Like many who had seen the original The Jungle Book (1967) as a kid who heard the news that one of the crown jewels in Walt Disney’s Studio’s back catalogue was being remade I sighed and wanted nothing to do with it, One of those classics that you know deep down shouldn’t be touched. Another symptom of Hollywood going back to the well of success, afraid to make something new, be brave and actually be original for a change. However a few weeks ago, yes the trailer won me over, the combination of a single actor in this CGI jungle, which allows for a more expansive film than being on location that really does work in this retelling of the Rudyard Kipling classic.
Disney can really do no wrong (most of the time) with the acquisition of both Lucasfilm and Marvel they are not to be messed with and know what they are doing when it comes to their properties. Gone are the days of the straight to video nonsense that lead to spoofs such as Jafar May Need Glass’s which was under the old leadership before John Lasseter and Robert Iger who has seen the company come back into good fortune.
Moving away from the politics of the studio to the classic animated film and the remake The Jungle Book (2016) which is more an expansion and reinterpretation of the source material. Having never read the book like most of us who grew up with the film we have only the animated film to go on. No other versions have been made, just showing how strongly Disney hold onto the copyright. The first notable difference is that there is only one actor on-screen, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who has to do one of the hardest things on-screen acting with very little, instead relying on his imagination, acting ability and whatever direction and visuals he’s given before all the magic really happens. But you soon forget he’s only one there against all the photo-realistic animals that remind me more of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) where the actors did voice overs for the dogs throughout the film. I have to admit that was one of my concerns as to whether the voices would be synchronised with the animation, which thankfully it was (more or less) you can forgive it for being slightly off. You are believing the characters exist in this CGI jungle along with the actors. There are times you believe that Sethi is actually swinging through the trees. I was won over on that score.
Another major difference was the absence of all but two of the songs, keeping two of the more popular ones which are worked in rather nicely. The Bare Necessities is worked in to be a natural part of the film instead of cutting from the action to have the musical number. Working it into the natural dialogue not as a diversion.
The original songs reworked in among the rest of the film which feels fresher, not relying on the classic, instead making the most of the feel of the film which was both fun to. With Bill Murray perfectly cast in the role of Baloo who takes advantage of his new friend, very much in Murray’s characters, all in jest of course, becoming good friends. Whilst the other song I Wanna be Like You which has developed racial undertones in more recent years takes on a darker tone when sung by Christopher Walken as King Louie the now oversized orangutans. It’s a more foreboding song, gone is the light jazz classic, replaced by a sinister deal maker. I’ll always stand by the original being a product of a its time and should be seen in that light.
Walken’s King Louie is not on-screen for long enough but leaves his mark on a film that moves at a steady pace. For those who grew up with the original you are constantly checking to see what is still there and how its been worked in, even just for reasons of nostalgia that is pulling in a lot of the audience at the moment. For the most part the lighter tone of the film is gone, instead replaced with the idea of being yourself and not being afraid of what you can offer society or even your friends. A strong theme for children to come away with as Mowgli’s prevented from developing his human potential in the jungle instead taught to live and think like the wolves who have brought him up.
If anything this retelling of the classic tale has encouraged me to take a look at last years Cinderella to see how the new one compares with the original 1951 animation. Am I softening to all these remakes of classic films? I’m not sure this is only one that has won me over. This is retelling of the original that draws on the original film version, its aware of the past and combines it playfully with a carefully chosen voice cast that matches the original characters. A part of me wanted Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Shere Khan instead of Idris Elba who I grew to like behind the menacing tiger, I guess I’m too attached to the original and George Sanders. I wonder no whats next in line for a remake from the house of mouse?
Due to the sheer length of Hevean’s Gate (1980) I have decided to watch it in two parts, just over the hour mark tonight (8/11/14) and I feel that I should hold back until I have seen beyond the Johnson County War horses ride off into town. My initial thoughts are that Michael Cimino for all he is now known for, almost bankrupting a studio by blowing his budget, his film truncated for theatrical release he has produced (only looking at the first half of the directors cut) a masterpiece that is the scale of a David Lean, cover vast stretches of even just one state, the emotional depth of a George Stevens and the romanticism of Robert Altman‘s McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971). If that is even possible for a man who only a few years before caused uproar with The Deer Hunter (1978) has taken on a dark page in his countries own past, as it turned on the immigrants who tried to make a life for themselves, as the Americans years before once did. I can’t wait to see how the town react to the state and even country whose middle class army turn on the people who make the country so rich.
