Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 134 mins Director: Leslie Norman Stars: John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee
An oft forgotten WWII movie dramatising the large scale evacuation of retreating Allied troops from the French countryside and ultimately the port of Dunkirk. We all know the story – a country awakens to the reality that another continental war is on its doorsteps only to rally and demonstrate its grit as hundreds of fishermen and private boat owners sail their own crafts into the war zone to pick up the battered troops from the beaches.
The incident became a banner call for the Allied resistance and it’s surprising we’ve seen so few attempts to capture it on film. That said, Leslie Norman’s treatment is a fitting testament given its balanced and comprehensive approach. We see the operation from most relevant perspectives. John Mills’ corporal and his ragtag squad are in retreat through a countryside crawling with German infantry and stalked by their Stukas (dive-bombers) above. Richard Attenborough is the business owner who reluctantly agrees to offer his recreational boat up to the Navy only to fully commit to the evacuation once he sees the tattered troops getting off the boats. As the film moves between its settings, we get a richer flavour to the time and place behind the story than we might otherwise have got if the story focused on one of them alone.
Mills is eminently watchable as usual as the reluctant commander while Attenborough and fellow boat owner Bernard Lee are terrific as the two civilians embodying the contradicting attitudes to the war as it morphed from its “phoney” stage to the stark reality of what the troops on the continent were experiencing. The beach sequences are ably handled and given impressive scope by Norman. Especially impressive is the manner in which David Devine and W.P. Lipscomb’s screenplay teases out the different social, military, and political perspectives both on the ground amongst the troops and back in England from the army headquarters to the public houses. A nicely nuanced piece of war cinema if ever there was one.
Rating: The Good – 80.9 Genre: War Duration: 172 mins Director: John Sturges Stars: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
You know the story even if you haven’t seen it. A group of American and British POW’s particularly adept at escaping are sent to a high security prison camp in an effort to keep all the Nazi’s “rotten eggs in one basket”. Richard Attenborough plays the arch orchestrator of a plan to spring all 200 of the camps’ prisoners and is helped by various types of escape specialists including Steve McQueen (the Cooler King), Donald Pleasance (the Forger), Charles Bronson (the Tunnel King), and James Garner (the Scrounger). All do their part in making this as enjoyable a movie experience as you’ll find in the WWII genre but the most fun comes from the clever methods which the camp’s residents devise to execute their various escape plans. The Great Escape has long since ascended into the rarefied air of “classic cinema” and in truth it epitomises that term more than most.
Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic counts as a spiritual sequel to The Longest Day by providing a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. It eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast of A-listers are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are in the main sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways A Bridge Too Far is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivaled those that went into the actual battles themselves. It isn’t all perfect as some of the close-shots during the fighting come off a little rushed and a small few of the battle sequences are a tad uninspired. There are also a couple too many subplots crammed into the 175 minutes and dispensing with the weaker ones (such as James Caan’s attempts to protect his fragile young lieutenant) would have given the film a more streamlined feel. That said, what makes A Bridge Too Far so special are the moments in between the battles that don’t quite add up to subplots but just a series of vignettes that acknowledge the personal dimension to soldiering. And on that criteria, there are few that can rival it.
With the runaway success of Jurassic Park, it was only a matter of time before they set about making a sequel and with director Steven Spielberg and writers Michael Chricton and David Koepp back on board, there was some reason to be exited. This time around, the action is shifted to a sister island to the one the theme park was located on. A mysterious history-altering Site B that was apparently the nursery for the dinosaurs all along. When a takeover within Ingen forces out their eccentric founder John Hammond (a role only briefly reprised by Richard Attenborough), he commissions a small scientific expedition to document the dinosaurs before the larger nastier Ingen expedition lands in force to capture them and bring them back to the mainland for exhibition. Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is roped back in (Sam Neil and Laura Dern sit this one out) and Julianne Moore, Richard Schiff, and Vince Vaughn complete the team.
