Thursday, June 24, 2010

passage to india

For a so-called movie person, I still have some surprising gaps. One major film I never saw when it came out was Passage to India, released in 1984. It would be director David Lean's last film (Lean was the director of Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai).

The story opens in 1928, first in England, and before long, we're in colonial India.

First, I'll get a few negative comments out of the way. Plot-wise in the latter part of the story it has some perplexing missteps which I can't completely ignore. And while most people reviewing the film carry on about how great the Jarre score was, I personally found it variously jarring, thin, inappropriate, and lacking (to put it mildly). But there's plenty of good news because the film's other cinematic attributes will probably make up for any oddities. Location footage is lush, gorgeous, and atmospheric in that epic style mastered by David Lean, populated with rich characters in an absorbing situation.

The copy I viewed was a recent DVD release, borrowed from my local library. I understand there is a BluRay version, which would probably be a worthwhile upgrade.

Awards and nominations don't always indicate greatness, but it should be noted that this film won two Oscars, eighteen other awards, and twenty-four other nominations.

Before commenting further, I want to see the film again, but this time on the big screen. My viewing was on my computer monitor... not as bad of a way to see a film as it might seem, but among other things, I want to hear the sound fully and properly.

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Final notes: Curiously enough, I liked the film even less upon second viewing. It failed, for me personally, in ways involving plot and character believability that seemed hard to excuse. It still looked great, with some memorable-- even haunting-- moments, but the plot problems (especially in the last reels) were nearly enough to deflate the whole endeavor. And while I'm usually a fan of Judy Davis, she did nothing for me in this role beyond her promising opening scenes. My suspicion is that this shortfall was a directing problem, not an acting one. Being mysterious and open-ended or ambiguous is one thing, but this piece of filmmaking fell short of that. And the final scene of Ms. Davis lands with a dull thud. (The rest of the characters were quite good throughout, especially 'Mrs. Moore'). I generally am not openly critical of a work of art, and it pains me to take to task someone like the late, esteemed Mr. Lean, but I won't worry too much as there seems no shortage of fans. Some even call the film Lean's masterwork. Hmm.

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