18 December 2012 | krocheav
There's A Fine Classic Hidden Within This Work
It would be very interesting to know who's decisions marred this potentially good film! Within the final cut of this gripping work lays a truly exiting story, dealing with survival in extreme situations. Between the Director; (failing to differentiate from drama and folly) Writers; (too many fiddled with it and lost sight of the seriousness of the situation) Editor; (missed important shortcomings) and Producer; (Mr Douglas himself) they failed to allow the strongest story elements to shine through.
In his fine book 'The Films of Kirk Douglas' Tony Thomas also highlights some of the above shortcomings (with the running time given for the version he reviewed even being 6mins shorter than other releases listed!) Tony also notes the overindulgence and explicit brutality that kept this film away from much of it's target audience. With smart post production editing this could have, should have (and still can be) a classic.
Look at the dynamics of the story: Will Denton, Assistant light-keeper, witnesses the terrifying murders of his only colleagues. He is alone in a hostile, desolate situation. He is unarmed, desperate beyond words. He is hunted from all quarters, and feels helpless at preventing some of the shocking activities he is witnessing.
While this screenplay is based on Jules Verne's fascinating book (the last sent for publication before his death) it only uses Verne's basic situation. Some of Verne's story tends to have its basis in Historical fact. Strangely, the film almost throws away an expensive opening scene (the inauguration of Argentinas first serious navigational aid 'The Lighthouse at the Edge of the World' on Christmas Day 1865) it does so, by presenting this colorful ceremony under the opening credits! No further mention is given to inform the audience of the significance of this historic event.
The film was released around the world in many varying lengths ~ between 95 and 126 Min's. Shorter versions were released in Australia and the U.K. etc, these were in many ways better...Several of the more overdone scenes were dropped, this offered considerable improvement to the overall believability, although, one cut left a gap in continuity...IE: Denton's underwater flashbacks to his past, following his fall from a cliff.
Surprisingly, the latest Studio Canal re-issue has removed one of the films stronger scenes (but sadly left in all the overindulged segments that would have been far better removed) The scene in question, involves Denton and Montifiore's escape on the antagonists magnificent white horse. In the original, during the escape, the horse stumbles and is unable to get back up, leaving no alternative than to shoot it. This cut leaves us with the question...where is the horse from this point on?! Why make this cut and not the others...?
The cast is strong and mostly convincing, even the support characters are interesting: Ferando Rey (Head Light-keeper) Renato Salvatori (Montefiore - ships engineer) with Massimo Ranieri's 'Felipe' adding innocence, warmth and credibility as apprentice light keeper. The film has a superb look via the work of top French Cinematographer Henri Decae. The man credited with creating the look of the French New Wave (his work has since been much imitated, but seldom to the same effect) Working within very difficult locations, Decae's camera is continually in motion, drawing the viewer in, forcing you to feel as if you are part of the action.
Second unit photographer Cecillio Paniagua contributed some additional shots of interest. The locations are eye popping, with rugged, wind swept land and seascapes creating a vivid, threatening atmosphere. The quality of the Sound recordists work, both 'on location' and post production is nothing short of superb.
The Music of multi talented Piero Piccioni plays an important part, it forms a virtual tone poem, a suite with themes written for each character and situation. His compositions constantly weave from glorious panoramic melodies ~ recollections of the past ~ to exiting gut tearing panic.
Leonard Maltin sums up a longer version fairly well: 'Has some excitement, but is more often unintentionally funny', but he too throws away the high standard of technical quality, and need for editing.
The special effects vary from very good, to average. Scenes involving the use of pyrotechnics are well done indeed. Good examples are, the blasting of Kongre's schooner, with the crew rushing and falling amid explosions and flames, this is always dangerous work and all done without CGI!. The fire in the lighthouse is a stand out, with exploding glass and twisting metal. And even though the sinking of a passenger ship is inter-cut with models (not too bad overall) the shots on board, involving the passengers desperate panic, are quite convincing.
It's difficult to understand though, with many well done effects, why the scene involving a dummy falling over a cliff was so badly done. The shot was not even necessary in the film... So why leave it in?
Come on Canal, give us the good film thats locked away amid the mess. Drop such scenes as Denton and Arabellas kiss (just a tiny clip during the 'charade' set up) The foolishness of noisy, cross dressing Pirates cavorting around the island. Ease off some needlessly overdone brutality and gore (the short versions did this very nicely) Drop the foolish shots of Denton and Montefiore calmly building a Bonn fire in broad daylight! Drop (or halve) the silly sequence involving Kongre and Arabella following Tarcantes death ~ just some of the scenes that helped to sink this fine production.
Mr Douglas has given us many great films, and even though this was nearing the end of his distinguished career, it seems he should have taken a far more focused approach. While its late, this work is still worth saving. A mere 10-15mins edited from various sections could do this....
Anyone interested could end up with a far better film, even a semi classic......KenR