The first thing that strikes a discerning fan of Jurassic Park is the relatively strong plot of the first film is replaced by a much weaker one. The pretext for this group of scientists being on the island is flimsy at best. It also ignores or contradicts the events of the first film. Even though we saw and heard Hammond speak to the fact that all animals were born on the first island in the first film, there’s now a completely new island to intrude on and question the original set-up (was this necessary?). Similarly, less care is given to the way in which the dinosaurs should behave. Okay, so the T-Rex is at least finally given its due credit for having one of the largest olfactory cavities in the fossil record (no more “don’t move and it won’t see you”) but it has also quite mysteriously become a twinkle-toed predator which can charge vehicles without making the slightest sound in the run-up (where were those spine chilling impact tremors?). Beyond a few notable flashes, the script doesn’t have the polish or clever sophistication of the first film either which is disappointing given both Crichton and Koepp are back. Spielberg’s return leaves a lot to be desired too given the pedestrianism of many of the action sequences which seem more attributable to a second unit director than the great man himself.
The good news regarding the script is that it has yet again, been peppered with strong and interesting characters and like the original, it’s terrifically cast with some genuine talent. Goldblum helps maintain threads of the first instalment and reminds us he can carry a film with the best of them and Moore is excellent as the strong willed palaeontologist with whom he shares a complicated romantic relationship. Pete Postelthwaite chews the scenery in a ramped up version of the cold-hearted hunter that Bob Peck was only allowed tantalise us with while a young Vince Vaughn reminds us what an edgy talent he was before he bloated. Richard Schiff and Peter Stormare round off the cast as the nice and mean guy characters respectively. However, what’s most welcome is that the wonder and excitement of the central concept hasn’t waned all that much and a new crop of dinosaurs plus the heavy hitters from JP1 are all energised thanks to a newer and smoother generation of CGI while first class animatronics flesh out the slower paced dinosaur scenes.
The Lost World suffers from an unnecessary fourth act that makes the experience far too drawn out and ruptures the character dynamics that drove the first three. Goldblum and Moore’s characters become mere vessels to steer it to a conclusion and the whole thing feels like a rudderless 20 minute homage to King Kong’s more iconic forth act. But the bottom line is, if you like to see dinosaurs hunting humans and see it done with a touch of wonder (oh yeah, John Williams terrific upbeat score makes a return too) then, The Lost World is a decent support act to the likes of its predecessor.
“The scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should.” Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster was rightly hailed for its giant leap (OK, some pun intended) in special effects but the major credit should go to Michael Crichton and David Koepp’s meaty screenplay as few mainstream movies have their dramatic tension driven so expertly by the dialogue and idiosyncrasies of its characters as this one. And while serving dramatic purposes so well, it also ensures some seriously funny interchanges throughout. Sam Neill heads a team of scientists sent to provide an experts’ opinion on a new type of zoo/theme park – where they find that the attractions are live genetically bred dinosaurs. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose and soon enough everyone is running for their lives.
Spielberg is the undisputed master of creating excitement on screen (even if he often aims his movies at younger audiences) and the thrills he dishes up here make this every bit as entertaining to the adults. Neill does well as the ‘straight man’ and with the exception of a few overbearing moments, Laura Dern does her usual good work as his paleontologist partner. However, the unquestionable standouts are Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough whose constant bickering provide many a funny moment. The acting is let down by the token kids Spielberg likes to throw into his stories with Ariana Richards’ shrill scream being the most annoying feature of the movie alongside the dumbness of her character’s actions.
The visual effects are obviously stunning and they still (mostly) hold up even today. There’s some limitation to the dinosaurs’ movement due to a combination of animatronics and early CGI but it rarely affects the action. However, what really makes Jurassic Park work is the manner in which it channels our innate sense of wonder for all things dinosaur. This is the film that best manages to tap Arthur Conan Doyle’s (The Lost World) essential excitement at the prospect of sharing our planet with these extinct monsters. And in the moments leading up to and including (especially including) the presentation of his first dinosaur, Spielberg does what he does best and puts us right there in the shoes of the protagonists so their astonishment becomes ours. It’s a great scene and it’s what adventure cinema is all about.