Category Archives: movie review

My Review of Robin Hood [2010]

When England was not very Merrie

By stephen symons from christchurch NZ on 10/1/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Castles, Battles royal, Great Cinematography

Best Uses: At Home

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

Bravo! All hail Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe! They have done it again. Gladiator Redux is upon us and Robin Hood rides again through the lush greenwood of Merrie Olde – or, in this case, not so very Merrie Olde. This is a great movie. It is great entertainment. It is great Hollywood.

History it is not. Legend it is not.

It is, in every sense of the word, a fantasy, a Hollywood-devised fiction that has been draped over a pseudo-historical superstructure to give it verisimilitude, and verisimilitude it has by the cartload. The scenery is excellent, the accoutrements, weaponry, clothing and instrumenta domestica are all first rate reproductions of those of England circa 1200 CE, which is the date, give or take, of this saga. History it is not. Nor does it have much more than a third cousin twice removed relationship with the legend of Robin Hood. It is an epic fantasy on the same model as the previous Scott/Crowe vehicle Gladiator, or the masterful Jerry Bruckheimer production King Arthur. So what exactly is happening here?

The story opens with King Richard attacking a castle in France, purportedly to sack it for money to pay the troops. He is killed in action and the crown is given to Sir Robert of Loxley to take back to Prince John in London. On the way back Loxley and his men are ambushed by agents of the French King Phillip and the crown is in danger of capture. A group of deserters from Richard’s army, led by one Robin Longstride [Russell Crowe], attacks the ambushers and recovers the crown as well as much loot. Robin decides to adopt the identy of Loxley to allow him and his men, who include Little John [Kevin Durand], Will Scarlet [Scott Grimes], and Allan A’Dale [Alan Doyle], to return to England in safety and comfort, which they do.

The crown is presented to John, who becomes King, but he has suspicions about Robin and orders his man Godfrey [Mark Strong] to kill him. Robin and his men elude Godfrey and arrive at Loxley near Nottingham, where Robin returns Loxley’s sword, as promised, to Loxley’s father [Max Von Sydow], and meets Lady Marion [Kate Blanchett], Loxley’s widow. They conspire to continue Robin’s impersonation as Loxley senior is now old and infirm and, were he to die without a living heir, the Loxley lands would be confiscated and Lady Marion would be impoverished. Robin and Marion become better acquainted and affection grows between them.

Meanwhile Godfrey is ravaging the land with a company of French knights [he is secretly in league with King Phillip] to raise funds for Johns wars and along the way discovers Robin’s whereabouts. He is not yet prepared to attack Robin, but word of a forthcoming French invasion gives him an idea; Robin, acting as Loxley’s agent, shall be summoned to a mustering of arms to raise an army to combat the French.

Godfrey, meanwhile, will take his men to Loxley and strip it of all assets, burning what is left. Robin dutifully takes his men to the mustering, where he exhorts the King to give civil rights to the free people of England. John agrees to sign this noble sentiment into law as soon as the danger of invasion is over.

Godfrey begins to ravage the Loxley estates, burning, looting and killing, but Robin and his men get news of Godfrey’s plans and charge to the rescue. There is a fierce encounter in which Godfrey’s men are routed and many captured, but Godfrey himself escapes. Marion is rescued and the people are saved from the burning houses, but the invasion is still on its way so Robin and his men head off to help the King.

They arrive on the coast just in time to meet Phillip’s forces, who are about to make a landing on the south coast under the guidence of Godfrey. The King’s men charge and there is a battle royal on the beach. Lady Marion, riding at the head of a company of vagabonds – orphan boys from Loxley who have gone feral in the Greenwoods – joins the battle where she engages in hand to hand combat with Godfrey. Godfrey throws her down, but Robin rushes to the rescue. Godfrey is slain by an arrow from Robin’s unerring bow, Phillip, watching from offshore, turns and heads back to France, and the invaders surrender to the victorious huzzahs of the doughty defenders.

Everything looks well, but when back in London and secure again John reneges on his promise to incorporate the promised freedoms into law, and declares Robin Longstride and all who associate with him to be outlaw and the rightful prey of all law-abiding Englishmen. Robin and Marion retire to the Greenwood with their men, and thus begins the legend.

