“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1947 / Actors: Deborah Kerr, Flora Robson ... / DVD released 26 September, 2005 at Network / Features of the DVD: Colour, Mono, PAL „
Billed as one of a trio of masterpieces, including 'A Matter of Life and Death' and 'The Red Shoes', Black Narcissus is most definitely a good film, but not one to which I would have attached the aforementioned description. Set in the Himalayas, it follows a small group of nuns sent to establish a new convent, where they come up against locals, a British agent and the lures of love.
Led by Sister Clodagh, the group of nuns are quick to try and establish themselves as the religious authority in the village they are sent to, and just seem blinkered to the fact that anyone would consider them to be intrusive and as outsiders. Sisters Clodagh and Ruth seem to be the only ones who would question their vows and reminisce of a life more raucous that they once spent or still dream of, and it's their location that they try to focus on in order to maintain their mission's direction.
The inclusion of a brash and insensitive British agent, as well as a Prince and the local community all seem to work against them, and pretty soon they learn that they'll have to understand the conditions and beliefs already established by the locals before they can have the impact and respect they're looking for. It's a slow moving film in many respects, but the plot development is by no means at a languid pace. There are plenty of characters to introduce, and the way they all intermingle is quite interesting. It must have been tempting to go for the easy option of just depicting a boring mountain life with seamless integration and harmony. Instead, it's anything but, with strong opposition from the locals to the nuns' presence there as well as the way they're trying to win them all over.
But it's the romance that rears its head and makes this somewhat more than just a drama with a specific theme. If anything, there's a Hitchcockian style of thriller/horror about proceedings, with warnings of disaster looming like a bad omen that they all choose to ignore. Bad things have happened before, there's a haunting house on the hill, as well as a dangerous clifftop bell. Add romance, lust, envy and jealousy to the proceedings, as thrown in a mix of some good frantic acting from Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron and what you have soon becomes an intriguing and at times edge of the seat tense film of multi-genre.
Strangely, despite the setting and the fact that it's not actually a horror, the horror feel is the one that lingers most after the film has ended. It does take a while getting there, and although there are attempts to show various different potential relationships between the characters, the romance element somehow seems a bit awkward given that the film focuses on nuns. Eventually, it's the forbidden love element that comes around and intrigues, with Sister Ruth in particular becoming slowly more and more obsessed and in love (or is is lust?) with British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar) who is more interested in a bit of peace and quiet than anything or anyone else.
The cinematography and score are beautiful, and in a clever use of the colour red that reminds me of Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now, the eyes are drawn to certain areas of the screen and the view as the film goes on. I'd say the film is certainly one that grows in entertainment value as it progresses, starting out slowly and rather dull, to be honest, but picking up and finishing at quite a pace. My demeanour certainly changed throughout the film, and I ended up riveted whereas I found it hard going to start with. This build up is good, although there were plenty of moments where I wasn't particularly interested, and it's only thanks to an excellent end that I could say I'd watch it again and hopefully catch more second time round.
I won't be rushing to do this though, as while it's one I'd probably sit through again, I'm not fussed about searching for it, and won't lose any sleep if I don't see it again. Worth a watch, but not quite the masterpiece it's billed to be in my eyes.
You know what I'd like for Christmas? Not in a real sense - I'm happy with cash this year, and if you want to contribute, drop me a line & I'll give you my PO Box details. I mean in a "things in movies which haven't been invented yet" kind of sense. I'd like one of those 3D virtual reality sunbed things from "Minority Report", and I'd use it to watch old Powell & Pressburger extravanganzas.
I"d stick on "Black Narcissus" and stand around in an ancient pleasure palace, looking dishy and trying to keep my trousers on, while getting lusted after by two hot nuns, then come out with a ravishing technicolour tan.
If you haven't seen "Black Narcissus" before, I suppose that introduction might make it sound more appealing than the standard blurb - a band of Anglican nuns are dispatched to an outpost deep in the Himalayas to set up a school and hospital for the natives.
The woman in charge is Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), a stern and ambitious Sister Superior. She wants the post, although her Mother Superior has doubts about her ability. The location for this new convent is an ancient palace, which many years before used to house a harem. More recently, a group of monks also attempted to inhabit the lonely palace, perched far above the villages and forest on a sheer cliff face.
