“The Kingdom” (2015)
a film by Heavy Metal Concepts, produced by Hammerking Productions
*** warning: contains spoilers, but not Star Wars spoilers ***
I will jump right to the heart of the matter: If you loved the previous films, you will love this one. If you didn’t enjoy the previous films… well, this installment of the franchise won’t change your mind.
“The Kingdom” checks off all the boxes we have come to expect and love in our King of the Hammers movies: Amazing cinematography, horsepower driven machines piloted by insane people in the Devil’s own backyard, and an artistic touch when it comes to story telling and blending slow motion with heart pumping, adrenaline filled action sequences.
As with 2013’s film “Vindication” – in which KOH was won by Randy Slawson that year as well – the total running time of the film is right at 1 hour (more evidence that Randy is fast, I guess, as his two movies are the two fastest…) The film does, however, last longer than my actual EMC race did this year, so I can’t complain too much… A quick nod to the film’s creator and producer: although I would have liked a longer movie, restraint was shown to not add time simply for the sake of adding time. For that, I thank you. It tells the story it needs to tell in the time allotted. The entire back half of the movie (a full 30 minutes) is dedicated to the King of the Hammers race itself (still quicker than most people got through Jackhammer), but it feels right.
People who do not know what King of the Hammers is all about will really enjoy this film. The first 10 minutes in particular will be enough to completely tell the story of KOH to anyone who is uninitiated. Departing from the opening montage utilized in the last three films, “The Kingdom” gives a nod to the 2011 classic “Valley of the Kings” and opens with a narrative history of King of the Hammers and provides background and context for the uninitiated.
One of the highlights of the entire film (and another reason why the first 10 minutes will tell the story to anyone who hasn’t been to KOH before) is the opening action sequence for Monday and Tuesday’s qualifying runs. You get to take a blistering full qualifying lap with a former King, Eric Miller, then lose yourself in a well-edited and visually dynamic mix of qualifying runs from a multitude of cars. You get dramatic slow motion shots that highlight the extreme capabilities of these cars, plus fast paced rollover action sequences, as well as the benefit of fantastic helicopter footage.
Once you pass the Qualifying segment, “The Kingdom” settles into the more predictable format we’ve come to expect: Voice over narrative of the undercard races coupled with high quality footage from various camera angles. Each undercard race gets an appropriate and roughly equal 3 – 4 minutes segment that serves as more of a highlight reel than a story, again combining an eclectic mix of music with stunning helicopter footage and a wide variety of vehicles and drivers.
Undercard events included in the film are the King of the Motos, the Backdoor Challenge, the UTV race, and all four classes in one grouping for the Everyman Challenge. As I stated in my opening: If you loved the previous films you’ll love this… if you didn’t, you won’t.
The main event, of course, is the actual King of the Hammers race. As is fitting, the 2nd half of the movie is dedicated entirely to this race and continues the theme of sweeping shots of Johnson Valley, slow motion drama, and high adrenaline first person point of view footage while going 130+ MPH on the dry lake bed. The “cluster you know what” on Jackhammer is handled well and while addressed, doesn’t dominate the story line or suck up an inappropriate amount of time. I did not know about the back and forth at the end of the race and it was great to learn about things I missed while covering the race on the Lakebed.
It’s hard to not fall in love with the incredible images with which we are consistently provided by Heavy Metal Concepts. Despite not having an overly compelling “story line” in this year’s film, the visual artistry displayed is second to none. If you have ever spent time in Johnson Valley, you are instantly transported back. The closing shot of Tom Wayes with the sun setting behind his vehicle while he races up a ridge is enough to make you want to sell your house and move to the desert. Immediately.
Interestingly enough, the timing of the release of the movie (it was delayed several months and only released 6 weeks before the 2016 King of the Hammers event) actually serves an interesting plot point, although unintentionally. There are a lot of “Oh yeah!” moments in this film (instead of “Oh Wow!” moments) that serve to reconnect those of us who were there back to the event. Not everyone binge watches KOH movies prior to each years event as obsessively as I do, so the delayed release of this film inadvertently forces everyone into a time machine together, reliving the 2015 race as a community.
“The Kingdom” is a good fan film for those of us who love all things Ultra4 (and especially for those who love King of the Hammers and the HMC franchise of movies). “The Kingdom” is definitely a great marketing tool for Hammerking Productions and Ultra4 in general and it’s also a high quality starter video for those who don’t know what King of the Hammers is all about.
While the formula for the films has become predictable, the execution is consistently wonderful and the footage continues to be nothing short of stunning. “The Kingdom” is worth the watch.
See you on the Lakebed!
The Dusty Gnome
As an aside (and for context), here is my own personal ranking of the HMC film franchise:
- Rise of the East (2012)
- Valley of the Kings (2011)
- Element of Survival (2014)
- The Kingdom (2015)
- Vindication (2013)
Speaking of film franchises… you would have to be dead to not know that Star Wars The Force Awakens has also been recently released. Hard core fans have had the debate for years: What order do you (or should you) watch the films in? To answer this question, I humbly submit “The Machete Order” as the correct answer. Ready more here: http://www.nomachetejuggling.com/2011/11/11/the-star-wars-saga-suggested-viewing-order/