All the elements of the story are correct in some respect, but they are all mixed up. Richard was campaigning in Normandy to be sure, but he was not ravaging. In his absence on the Crusades and in custody for ransom his brother John had made compact with Phillip of France to usurp the throne. Richard was fighting to regain his own. The Magna Carta, which John talks of signing at the muster, is still fifteen years in the future, and was brought about by pressure from the Barons, not by any sort of grass-roots sentiments of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which would come many centuries later. This sort of nonsense is injected to make the story digestible by Americans who have no idea what this conflict really was all about.

John did not send armies of foreigners into the countryside to loot and ravage. John was an unpleasant person, of that there is no doubt, but he was not stupid.

There was no invasion of the type depicted in the film. In the [much later] War of the Barons French soldiers did indeed arrive and did take part in heavy fighting, but they had been invited over by the enemies of John. The French Prince Louis had been invited by the rebels to take the throne, and would have become King Louis the First of England had not William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, [played in the movie by John Hurt] led the armies of the loyal Barons to victory over the rebels.

The Magna Carta was indeed signed at Runnymede by John, but not willingly. He immediately afterwards repudiated it, saying that as he was under duress it was invalid, and he called upon the Pope to confirm him in his treachery. The Pope did so, but only after John had pledged fealty to the Holy See and agreed to pay an annual tribute, thus making England a fief of the Pope. The Barons were incensed and, gathering French and Scots allies, began to civil war that shortly afterwards saw John dead of dysentery, the crown jewels lost forever in the Wash, and the child Henry proclaimed King.

The movie has nothing of the classic tales of Robin Hood apart from the characters. The Sheriff of Nottingham is present, but only in passing. He does not figure in the narrative at all.

This is a great movie, and deserves all the praise heaped on it. The only drawback, to my mind, is that many viewers will obtain a completely inaccurate view of history, believing, as many will, that it accurately reflects what actually happened. But the same could be said of many other movies, including those which are ‘based on fact’.

Close the history book, sit back, and enjoy a great ride.

(legalese)

Review of Prince of Persia – Sands of Time

Originally submitted at Chaos.com

Magic Lives!
By Stephen Symons from Christchurch New Zealand on 9/15/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Engaging Characters, Entertaining, Ostriches

Best Uses: Adult Viewers, Perfect Gift, Younger Viewers, At Home

Scheherazade would be proud of the Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time. This is a tale that is worthy of the 1001 Arabian Nights; simple, clear, lots of action and sword-craft, a love interest [without being too graphic], and plenty of swashes being buckled. There are no hidden layers of meaning, no subtleties, and no deep moral messages other than the obvious ones; truth will out, loyalty is true strength, and love conquers all. There is sorcery, ancient legend, and a magical device that must be returned to its home or terrible events will overwhelm the world.

The setting is Magical Persia. This is a land of sorcery and wonders, of genies and ifrits, of demons and angels. It is a world of powerful wizards and wise kings, of evil viziers and mighty warriors, of beautiful princesses and rascally brigands. It is the world of Scheherazade and Haroun Al-Rashid, a mythical, fantastical land that has been part of story telling for at least a thousand years and bears as much relationship to the real world as Camelot or Atlantis.

Prince Dastan [Jake Gyllenhaal] is an orphan adopted into the King’s house as a boy and brought up as a brother to the two Princes of the Blood, Tas [Richard Coyle] and Garsiv [Toby Kebbell]. Their Father, the wise and beloved Emperor Sharaman [Pickup, Ronald], rules the Empire with a stern but just hand. The King’s brother and Vizier, Nizam [Kingsley, Ben], brings news that rebels to the east are being armed by the Holy City of Alamut, an independent realm. It is determined that the three brothers shall lead an army against the City.

Tus, the senior man, shall lead the attack followed by Garsiv. Dastan is told to bring up the rear, but instead launches an independent and successful attack elsewhere, breaking into the City and capturing a mysterious knife that is being taken to the Temple. Princess Tamina [Gemma Arterton] is captured and taken to the Capital, but not before she notices that Dastan has the knife. Tas gives Dastan the captured mantle of the High Priest to give to the Emperor as a gift.

