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Monday, 22 February 2010

The Ends of the Earth (2009)

Director: Rustin Thompson

We see lots of the Earth as our film opens. We see the waves and the fields and the beach. It's cinematically decent, painting textures with the terrain. It all looks very familiar, though apparently this is the northwest quadrant of Moonstone Island and we're in March 2021. A narrator tells us about Jonah Wales, who is apparently dead on the beach, but we have to leap around in time a whole bunch before we can figure out why he's dead. Three days earlier, the film tells us, we're in March 2075 at a Worldline portal and we start discovering what the story is about.

We're fifty years in from a bacterial outbreak that wiped out all human life above ground and a year in to our tech's tenure in this tent. He's monitoring the environment while keeping alive through liberal doses of a drug called doxycyclene and getting ready to timejump young Worldline agent Jonah to 2021. Young Jonah was born that very year, grows up fast and learns plenty at the Timelink Training Academy until 2038 when he's sent back in time as a Worldline agent to Moonstone Island in the year he was born. Apparently the locals survived the plague, at least for a while until the homeland security folks executed them for doing precisely that, and he needs to find out why.

This is a slow, slow film, apparently content to spend much of its time showing us the planet and exuding the feeling of loneliness at us and backing it up with a haunting soundtrack. In and around this spaces we get our story, which is actually a pretty deep thing, speaking to ultimate sacrifice and the end of the world in a very human way. Rustin Thompson, who wrote and directed, obviously had high aspirations but I get the impression that he couldn't make up his mind which approach he really wanted to take.

There's a sort of Koyaanisqatsi visual approach that gets under your skin, watching the textures and the tones and the well framed cinematography. This approach leads us to wish that the story would just go away so we could let this collection of images float over us. But then there's the story, which we can't ignore, even as we drift off into half sleep during the spaces. It keeps us watching to find out how it will play out, but it plays out like a manifesto, a calm rage without any answers. It has so many questions to ask but it has no answers to offer in response.

The other thing I couldn't fail to notice here was the aspirations to grandeur that Thompson must have. He's obviously a man of taste: he has our 2075 agent reading Cahiers du cinéma and with both A Boy and His Dog and Solaris in his VHS collection. The younger Jonah has Jean-Luc Godard posters on his wall. We see futuristic video footage from Ozu Industries, which name is very telling. The names of the greats are everywhere in this film, as if they could bring Thompson luck to be able to join them.

Well, he isn't there, at least not with this film, but it's a serious science fiction picture in a world where that's a rarity and it would seem to be utterly his film. He didn't just write and direct, he wrote the music too, photographed the film and edited it too. What he didn't do was edit it the way it should have been edited. This should have been an astoundingly good 40 minute long short. Instead it's an 80 minute film that alternates between commanding our attention and sending us to sleep.

3 comments:

peregrine fforbes-hamilton said...

Hal, a piece of advice, you`re reveiwing to many old or obscure movies, you need to reveiw a few more mainstream films and it would be better if you concentrated wholly and completely on science fiction and horror, they are by far the two best and most entertaining genres anyway.

tarquin fortiscue hetherington said...

Hal, i genuinely think that Uwe Boll "IS" a good film maker, for instance any of his films chosen at random would be better by itself than everything that the British film industry has ever produced put together over the last 121 years since the invention of the cinematograph in 1889, please do not besmirch this great site by reveiwing British made garbage it`ll make things much more pleasant for people reading the reveiws.

Hal C F Astell said...

Ah, talk about trolling... go on then, I'll bite.

To me it's the old and obscure stuff that's often most fascinating. Nobody really needs to hear me talk about Avatar, they can read about that anywhere they like.

I'd much rather give a voice to the low budget indies made by amateur filmmakers, underground movies that don't get much of a presence on the web and the old obscurities that fill in gaps in careers. Where can you read a review of this film anywhere else?

This year adds in the entire IMDb Top 250 to help ground the obscurities. Next year I'll probably run through Debased.com's 100 Greatest Cult Movies, while continuing with old atrocities for Cinema Head Cheese.

Before long I'll hit the British Film Institute 100 too, but you won't want to read those... Be warned, The Third Man will be posted on 3 Mar.