Friday, April 30, 2010

Film Review: HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968, John Boorman)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Tag-line: "They hunted each other as enemies...they tormented each other as savages...they faced each other as men!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Lee Marvin. Toshiro Mifune. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Cinematography by Conrad L. Hall (COOL HAND LUKE, FAT CITY, TEQUILA SUNRISE).

Summer's coming up, so I'd like to devote at least a portion of the following few months to terrific "Summer Movies." For my purposes, a "summer movie" doesn't necessarily have to be actually set in the summer, though films which are incredibly evocative of the season itself warrant special consideration. On the whole, these are films best seen on hot, muggy nights when you're sprawled on the couch before an oscillating fan (because when you turn on the air conditioner it blows a circuit), sipping on an ice cold Yuengling, and perhaps accompanied by a sleazy super-nacho platter. Movies of this genre which I've already covered include HEARTBREAK RIDGE, BULLETPROOF, DEATH WISH III, EXTREME PREJUDICE, MR. MAJESTYK, THE LAST SHARK, and countless others. They can and will include everything from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA to EYE OF THE TIGER to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI to anything and everything featuring Clint Eastwood and/or an orangutan.

For those who haven't seen today's film, I don't wish to reveal too much about it, so I'll tiptoe around the plot itself. With HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Boorman shines at the two things he does best: portraying ordinary men in extraordinary survival situations, and working with Lee Marvin. As far as I'm concerned, this Boorman, the maker of POINT BLANK and DELIVERANCE, is the only true Boorman. The maker of ZARDOZ and EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is somebody else entirely (and he genuinely apologized for them on the commentary tracks of those films, so, you're off the hook, John, and a bigger man than most).

The phrase 'tour-de-force performance' gets bandied about fairly often, and with an even greater frequency on films with two-person casts or those of a survival nature, so it should come as no surprise that I'm going to label what Marvin and Mifune do here as a tour-de-force. It's an excellent choice of actors, as Marvin and Mifune represent for their respective countries a very dignified, mature, in-control persona that can spin into unhinged rage or laid back joviality in a mere instant. They can effortlessly exude vulnerability and menace- an entire gamut of complex emotions- and often they express them simultaneously, a feat which only the rare actor can accomplish with such subtlety and elegance.

And you believe it. There is nothing in this film that will strain your suspension of disbelief. Everything is natural, REAL. It's remarkably visceral; you can almost taste the briny sting of the sea water, feel the sun relentlessly beating down on their backs, the sweat, the parched lips, the hoarse throats.

Boorman immerses us in this world, and very gradually transitions the narrative from start to finish– for its primal rages and thrashing survivalism, this is a very, very graceful film, filled to the brim with the stylistic touches and unorthodox editing choices that made POINT BLANK brilliant and transformed the outlooks of next generation filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh. A masterpiece, an allegory, and a tale of two men's attempts at survival. And make sure you watch the alternate ending, it's far superior and more consistent in tone with the rest of the film.

-Sean Gill

Junta Juleil's Summer '10 Movie Series
1. HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968, John Boorman)
2. ...


Ivan said...

Good call, Junta!
Others have said this, but Marvin and Mifune's both being actual veterans of the Pacific War adds a level to this movie that, to me, is spooky.

Another good thing Boorman does, if I may add, is he gives equal time and respect to both cultures, to the point of incomprehensibility. But even when I saw this as a kid for the first time, I thought it was really cool, because it felt real.

BTW, Boorman now lives outside of Dublin (Zardoz was filmed on his farm!), and friends there say he's a very approachable, decent sort of chap. (I think he's teaching at the Dublin film college.)

Have you seen The Naked Prey? I highly recommend it--like Boorman's better films (and a few of Herzog's), it's one of those movies that looks like it was as tough on the crew as what the characters went through. I love flicks like that!


Sean Gill said...

Oh, yeah- THE NAKED PREY is great. I similarly love movies that were as tough on the cast and crew as they were on the characters- (i.e., Herzog's filmography, hell- even stuff like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; and EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE with Lee Marvin has a similar feel). And you're absolutely right about it being even spookier since they're both WWII vets, I wasn't even thinking about that!

Ivan said...

Does anyone in the English-speaking world still even make flicks like that anymore? It's gotten to where I give a flick high points for using real stuntmen, and not using CGI.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, it's unfortunate. Hopefully one day there'll be a CGI backlash and a return to strenuous, balls-to-the-wall filmmaking, but I'm not holding my breath. Thankfully folks like Lee Marvin and Werner Herzog and John Huston have entire filmographies for us to enjoy while the rest of the filmmaking world turns soft..