In the Capital, Dastan is hailed as a hero and the hand of Tamina is promised him in marriage. The Emperor Sharaman accepts the mantle of the High Priest but as soon as he puts it on hidden poison does its work. Within moments he is dead in a horrible manner. Pandaemonium erupts and Dastan is accused of murder. He and Tamina escape in the confusion, shortly afterwards finding themselves on the run in the desert. Camping in the dunes that night, Tamina tries to kill Dastan, who draws the knife, accidentally pressing the jewelled pommel with his thumb.

A very strange thing happens; time is reversed and he is able to seize Tamina before she can draw the sword with which she would attack him. She explains that the knife is a powerful magical tool which must be returned to the Temple at all costs or the whole world could be destroyed, and the significance of the subtitle – The Sands of Time – is revealed. Dastan has other plans for the knife, however. The next day Tamina knocks him out and runs off with the knife, but they are captured by bandits and taken to their stronghold.

They escape from the bandits, but are recaptured, in the course of which they reveal the power of the knife. The bandits are awe-struck and agree to help Dastan, who wants to return to the Capital to attend the funeral of his father, the Emperor, thus showing his respect and proving that he was not the killer. Meanwhile the other two Princes are in pursuit and coming close, but Dastan and his party have doubled back to the Capital. Here he seeks the advice of Nizam, the vizier and his adoptive uncle, but he is betrayed and Nizam is revealed as the true villain of the piece.

Dastan, Tamina and their bandit friends flee, pursued by the other Princes and a large company of Imperial troops who want to bring back Dastan alive. Also in pursuit are a band of Hassansin, professional assassins hired by Nizam to destroy Dastan and his party and secure the knife at any cost. We now realise that the matter of the supply of weapons to rebels was but a fabrication put about by Nizam to attack a peaceful and friendly realm, the Holy City of Alamut. His real target was the magic knife, which he intends to use to turn back time so that he can become the Emperor himself.

It transpires that in their youth, when they were Princes of the Blood, Nizam and his older brother Sharaman were hunting gazelle. They were attacked by a lion, which Nizam fought off, thus saving his brother’s life. If he was to turn back time and allow the lion to kill Sharaman, Nizam would become Emperor! He thus desires the magic knife above all else.

Dastan and his people reach the Temple and try to replace the knife in its proper setting, where it will do no harm, but the assassins attack. The knife is taken and given to Nizam, who prepares to perform the ritual that he thinks will turn back time, but will, in fact, cause time itself to collapse, leading to the total destruction of the world. There is much dashing about, with battles and duels between Princes and soldiers, bandits and assassins, and tumult as doom approaches. Time is indeed turned back, but not to the place we expect.

Dastan and Tamina find true love at last, honour and brotherly loyalty shine through, and wickedness is punished, as it must be.

Prince of Persia – The Sands Of Time is a cracker of a movie. It is not one for the thoughtful, and it does not pose questions about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Having started life as a video game, that is not what it was made for and it does not pretend to be anything else. It is the first truly successful adaptation of a video game to the big screen.

Prince of Persia is pure entertainment, a journey into a wonderful, magical world where all things are possible, where honour and integrity win through, where wickedness gets its just desserts, and the hero and heroine can ride off into the sunset [literally], arms about each other as they sit astride their camel. Great stuff.

(legalese)

Clash Of The Titans [2010] movie review

Originally submitted at Chaos.com

Clash of the Titans is set in the Greek city of Argos, where a war is about to explode between man and the gods. A narration introduces the three Olympians who battled the Titans long ago: the brothers Zeus (Liam Neeson), Poseidon (Danny Huston), and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades provided the means …

Power to the serpent-locked

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch NZ on 9/6/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Entertaining, Neat special effects