I could only wait a single night to complete this epic of a film, putting the label to shame when applied to The Big Country (1958) somewhat. I could see the length issue, needing to bring it in to theatrical release friendly length, which would only hinder the film. Noticing scenes which could be cut back, none entirely removed. Everything is in there for a purpose, prolonged to enjoy the spectacle of their integration with American’s who here are living alongside one another in peace. An issue that has become a hot topic in the UK with the borders within the EU for free movement the influx of people from all over Europe, which is having an effect on the fabric of the nation, its politics and infrastructure. I’m just glad we have moved on even from the 1950’s and the comments of Enoch Powell wanting to pay each immigrant to leave. That’s was progress when compared to the extremes which the US government went to in Johnson County, Wyoming in 1890 with immigrant causing “near anarchy”. This conflict between the towns people enabled by the President versus the immigrants is the backdrop for this dusty dramatic epic.
Beginning in 1870 when two friends are graduating from university it seems that the possibilities are endless for James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Englishman Billy Irvine (John Hurt) in a sequence that is full of great promise for all the young men and the adoring women who join them in dance and celebration. We can see the beginning of something special for James and Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) which’s brought to an abrupt close with cut to twenty years later and the shooting of an immigrant from a shadowy figure from behind a sheet, the figure – Nathan D. Champion (Christopher Walken), of authority is looming in, wanting to control if not quell the bubbling situation of fear that is brewing out in Johnson County 1890.
We can see the speed of development in the country, as we cut to not a boom town, but a booming metropolis of a busy main street, horses pulling trailers, men in shops kitting themselves out in the latest suits and guns. It’s still very much a mans world. It doesn’t quite fit for James/Jim who quickly leaves for his homestead where we find Ella waiting for him. He has all he needs, a sheriffs job and a woman who makes him happy, what more does he want. The fear of a list of 125 names made up by cattle men who fear the influx of new Europeans. His friend Billy‘s revealed to be a weak man of only clever words and ideals that get him nowhere in the West kept alive only by his class that.
Before the conflict begins we’re treated to over an hour getting to know the people of the county that have shaped it, reminding us of the fabric the growing country then and now. Something that is the foundation of most countries that is sometimes forgotten. It’s a rich tapestry of scenes that are woven together to give us an image of a cohesive community that ultimately stand-up and fight the cattle men. Ignoring the law that was behind this influx of men is long coasts riding over the countryside with guns in hand, ready to deliver justice.
With all the grand imagery that is the overwhelming factor that makes this film so enjoyable and rewarding. We see a lot of dust in the air, brought up by the wheels on the ground, the sub seeping through the windows. Visually its splendid to watch, taking us to a dirty rough and ready. It falls down on the characterisation, the old friends only have a few scenes together. Cimino is doing what I do when documenting my work, he “milks it” squeezing everything out of his scenes, allowing them to play out. A lot is going on, it’s hard to see where any cuts were made for this final directors cut. We could easily have a documentary cut of the film seeing a historical account of the conflict rather than that characters. The only characters that are really focused is within the love triangle which’s tolerated and not tested. Jeff Bridges is given a few scenes as John L. Bridges who protects Ella more than anything. The ending is probably my only major fault that never really says anything, asking more questions, whose the girl who sits before a very much hurt James who cannot seem to move on. Maybe this ambiguity that has allowed such respect to build up around this film that is unique from any other in the Western genre.
If we take only one thing away from this controversial landmark film it is the visual detail, the love devotion that goes into every scene, every frame even. We should forget about the controversy behind the film, the massive budget, the incredible number of takes. However it does mark the end of an era in Hollywood film-making, the loss of directorial control, the creative reins have been now pulled in considerably. We still get the rare film that from Terrence Mallick and Scorsese which has their stamp all over it. Now we have films that are generated out of successful franchises, reboots and superhero universes that are proven to make a massive box-office return. The studio has won out, thank god for the indie film.
From one of the last director who was really let loose with a vision, ignoring costs in favor of the what Michael Cimino wants on-screen. Something that he got right when it came to The Deer Hunter (1978) a film that sometimes doesn’t need words to explain is going on visually, Thank god for Stanley Myers tender score that fills in the sensitive gaps of the brutal film that sees a group of men torn apart and brought back together again in ways they had not first imagined.
