Sunday 11 October 2015

Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

I can't believe I haven't seen…

Nineteen Eighty-Four Poster

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Michael Radford / Trailer
WoB Rating: 4/7

It's not lost on me that the opening propaganda-speech by 1984's totalitarian government, touching as it does on non-specific notions of unblinking patriotism, blind obedience to your betters, and the pursuit of an unreachable goal, bears more than a passing resemblance to the sort of party-political-broadcast that we actually get for real in the 21st century.

Adapted from Orwell's 1949 novel, the film seems less like "a warning of what could be" and more "well, I imagine this is what communist-Russia is like in actual 1984", and coves over a little less insurgent as a result, more faintly sarcastic. Although that's me critiquing the story rather than the film itself. While Michael Radford's visual retooling could use this motif patronisingly, its approach is to be far more blunt, but offset it with long lingering glances and subtext aplenty (which is to say that it doesn't explain the minutiae of the story particularly well). And while John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton and Richard Burton underplay their roles magnificently, Gregor 'Rab C.Nesbitt' Fisher practically pantomimes through his scenes, the small number of which only highlights the issue.

Even at just under two hours, I get the impression that the film is skipping over significant events and offering suggestion where there should be detail. Although as I haven't actually read the book in 31 years, it's difficult for me to be certain of that, of course. I just remembered the novel as being more open, if no less introspective.

The film itself looks as unrelentingly grim as intended, probably moreso in 2015. Even the verdant, pastoral scenes outside the city shine less than they should, thanks in no small part to the indie, grainy film-stock Roger Deakins has shot on. But the effect works, all the same. Visually the film hasn't aged particularly well, but then I don't think it's meant to have; a static monument to Orwell's subversive vision of the time and the cinematic actuality of its adaptation. But ultimately, it was this unbroken bleakness which ended up inuring me to the escalating horror of the story's events, not unlike the very citizens of Airstrip One as international and civil war plays out around them. Although that knowledge didn't really make me enjoy things any more.

Ironically, I think 1985's Brazil was a much better retelling of the same story. But if I take any comfort away from Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's that in the post-apocalyptic, dictocratic dystopia, Battersea Power Station will look exactly the same...

Have you really never seen this before?
No, really. I even read the book at school. In 1984.
Although to be fair, I was 10 or 11 at the time, and the film is rated 15 by the BBFC so we wouldn't have been able to watch it as that would have been a criminal offence on the school's part, I think. I mean it's different if your parents let you watch stuff that's a bit 'old' for you, but the school's got a more legally-based duty-of-care, hasn't it?
And this film features some serious bodily-hair.

Look, if I'm being entirely honest, my first choice for 1984's film was going to be Once Upon A Time In America since I also haven't seen that. Although when I realised it's almost four hours long and I just don't have that level of uninterrupted time this week, Nineteen Eighty-Four it is. Turns out I've seen pretty much all of the other big movies from that year. Which makes a nice change.

Seriously, three hours and forty-five minutes.
That's insane, even by my standards, and I like the full-versions of Lord Of The Rings.

So are you glad you've finally have?
Yes, but probably only so I can say that I've seen it.
And I'm not sure that counts, to be honest.

And would you recommend it, now?
Yes, but probably only as part of a season of similarly themed films.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
John Hurt starred, of course, in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull alongside Harrison 'Solo' Ford.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
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