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

The are two points of discussion regarding this movie; the movie itself and the legend upon which it is based. The former bears little relationship to the latter, but that is not so say it is a bad movie. Far from it. It is great fun and a wonderful way to waste a couple of hours on an otherwise boring day.
The hero of the piece is the demi-god Perseus [Sam Worthington], son of Zeus and Danaë. According to the legend, Danaë was the wife of the King of Argos. The King heard an oracle saying that the son of Danaë would grow up to kill him, so he locked his wife up to prevent her getting pregnant. Zeus managed to get at her anyway and the King then cast her and the baby Perseus into the sea in a chest. The baby was picked up by a fisherman from one of the Greek islands and raised as his own.
Thus far so good; the movie and the legend tally. Then they begin to separate. In the legend Perseus, fully grown, is invited by the local King to a feast to which he must bring a horse as a gift. Perseus has no horse [as the King well knows – he wants to get rid of Perseus], so asks if there is something else he can bring. The King asked him to bring the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, whose slightest glance turns men to stone.
The hero agrees but first he must find her. He seeks out the Graeae, the three weird sisters who have only one eye and one tooth between them, who know where she is. They refuse to tell him the whereabouts of Medusa, but he steals their eye and refuses to give it back until they tell him. They lead him to the Hesperides, the groves of Hera, where he gives them back their eye. He learns the whereabouts of the Gorgons and is given further assistance to help him on his way; Hermes lends him his winged sandals so that he can get there in time, Hades lends him his invisibility helmet, Athene lends him her shiny bronze shield so he can see what he is doing without looking directly at her, and he also gets a special bag to wrap the head in. Perseus finds the sleeping Medusa and beheads her. He then heads back to the feast.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Queen Cassiopeia has angered Poseidon by saying that she is more beautiful than the Nereids, the daughters of Nereus. In revenge he sends a sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the shores. The only way to stop the attacks is to sacrifice the Queen’s daughter, Andromeda, to the monster. Accordingly the Princess is tied naked to a rock on the seashore [why naked, I am not sure – perhaps garments catch in the monster’s teeth, which would only enrage it further] and left to her fate. Perseus arrives in the nick of time, turns the monster into stone with the help of Medusa’s head, and frees Andromeda. He carries her back to the Greek mainland where they are married and Perseus becomes King of Mycenae. They have many children who form the Perseid dynasty, and live happily ever after.
Now to the film. The problem is that men are in rebellion against the Gods, something that never happened in Greek legend. Men disobeyed the Gods, and individuals challenged them, but men as a group never rebelled against the gods. But the movie charges on. Perseus’ foster-parents are killed by Hades [Ralph Fiennes], brother of Zeus [a rather wimpy Liam Neeson] and Lord of the Underworld. The hero seeks revenge – unlike his legendary counterpart, however, he wants nothing to do with the Gods for fear that he might become like them. He travels to Argos, where Cassiopeia [the gorgeous Polly Walker of ‘Rome’ fame] is said to be more beautiful than a goddess. Hades strikes her down and demands that the people sacrifice Andromeda [Alexa Davalos] to the Kraken [which has nothing to do with Greek legend – it is a monster of the northern seas whose tales began to emerge in the Norwegian middle ages].
Perseus sets off to find the head of Medusa, which will destroy the monster, in the company of a group of heroes which includes Io [Gemma Arterton], a Priestess of Hera whom Zeus once lusted after and whom he turned into a heifer [this has nothing whatsoever to do with the legend of Perseus]. On the way they meet the old King, the husband of Danaë, who has become an agent of Hades and has been ordered to destroy Perseus. The old king is maimed and he bleeds into the sand [we are no longer in Greece, but in a desert]. The blood becomes monstrous scorpions, which pursue Perseus and his companions, who are in danger of complete destruction until they are saved by a band of Djinn [Arabian demons out of the Arabian Nights and nothing to do with Greece]. Perseus and his companions plus the Djinn travel through the deserts, riding on giant scorpions [who the Djinn have managed to tame and on whose backs they have built comfortable little howdahs]. The arrive at a barren place, full of deep, fiery holes; the lair of Medusa. She is subdued and beheaded.
Perseus is the only survivor. Time is running out so he hitches a ride on Pegasus, the winged horse, which flies him back to Argos. Pegasus, by the way, has nothing to do with the legend of Perseus [Hermes lent Perseus his winged sandals, remember?]. He was the steed of the hero Bellerophon who rode him to slay the Chimera, the fire-breathing monster of Lycia, a story that later evolved, in a Christian world, into the story of St George and the Dragon. But I digress.
Perseus arrives in the nick of time. Andromeda has been tied to a wooden frame [not to a rock, nor, unfortunately, naked], and the monster is ravaging the town. Perseus saves the day, destroying the monster and rescuing the fair Princess. She offers herself to him but he, the plonker, spurns the gorgeous Andromeda and the promise of wealth and power, saying he wants to be an ordinary man and return to life as a fisherman. He returns to the seashore, where Zeus appears and restores Io to life so that they can live happily ever after in a hut by the seaside.
The Clash of the Titans is a good, fun movie, a bubblegum epic that is well worth the entry fee. The effects are amazing, although at the expense of dialogue and characterisation. But, hey, who needs character development or plot cohesion when you can have monster scorpions, or a medieval Norwegian sea-monster destroying an ancient Greek town? I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would not hesitate to recommend it anyone with an intellectual age of fifteen or less.