What begins as a group of friends in an industrial town in Pennsylvania who are celebrating the marriage of Steven (John Savage) to Angela (Rutanya Alda) is the beginning of the end of an era for a group of friends that they will never be able to return to. We see at the wedding so much hope and future in this strong group of men who regularly go off deer hunting together. Something which we see twice over the course of the film. Each hunt is quite different. First there is a real rivalry between the men, able to play-fight and boast, It’s your average chance of male bonding over a male activity to prove your manliness. Before three of them head over to fight in Vietnam going with Steven into a world of horror that will change them all are Michael (Robert De Niro) who really looses himself in the moment, flying off the handle, a spell in the army would do him good. Whilst the more level-headed of the three Nick (Christopher Walken) is quietly confident, not really knowing what awaits him in the tropical hell created by his own country. And so ends the first third of what seems like a drawn out film to develop these men which we will see change.
The tone of the film dramatically alters in the blink of an eye to a lush green landscape of Vietnam which finds Michael clearly in his element, embracing the war, whilst he doesn’t know it could push him over the edge to somewhere he can’t return. Surrounded by rebels who are fighting for their freedom from the American invaders we see another side of what they were capable of. If Apocalypse Now (1979) painted a surreal image of the conflict where the soldiers escaped to, The Deer Hunter depicts the enemies infiltrating the mind of the soldier. A version of Russian Roulette is the rebels game of choice, spinning the gun around a table for the prisoners to play with their own lives. An extreme form of mental torture for both natives and Americans who are at the mercy of others who become god.
Every time the game’s played the audience’s sent into a state of dread, at any moment someone could shoot themselves cold dead, just by pulling the trigger, hoping that the barrel of the gun was empty. The stakes are raised and the game of chance becomes hope of surviving. This game is the catalyst in the three mens short lives on this earth, Before taking their chance to escape, the suffering is far from over. A glimmer of hope from their comrades is short-lived, if only giving the audience a moment of relief.
The real damage is starting to make itself known to us and them. Whilst Michael the one we believe will become unstable is the level-headed soldier who makes it back home. Where he finds the woman Linda (Meryl Streep) both he and Nick have fought over. A Woman who knows she has the attention of two men who hope to return and love her. One to marry (Nick) whilst the other (Michael) to have an affair. There’s real sexual tension between Michael and Linda and at the same time respect for Nick who has yet to return. Throwing into that, Michael is still adjusting to civilian life, something that takes real-time happen. The film gives him that time, we see a changed man, no longer a reckless man who will flip, more thoughtful, but still there is moment when you can see the damage his time in Vietnam have done to him.
There’s a need to reunite the gang who have now been apart for so long, with a maturer Michael he seeks out Steven who appears to have no returned from the war. Only his wife knows where he is, leaving her in a state of constant shock, no longer the happy bride we saw early, now with a child left in the care of the larger family. WE later find him in a veterans home, we are shocked to see he has become one of the many wounded to come home, hiding his shame, unable to the man who Angela may have wanted, we don’t know for sure.
The mission is not complete until Nick is safely back at home, return to Vietnam to find the awol man in what has become one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, and one of the most dramatic changes in characters, transformed from the level headed to the disturbed, now adapted to live on the edge of live on a nightly basis, a form of survival, it could even be said it was an addiction, needing the thrill of being on the edge of life every night, relying on luck to save you.
A tender film that sees a group of friends who are torn apart and brought back together again in ways they did not imagine. Filled with breathtaking scenes and imagery, the world can be a beautiful place, yet within it there are dark places where you can return with new perspectives on life. Even those back home who never went out there feel the pain from those who return. An incredible that shocks you to your core, and brings you to your knees at times. It could be seen as another great film for just De Niro, yet the supporting cast have so much to give, no one is left behind. Something not to be missed.
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (feelthefilms.wordpress.com)
- The Deer Hunter (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (filmexperience.blogspot.co.uk)
- THE DEER HUNTER (1978) (everybestpicture.wordpress.com)
- THE DEER HUNTER (Michael Cimino, 1978) (silverferox.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (keeleysmovies.blogspot.co.uk)
- FILM REVIEW: The Deer Hunter (1978) (threemenonablog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Movie of the Day: The Deer Hunter (1978) (theessentialfilms.blogspot.co.uk)