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The Truman Show (1998)
good acting, good story, terrific theology
I saw Truman Show four times and bought the video. No, I'm not a Carrey fan - though when I heard he was going to be in Truman Show I watched The Mask and knew why Weir had agreed to direct him. In repose he has exactly the face that Weir seems to look for. Anyway, I liked him in this.
I'm no expert on technical matters, but the film looked great. Acting has to be BAD for me to notice; nothing here was that bad. Ed Harris played the obsessed director Christof brilliantly - a hypnotist's voice and an illusionist's hands. The music was just right. How many people spotted the ring-in in the soundtrack, Polish composer Kilar's The Preaching of Father Kolbe, and how it's used? (For anyone who doesn't know, Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan priest who died in Auschwitz in the place of another prisoner.) But what hooked me was the story. Truman Show reminded me of G K Chesterton - not the Father Brown stories, but the theological polemics and over-the-top fantasies. Surface glitter and intellectual wit concealing an emotional and spiritual double whammy.
Yes, this film is a metaphor but subtler than it seems. Christof ISN'T anything like the Biblical God but he's a pretty close image of the thing the New Testament calls "the god of this world", "prince of the power of the air", "father of lies" and "a murderer from the beginning". Truman is all of us, a "twentieth century boy", modern/ postmodern man reared inside the closed universe of the rational materialists, an "unreal city", a God-free zone where Man is god and material happiness is the most we are allowed to hope for. But what happens if we fall in love with someone who tells us it's all a Big Lie? "Get out of here.come and find me". What if it's an open universe after all? Open - but not empty. The whole film works brilliantly as a Pilgrim's Progress for the heirs of the Enlightenment
more black than comic
This creepy black and white short is one of Weir's earliest films. It's much scarier than Picnic or Last Wave and convinced me that if Weir had continued along this line he'd have given Greenaway , Lynch and von Trier a run for their money. Thankfully he seems to have had a better sense of spiritual self-preservation.
The style and incidental touches are very much Weir. Some shots of the bushland surrounds of the sinister guesthouse look forward to the landscapes of Picnic. Watch out, too, for the use of the hymn "O God our help in ages past" which is like, and yet very unlike, the use of hymns in Picnic and Mosquito Coast.
So far as I understand the plot, which is allusive and ambiguous, a motley bunch of guests turn up at "Homesdale Hunting Lodge", seemingly for a rest cure of some kind. At first we wonder whether the place isn't a psych. hospital. The manager and his assistants (one of whom was played by Weir himself) encourage - or compel? - the guests to play some increasingly dangerous games. There are darkly comic allusions to things such as the Psycho shower scene. We soon realize that each guest has a Past - some are downright traumatised - and that what happens to them at Homesdale is no help. Rather the opposite. Indeed the Manager is an early version of a figure who recurs in Weir films - the would-be Puppetmaster (think Billy Kwan, Allie Fox, Christof in the Truman Show).
The conclusion is truly shocking. In fact one is left wondering whether the events have taken place on this earth at all; we feel like we have been looking through a window into Hell.
Clever and frightening but I will not watch it again.
The Lord of the Rings (1978)
They just didn't get it
I LOVE Tolkien's book but NOT this movie. First: it's too dark (I mean, the colours on screen). Tolkien's book has darkness, sure, but it is also full of scenes with clear light and fresh colours - blue, white, green, gold. You'd never guess that from this film, which is almost unrelievedly MUDDY and contains not one visual lovely enough to demand the "pause" button. Second: only the hobbits looked anything like Tolkien's descriptions. Galadriel and Eowyn weren't believably beautiful. Treebeard had no dignity at all. Third, direction: all the actors waved their hands around aimlessly while talking. It drove me mad to watch them, besides being way out of character for people like Aragorn and Galadriel who are aristocrats and very centred. Fourth: forgettable music. Fifth: certain things were inexcusably gotten wrong (e.g. Tolkien TELLS us what the Wraiths looked like to Frodo - pale kings in grey robes with steel helms and white faces - not black monsters from a cheap horror flick; and why put "Saruman the WHITE" in a RED robe and call him Aruman?) Sixth: some things were badly handled e.g. the Rivendell Ford scene, jazzed up with meaningless "action", and the Helms Deep battle - why omit the Huorns? wasn't Tolkien's walking wood cinematic enough? Since they included Treebeard they should have put in the Huorns. I could say more, but the details noted seem to me to flag a fundamental lack of understanding: a failure or a refusal to grasp Tolkien's vision or to entirely trust his storytelling. Instead of restraint and clarity - overkill and confusion. Nothing in this film added anything to my understanding of the book. I know movie versions of "classics" that are illuminating and enjoyable even if not "faithful" in the strict sense - but this isn't one of them. I won't be watching it again, ever.