(legalese)

The Book Of Eli [2010] movie review

Originally submitted at Chaos.com

In a post-apocalyptic America where the once-picturesque countryside has become a desolate and violent wasteland, one man (Denzel Washington) fights to protect that sacred tome that could hold the key to the survival of the human race in this futuristic thriller from filmmaking duo Albert and Allen…

The word is power – power is the word

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch NZ on 8/29/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Original, Great Cinematography, Engaging Characters

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

Post-apocalypse movies are not my usual fare. ‘2012’, ‘The Day After’, and so forth, do not appeal to me. Generally they seem to be of a genre that caters to American Survivalist Movement fantasies, which interests me not at all, and they are almost invariably taken from a uniquely American cultural perspective, which is alien to my outlook.
The Book of Eli, however, has an unusual direction. Its theme is not simply survival but continuation through faith. The premise is simple; if you believe absolutely, then absolutely anything is possible.
The story begins with Eli [Denzel Washington], a lone man in a bleak world, hunting and killing a cat using a dead man’s body as bait. Carrying his prey he trudges through a barren landscape to a deserted shack, where, having first taken the boots from a corpse he finds hanging in a cupboard, he cooks and eats his meal. That night he reads from a book that he carries with him, an old leather-bound book that is kept carefully wrapped in cloth, a book that he takes the time to read from every day.
The next day he encounters a group of bandits and we learn that Eli can use a cane-knife with almost supernatural speed and accuracy. Leaving the piled corpses behind he walks on across a lifeless land strewn with debris and rubbish. As the story progresses we learn that there was a war many years before, a war that tore the sky open and the world was scorched of all life save those few who by chance were at the time in underground places. Few survived. Those that did were forced to fight over the few remaining scraps of civilization. As Eli says at one point ‘we threw away things that we now fight to the death for’.
Moving on from the scene of carnage, Eli comes at last to a small town populated by the wretched remnants of humanity and run by a boss-man called Carnegie [Gary Oldman]. Carnegie’s woman, Claudia [Jennifer Beals] is blind and she has a daughter, Solara [Mila Kunis]. His right-hand man is Redridge [Ray Stevenson, playing the sort of part that he plays so very well]. More than anything else Carnegie wants books and has built up something of a library, but there is one book above all that he desires, a book that he cannot find. It is a very special book, he knows, for he studied it in his youth before the war. It has the power to influence minds, and he who controls the book can command its power over others.
Eli, he discovers, has a copy of this very special book, a book known only as The Bible. It may be the last copy in existence, for we learn that the Bible had something to do with the outbreak of that last, devastating war, and that afterwards all copies that could be found were burned. Carnegie offers to purchase the book from Eli, who refuses. There is a shootout in the street and we learn that Eli’s skill with a firearm is as uncanny and as lethal as his skill with a cane-knife. Carnegie is wounded and left in the street amid the carnage of his cohorts. Eli walks on, for he is on a mission: many years before he heard a voice inside him, a voice that directed him to the book where it lay hidden under rubble, and told him to go west.
Thirty years later he is still heading west, and nothing is going to stop him. What is there he does not know, nor why he is going, nor what he must do when he gets there, but he has to go there just the same. All he knows is that his faith will tell him what to do when the time comes.
Eli moves on relentlessly, now followed by Solara, who has become fascinated in her turn with the book and the journey. They come to a derelict house where they meet George [Michael Gambon] and Martha [Frances De La Tour], an eccentric elderly couple brilliantly portrayed by these two veteran British character actors, who have eked out an existence by killing and eating the occasional passers-by. They are invited in for a cup of tea and a sandwich [!!]. They drink the tea but refuse the food, and as they are about to depart the roar of engines approaching sounds in the distance; Carnegie has followed them. He invites them to come out and surrender the book, in which case all will be forgiven, but of course Eli refuses. What follows is a fire-fight on the grand scale as only American cinema can mount, and we learn that Carnegie has some serious firepower at his disposal.
The house is almost demolished in the brief but fierce battle, George and Martha go down with guns blazing, and Eli and Solara are dragged from the rubble. Carnegie shoots Eli, takes the book and gives Solara to Redridge, leaving Eli to die alone in the dust. But Solara is more resourceful than Carnegie would have believed. She contrives to force the vehicle in which she is travelling to run off the road, killing its other occupants, and to destroy a second vehicle-load of heavies. Carnegie seems about to try to recover her, but shrugs. He has the book; let the desert have her.
Now motorised, Solara returns to the derelict house to find Eli gone. She overtakes him on the road as he struggles on remorselessly to the west, even though his book has gone, and together they drive the relatively short distance to a ruinous San Francisco. Here they find themselves a rowboat which they doggedly row out to the island of Alcatraz, where they discover an organised colony that is run on more civilised lines than that of Carnegie. But they also want a copy of the Bible, having been unable to find one for themselves. Does Eli have one?
He does, he tells them, to Solara’s astonishment. Only then do Eli’s condition and his astonishing tenacity become plain, and all becomes clear in the last ten minutes of the movie.
This is not a movie on which to make a snap assessment. It requires a few days of reflection to fully realise its implications. I certainly did not write this assessment in one hit; I had to do it piecemeal over a period of days, and it was well worth the effort of slow examination.
The Book of Eli must stand out as one of the top half dozen movies of the year. Its genre is hard to define; it appears initially as a standard action movie, a post-apocalypse movie. The we realise that is has strong elements of the classic western movie, coupled with a science fiction theme. Then finally it is revealed as a complex visual parable on the power of faith, but faith in only a superficially Christian context. It is not the Bible itself that is important, it is belief in the Bible and its teachings. Eli becomes a figure of both tragedy and power, a mighty, solitary figure, a latter-day Elijah or Isaiah, driven by his vision to achieve something that only he can perceive, able to achieve it through a strength that wells up from his unshakeable faith.
Stephen Symons oyez@clear.net.nz.

