"There's no real drama, no great goal, no moral victory, just lots of jugging." - Richard Harrington, Washington Post
In a far away time long after an unexplained apocalypse, the remains of the human race are scattered amongst various shanty towns and encampments. The land is desolate and life is hard. But there is one small distraction for the people amidst the bleakness in the form of an ultra-violent sport known as Jugging, a sort of hybrid congealed from Australian rules football, hockey, and ultimate fighting. When a nomadic group of juggers led by Sallow (Rutger Hauer! Rah Rah!) loses a player to injury, small town girl Kidda (who inflicted the injury, naturally) takes his place. Kidda's ambitions (she wants to go pro) and Sallow's history (he was a pro before he got overly friendly with an official's wife) eventually lead them to the big city (well, big in the post-apocalyptic sense) in order to issue a challenge to the professional jugging league. Our heroes are eventually granted a shot against the championship team. The problem is that not only have the champions destroyed every amateur challenge within mere seconds, but they've also been given secret orders to end Sallow's career permanently. It all comes down to the final match where Kidda hopes to prove her worth and Sallow hopes to find some redemption (or revenge or closure, it's not too clear), if only they can manage to stay alive long enough.
Which brings us to the worst way in which this movie is dark. It literally IS dark. Seriously, except for those scenes which take place outdoors in broad daylight during a drought, this is one of the darkest movies I've watched in a long time. The movie The Dark wasn't even this dark. I appreciate the limitations of small budgets as much as the next B-Movie fan, but come on, if you're going to set over half your movie during the nighttime or deep underground, have the common sense to invest in a few frickin light bulbs. The lighting problem is so frustrating because the parts of the movie you can actually see are surprisingly enjoyable.
Now, to be honest, your level of enjoyment may vary. If you're looking for the standard conflict/resolution type of movie, then you're better off elsewhere. Blood of Heroes doesn't even bother introducing it's one and only villain (the jealous city official) until the movie's almost over. The movie is much more interested in just watching it's characters move about and interact with one another. Which doesn't mean they talk a lot. If you like movies full of expository dialog then Blood of Heroes is sure to disappoint. Writer/first-time-director David Webb Peoples (the same man who scripted Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and, alas, Leviathan) is all about creating an atmospheric and believable world for his characters to move around in, he would just rather you figure out how that world works on your own. A good example is when Sallow and his squad arrive at the entrance to the big city. Every individual must pay an entry tax in the form of a bolt or lug nut or some such piece of hardware. This has not been mentioned previously, no guard explains why, and no outsider-type character steps forward to function as our proxy and ask. Later on, though, you discover the city does actually have a handful of machines still in operation and it clicks that the entry tax is a clever way of gathering spare parts. It's world building by interpretation rather than explanation, kind of like the director's cut of Blade Runner as opposed to the theatrically released version with the Harrison Ford voice over.
The biggest and best example of this is, of course, the sport of Jugging itself. Not once in the movie is a single rule explained. And yet so thoroughly worked out and presented is the game that half way through the movie you know everything about it. You understand both the ceremonial presentation of the dog skull (yes, I said dog skull) and its use as the game ball. (Yes, you read that right too.) You understand the positions and roles of the players. (Most of which involves bashing and gouging their opponents with sticks and chains.) You understand the system of keeping game time in a world with no clocks. (The trained rhythmic tossing of stones against a metal shield which incidentally adds a cool heartbeat effect to the proceedings.) You even come to understand the unspoken system of honor between opposing teams. (You may have poked out my eye, but I'll still give you a slap on the fanny and tell you "good game" afterwards because, by God, we're juggers!)
The game is SO authentic that a group of Germans actually started a real life Jugging league of their own a few years back. That picture at the top of this review, that's not from the movie, that's from a German newspaper. (I can't read German myself, but if I understand the league's website well enough, Team Rigor Mortis from Berlin is currently leading the 2007 season in total points earned.) Folks, this goes way beyond wearing Spock ears to Dragon Con or dressing up as Snape for the midnight sneak peek of the latest Harry Potter movie. These guys are wearing homemade armor and beating the living snot out of each other with blunt objects. Is this really a good idea for a sport? Even if you dismiss jugging as an overzealous fan obsession, what about the more acceptable, but equally violent, sports like boxing or the increasingly popular ultimate fighting championship? Are these sports problematic under Christian philosophy?
This is one of those instances where you realize the Catechism is not just some indexed rule book one goes to for easy answers. Much like Blood of Heroes, a lot of the time you have to work things out for yourself rather than have it spelled out for you. (I know Jack Chick told you the Pope would do all your thinking, but, there you go.) The Catechism only directly addresses sports in a few places; to recognize it as a part of the necessary socialization involved in human communities; to warn against the idolization of physical perfection, and to remind those who are required to work on Sundays (including athletes) to find another day to rest and worship. That's it. There's nothing in there which directly addresses whopping an opponent upside the head with a big stick. But if you flip over to the section on Respect For Health, The Catechism states "Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good." Again, there's no overt reference to sports, but it's as good a starting point as any for making a value judgement.
As an example, let's apply "reasonable care" to the sport of boxing. Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. writes, "There is no sin in training for boxing as long as you use those skills only in supervised, amateur competitions or self-defense. Because of the number of brain injuries and deaths that have occurred in professional boxing, some moral theologians question the morality of boxing at that level." So, in theological circles, the increasing evidence that life-altering brain injuries are almost guaranteed in professional boxing would seem to rule out participating in that sport, but probably not in amateur boxing where the possibility isn't as certain. However, if future evidence arises which shows amateur boxing to be just as much a guarantee of permanent injury (as the American Academy of Neurology now suggests) then it's probably out too.
To be honest, that part of my anatomy which secretes testosterone really wants to dismiss this as just some Johnny-come-lately new age wimpy theology. But as Prof. Michael P. Foley points out, this way of looking at sports goes all the way back to the beginning. He writes that "the Judeo-Christian proclamation of the sanctity of human life led to far-reaching changes in the way that Westerners played games. After the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, a successful war was waged against the old athletic festivals and gladiator games, all of which were inherently tied to death cults, animal sacrifice, and even human sacrifice." Of course, the Romans did have much better evidence in deciding which sports were too violent to continue to support. (Death is, after all, a pretty clear sign of permanent injury.) But for us, with the data still coming in, the decision to call a sport wrong or immoral is much harder. We just have to pray, that if the evidence does fall against a game we're fond of, that we have the strength to put it aside in the name of a higher principle.
I think we can go ahead and rule out jugging, though. You think?