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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Robe - A Review

Recently I decided it was time to get cultured as far as the sorts of films I watch are concerned. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I am a projectionist for a main stream cinema chain so I have been overloaded over the years with the, well, human waste of modern cinema. Every year there are one or two great films that come out which are must sees like last year’s Inception by Christopher Nolan and this year’s Prometheus which I couldn’t shut up about for weeks (even though I totally disagree with that movies other world view). But on the whole, most movies that Hollywood spews out these days are just that – vomit. By that I mean it’s just indigested nonsense that comes from marketing statistics, aimed at the thoughtless Youth and not the mature thinking adult like me who just craves some originality for a change, not this endless regurgitation of sequels, prequels and stinkquels!

So I thought what better way to restore my faith in this artistic medium than to go back to the good old days of cinema when the stories were new, the content wholesome and the actors normal looking (not the unrealistic 20 something heroes and hotties that seem to be able to do anything from save the world from alien invaders to prevent developers from tearing up their neighborhood by the power of Step Up 4 dancing – please, what a load of rubbish!).

In the past six months I have watched a few great classics which have blown my mind by, well, their awesomeness! Films like To Kill a Mocking Bird, It’s a Wonderful Life and Lawrence of Arabia. Even the Ten Commandments got a standing ovation from my Living Room sofa. Alas I had no time to review these films after watching them or perhaps I was so overawed by their no nonsense approach to telling a darn good story that I didn’t feel worthy enough to approach them with my simplistic critique?

But then, recently, I hit a snag. That snag was called The Robe, starring Richard Burton and Directed by Henry Koster. Apparently the first movie filmed in Cinemascope.

Now trust me when I tell you I am really torn by this one because I am a big fan of movies with Christian themes. From the before mentioned Ten Commandments to the more recent Amazing Grace or Mel Gibson’s Passion, these are great visual aides to my faith and it’s good to know that they’re out there doing the good work of spreading the virtues of the Good Book, but this movie really disappointed me.

It wasn’t the story that spoiled it either. The story was great and today, handled by Ridley Scott perhaps or even Mel G, it could potentially make for an epic tale of early Christianity full of intrigue, madness and salvation, but not Koster’s version, it lacked pace, it lacked whatever it is in a movie that grabs you by the collar and yells in your face, “Sit down, shut up and WATCH!"

Burton plays Marcellus Gallio, the Roman tribune not only responsible for nailing the Lord to the cross but also the unlucky soul who wins Christ’s Robe after rolling dice for it. Possession of the robe leads to his madness, even more so when his slave Demetrius runs away with the Robe to become a pivotal (although fictional) figure in the early Church. Commissioned by the Emperor Tiberius to seek out the “bewitched” Robe he is also ordered to seek out the names of every new follower of this strange new “Way” and determine whether it is a threat to the Empire. Things are also further complicated by Marcellus’ strained relationship with the future Emperor Caligula (played excellently well by Jay Robinson, the character is just insane) who has put his grubby little mitts on the protagonists love interest, Diana.

That’s right, all the makings of Gladiator like political intrigue but unfortunately while watching it both my wife and I got bored and had to watch it over two nights because of its sleepy pace. After a while I actually began providing the film with a spaghetti western like voice over just to keep myself from falling asleep.

Now I’ve never seen Richard Burton in anything else before now, but if there was ever a contender for Captain Kirk who could throw himself into a Shatneresque monologue about the woes of galactic injustice, Burton could have been the guy to do it if Will Shatner hadn’t been available. When the actor throws himself into fits of madness whilst haunted by the memory of the Crucifixion, it was the greatest example of melodrama (or hypochondria) I’ve ever seen outside of the original series of Star Trek!

The movie left me with this overwhelming impression that it was a bad rip off of Ben Hur, another story that intertwines itself with the life of Christ, only I checked and this movie came first. I’ve developed a theory that the producers traveled to 1959, saw what a hit Ben Hur would be and then traveled back to 1953 and made this attempt at what could have been, and should have been the greatest movie of its day. Perhaps modern film has wrecked the tastes buds in my brain that handle these things?

Having rubbished it though, I still recommend it for viewing because it’s still better than most of the boogers Hollywood flicks at the screen today! Its also worth watching for the last 10 minutes of the film when Marcellus sticks it to the new Emperor Caligula and refuses to worship him as God. That was cool.

So there you have it, a schizophrenic review about a movie that at the time of writing this has an unusually high ranking on IMDB, so what do I know? Quite possibly nothing. But I can say this, I started watching Ben Hur the other day and THAT is a far far better movie!

I’ll give this an 8 out of 10 for the story but a 4 out of 10 for the acting and share bordom of its execution.

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