(legalese)

The Butterfly Effect [2004] movie review

Originally submitted at Chaos.com

Ashton Kutcher stars in this tale of regret. If you could go back in time and change something, would you? And if you did, what would happen to your present self? Evan faces this exact dilema, when what he thought was a memory disorder turns out to be a power greater than anyone could imagine.

Be careful what you wish for.

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch, New Zealand on 7/20/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Entertaining, Thought provoking

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

There are two opposing theories when it comes to time travel. One theory would have it that time is immutable, that all things are predestined. This theory suggests that if a man went back in time and killed, say, Julius Caesar, or Sir Isaac Newton when they were infants, other Greats would arise to take their place and the march of events would continue with barely a ripple. The other theory states that if a time traveller returning to 5000 BC so much as stood on a butterfly inadvertently, this would cause a chain of events that would disrupt time forever, ensuring, perhaps, that the Roman Empire never existed, or that the Spanish Empire conquered all of North America by 1700 AD.

This is known as the Butterfly Effect. This is the hypothesis that writer-directors Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber explore in this 2004 tale of spontaneous time travel and its unforeseeable consequences.

Evan [Ashton Kutcher] is running down a corridor. He is wearing hospital pyjamas, and his surroundings have a distinctly institutional look to them, but this is not a regular hospital. There come the sounds of pursuit. He rattles locked doors, desperately trying to open one. At last he finds one which opens and he barricades himself inside. He grabs a pen and paper as he slides underneath a desk, where he starts to write furiously. Is this really the time to write up his diary, we wonder? Whatever is he thinking? The sounds of pursuit near and stop. There is a pounding on the door. They are getting in!

Flashback fourteen years.

Evan is seven years old. His teacher shows his Mother [Melora Walters] a very disturbing picture that Evan has drawn of himself wielding a knife while standing over the bodies of dead children. He remembers nothing about it. Later at home his Mother walks into the kitchen to find him holding a cook’s knife. What is he doing? He does not remember picking it up. A little later again he is playing with his friends Kayleigh and her brother Tommy. Kayleigh’s Father tells them to come into the basement where he has a video camera set up. They are going to be stars in a movie about Robin Hood. In this scene Robin, played by Evan, and Maid Marian, played by Kayleigh, have just got married and they have to get undressed and lay on the bed. Evan wakes up at home much later, remembering nothing, but knowing that something very wrong has happened.

