jedd to avenge his family, but that is overturned as he realises that his friend’s life is more important to him. Both characters go through these complex character arcs to develop and build up to the final conflict of the third act, but the new equilibrium doesn’t leave them happily together, but rather quite the opposite. In fact, similarly to a horror film ending, the characters are split up at the end and go off on their own paths, with Stephan possibly following a corruption arc instead as he rejects the truth and embraces the lie to go off on his journey of vengeance. This is not the usual way detective films end, and it goes to show that Crimes of Alorion cannot just be categorised into one genre, as there are many twists and turns, overlaps of conventions, and a complex narrative that builds around the relationship between the characters.
The Post-Credits Scene
The story, however, was not complete. After the credits of the film, we are met with Stephan embarking on his final mission to achieve his ‘want’. The scene opens with an establishing shot reminiscent of that of the Tribunal in the first act, with a warm orange palette and deep mist in the distance. Accompanying this is also the piano score which mirrors the same mood as the Tribunal score previously. Due to this, we do not have to see Stephan to know that he is entering the scene to finish off his duty, and we know very well who he is being influenced by – the Tribunal. The opening shot of this scene is also set during a sunrise, as is the previous Tribunal sequence, which may be representative of a new day, a new start, and a new beginning, ideas that Diano repeats over and over. Perhaps the motives of the Tribunal are to give people a new chance, as the characters of Zladimir and Katherine were taken on by Diano originally to start a new life; in The Blade (Tanner, 2021) and The Voice (Simon Yolk, 2020). This scene acts as Stephan’s real test and the ultimate revelation of what kind of character he is to become in the upcoming film. Paying attention to the mise-en-scene, I noticed the very specific use of red roses and white daisies in the grassy hills surrounding Stephan, flowers symbolising love and innocence respectively. This adds to the constant ambiguity of Stephan and the questioning of his morals, as he previously develops into a character who can love a friend and do good for the world, only to fall back into the corruption of revenge. Interestingly, the opening shot also features a hare running off across the plains, a reference to the arrogance of the hare and the eventual catching up of the tortoise (also referenced in the score ‘Wolf and the Hare’ by Tanner Walterman) and it’s little details like these that bring this film apart from other minecraft machinimas.
Throughout the film, there is constant comparison between Stephan and Jedd as Leonardo questions their differences. The post-credits scene continues with this idea to build towards the final conflict between these two characters. They are framed together at one point, but there is no balance in the shot as Stephan takes the top right third of the frame and Jedd is closed off to the bottom. The physical placement of Stephan above Jedd is what gives him the power in this confrontation, along with the low angle shots of him to show his dominance, and right in the centre of them is a campfire; a representation of the war and destruction that both of them encompass. However, it isn’t Jedd who walks up towards Stephan to engage in battle, but rather Stephan walks down towards Jedd, lowering his physical ascension and sense of power to the grittiness and broken lesser level of the man he so desires to kill. It is the stepping down to a level as low as Jedd that breaks Stephan’s character and leads him down a darker path than he originally began on, the end to his corruption arc as he rejects the truth and fully embraces the lie. After asking the voice actor of Stephan – Tanner – what he thinks of Stephan’s character, he said: “I view Stephan as this mysterious character who is broken by his past, seeking justice to those who have wronged him… As far as villains and protagonists, it’s all ambiguous to me because there’s so much right and wrong on every side, and that’s one of the many beauties of TSC: the depth to its characters.” Ultimately, with the murder of Jedd – with the death of one tyrant – is the birth of another, a creation of another evil which will only continue to cause the same loss of life and path of destruction as previously. And that raises the question, just as Jedd did in the very moments leading up to his death. “Who’s… Next?”
Written by Rafal Szuba.
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Former Creative Manager for Baker+