Making an epic fantasy movie takes a lot of things, like money and special effects and amazing actors. It is a monumental undertaking when a filmmaker wants to do it right, and it definitely shows when it is done wrong. Making an epic fantasy television series can be even more difficult, as the budget and special effects aren’t always available so the producers and directors and actors have to try and be amazing without all the extra bells and whistles. It can be done, but the finished product sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.
To decide you want to make an epic fantasy webseries seems like an exercise in futility. Webseries are often created with the smallest of budgets, the most amateur of actors, and the flimsiest of old school special effects. An epic fantasy can’t possibly be created with so little, right? Not if it wants to wow and amaze an audience. Right?
Well, maybe partially right. Because what Border Guardians of Ackernon wants to be is an epic fantasy webseries, and while it does unfortunately suffer a bit from its lack of recognizable stars, high-end special effects, and ridiculous amounts of money, it makes up for a lot of that with its heart and shear audacity. Because who thinks they can shrink an epic swords and sorcery fantasy down to the computer screen, after all?
The plot for Border Guardians of Ackernon basically breaks down like this: there is this fantastical other world where magic exists and warriors and mages join up with (are sold to) the University and taught how to protect this big important border place because if they don’t all kinds of chaos and evil and mayhem will rain down upon their world. Because epic fantasy thrives on epic amounts of conflict, the border place starts crumbling away and the guardians start freaking and trying to figure out what to do next. And then some modern day camp counselors from the non-fantasy real world fall into fantasy land, rescue an injured warrior, and get thrown into some epic sized conflict.
There is, of course, a lot more to the plot of this show. It wouldn’t be true epic fantasy without at least half a dozen storylines going on at once. But compared to some titles in the genre (Wheel of Time I’m looking at you!), Border Guardians is pretty easy to keep up with. The good guys are pretty obvious, the bad guys are pretty obvious, and the on-the-fence guys are even pretty obvious in their lack of choosing a side. Some characters are awesome, others are annoying, and a few just don’t do much at all, which is how it goes with most shows these days. It is nice to have a mix of personalities and character types to choose from and experience this universe with.
Like many webseries, the episodes for Border Guardians run less than half the time of a traditional television series. In the first part of Season 1 they are around five minutes, though episode two runs less than four minutes and seems a little too short. By episode 12 they are up to an 11 minute running time, but it doesn’t feel too long as at that point the show has caught its stride and seems to know what it is doing and where it needs to go in those 11 minutes.
Not all of the actors here are experienced, and there are certainly some scenes where it is almost painful to watch them try and spit out their lines while maintaining a realistic fantasy persona. But for the most part the stars here get what they are doing and manage to do it right. And they get better over time. The girl who messes up her lines in episode one is right on her game by episode nine. I think that shows some talent right there. It can’t be easy learning how to be a great actor, but they soldier through and keep trying and eventually it works out.
The sets look like a cross between an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess and big monthly LARPing events held in a state park. Extras number in the handfuls and dozens instead of the hundreds, and costumes look like they might have been purchased at the going-out-of-business sale held when Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was cancelled. But it is obvious the show runners make do with what they have, which is not a lot of money. They do what they can to make things look as realistic as possible, and if I can see the seams on the “wooden” staffs and “steel” swords, well, it isn’t really that big a deal. Because I’m still so impressed by the scope of the project that was taken on here. Epic fantasy is exactly what it sounds like: epic. It is something that seems made for the big screen and for a big budget. To take that on with no money and a relatively new format is obviously a giant risk. But I think that, so far, that risk is paying off with Border Guardians of Ackernon.
Border Guardians of Ackernon, produced by Wolf’s Head Productions, starring: Paige Natsues/Paul Pavelski/Chris Van Vleet/Carole Love/David Otero, managing director: Paul Best
There are currently 12 episodes of Border Guardians (comprising season 1). They can be viewed or you can find more information at: http://ackernon.com/