Evan is aware of that there have been mental health problems in the family. His Father, who is in an insane asylum, had similar unexplained memory lapses, as did his Grandfather. A visit to his Father ends in disaster, with his Father trying to kill him, but how it happened Evan cannot remember. He blacked out when his Father came in the room. Is he suffering from the same affliction? Will he, too, end up in an asylum?

Fast forward seven years.

Evan and his friends are now all about fourteen. Playing in Kayleigh’s Father’s basement they find a stick of dynamite in a old can. Together with another friend, Lenny, they decide to play a game with it, putting it in a neighbour’s letter box with a cigarette on the fuse. The four friends run into the trees to watch. A car drives up. Again, Tommy wakes up much later, remembering nothing but knowing something terrible has happened. “You use the excuse of another one of your blackouts,” yells his Mother as she bursts into tears.

No one ever discovers who perpetrated this act of mindless violence, and the four friends never speak of it, but they all change as a result. Tommy becomes more and more violent. Lenny becomes more and more withdrawn. Kayleigh is subject to sudden bouts of weeping. No one will tell Evan what happened when the dynamite exploded, and he becomes more and more bewildered.

Not long afterwards Evan, Kayleigh and Lenny, running through the woods, discover Tommy who has tied the family mutt up in a sack and is pouring petrol over it. There is a fight, and Tommy blacks out. When he comes to the dog is dead, burned to death. It is all too much for Evan’s Mother. She and Evan move away to another town.

Fast forward another seven years.

Evan is at University and doing well in his studies, majoring in psychology with a special emphasis on the science of memory. He is well adjusted, and there have been no more blackouts since he left the old hometown. His Mother is well and they are close. One evening they go out for dinner together, after which, on an impulse, they visit a Fortune-teller. The psychic takes one look at his hand and recoils in horror. “You have no lifeline! You have no soul! You were not meant to be!”

The next evening, returning from a date, Evan and his girlfriend settle into his room. She finds his old journals under the bed and persuades him to read from them, something he has not done since he left the home town. The next thing he knows is back in the cellar with Kayleigh and her Father, ready to take the movie. Then he is back in his University room again and his lady friend is asking if he often blacks out on dates. Evan realises then the incredible truth: he can go back in time. This is not simply a very vivid memory. He is actually there, and able to change things.

Alone once more he tries again, and it works. He can change history. Back in the cellar he confronts Kayleigh’s Father, forcing him to let them go back outside, thus ensuring that the cycle of abuse that will later make her suicidal never begins.

His sojourn in the past lasts only as long as the blackout of that time, then he returns to his own time – but not the one he left. He wakes to find himself in a new reality, where he and an adult Kayleigh [Amy Smart] are together and very much in love, but that evening everything turns sour. Again he goes back in time and changes history, only to make things even worse. Every time he goes back he relives the lost moments and we, the audience, gradually start to fill in the gaps in his memory, and to understand the terrible consequences of the exploding letter box

But each time he goes back in time, he suffers severe neural damage that the experts cannot explain. Just like his Father suffered. And his Grandfather suffered. He sees at last the stark logic implicit in the Fortune-tellers word’s and we see, finally, what he is doing hiding under the desk in the room in the Institute.

The Butterfly Effect is both entertainment itself, a gripping unravelling of layers of truth, and a seedbed for further ideas. Which of us has not from time to time wondered “What if…?” We are always looking back over our shoulders, wise with hindsight, and dreaming of what we might have done if we could but go back, but we never really think through the possible ramifications of what would happen. Changing time changes events, which change peoples’ experiences, and changing experiences changes people. The Butterfly Effect give us a suggestion of what might happen if our wishes came true.

Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber have done an excellent job in the Butterfly Effect, very successfully setting out a tight and chilling tale of cause and effect with a superb cast of relative unknowns. It goes to show that you do not need an A-list cast to produce a first-rate movie. Definitely one for the home collection.

(legalese)

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