The sisters' contact in the area is a British agent, Mr Dean (David Farrar), is a dishy if rather irreverent presence. He singles out Sister Clodagh with his suggestive and innuendo-laden comments, and his arrogance and lack of respect soon gets her hot under the habit.
The old palace, with it's erotic paintings and peculiar atmosphere, soon has a queer effect on the nuns, most notably Clodagh, and the poorly Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who develops a fierce attraction to the brash Mr Dean.
It soon turns out that Clodagh isn't as cold and pious as she first seems, and perhaps it's the mountain air, but her mind starts to wander during prayer, and she also secretly starts to feel a bit giddy about the British agent.
Meanwhile, the natives aren't too keen on visiting the nuns for either their education or their welfare - it is revealed the local General is paying the villagers to visit. Dean also lumbers them with a local piece of jailbait, Kanchi (Jean Simmons) in the hope the influence of the nuns will be beneficial to her, and more likely, to stop her mooning around his house making eyes at him.
All this comes to a crescendo when Sister Ruth, who turns out to be mentally frail as well as physically, throws herself at Mr Dean. She is disgraced, and begins a descent into murderous insanity...
"Black Narcissus" is one of a hat trick of technicolour masterpieces by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, along with "A Matter of Life and Death" and "The Red Shoes". All three are elevated by Jack Cardiff's sumptuous cinematography, and curiously for films almost universally regarded as masterpieces, all three are far from perfect.
"A Matter of Life and Death" (1946), a fantastical and warm hearted romance about a young WWII pilot who bails out of his craft without a parachute and survives, only to be summoned to heaven on the basis of a celestial clerical error, is virtually flawless until the final courtroom scene, which degenerates into a Brits vs Yanks sermon.
"The Red Shoes" , the tale of a talented ballerina who is destined to suffer the same fate as the character she portrays in the ballet of the same name, is rather stiff and old fashioned until it's stunning ballet sequence - then everything is forgotten and it becomes the best thing you've ever seen.
"Black Narcissus" suffers from some rather muddled characterisation, and it's not always clear who's who or what their motives are. Clodagh and Ruth are initially quite difficult to tell apart on first viewing, because both actresses are facially quite similar when smothered by a nun's habit, with only their faces showing.
But it hangs together more as a narrative, because it's not as top- or bottom-heavy as the other two. And it's perhaps an easier watch for modern audiences because although it is variously described as an adventure, or a romance, or a melodrama, the thing it resembles most in structure is a horror movie.
There's the old haunted house on the hill, although it's never explicitly made clear whether Mopu is actually haunted, or whether it's one of those places where people bring their own ghosts.
There is the story of the monks, whose previous attempt to inhabit the palace ended in failure - this is a classic touch of foreshadowing most familiar to fans of horror films. Think of the story of Grady, the axe murdering former caretaker of the Overlook in "The Shining"; the derelict spaceship full of eggs in "Alien"; or the Norwegian base in "The Thing" - bad things have happened in this place, so chances are, bad things are going to happen again...
Sister Ruth's final, desperate, unhinged pursuit of Dean and Sister Clodagh resemble something out of a 80's or 90's psycho-thriller, and the final reel is full of suspense as Clodagh is stalked by the her murderous, unwitting rival in love.
Also adding to the tension is the tangible erotic charge, which is largely thanks to Jack Cardiff's sublime cinematography, particularly the use of colour and shade.
When we first see Clodagh, it is in close up - a pale white face in a ghostly white habit, harsh eyes and tight white lips. Our first blast of colour is on our first visit to the palace - a room filled with empty gilded cages, and a first glimpse of the General, resplendent in silks, preening himself by a mirror in a bright blue room.
Later, as passions grow wilder, the reds come into play - most startlingly on formerly white lips - and as the film builds to its conclusion, the nuns' habits seemed almost stained with the colour.
A subplot involving Kanchi falling romantically for a young prince doesn't really add much, apart from more eroticism - on Kanchi's first time alone in the palace, she is seen dancing sensually by herself; she spends most of her time crawling around on hands and knees trying to get the prince to notice her. And in one unfortunate moment, she appears to be moving in to give him a blowjob.
This can't have been by accident, given how meticulous and gifted filmmakers the people involved were - but, they had oral sex back in 1947, so they must have realised it looked like the prince was going to get lucky in that scene.
Aside from a few of these duff moments, "Black Narcissus" is thoroughly absorbing and at times transcendent, mainly due to the miraculous work of Cardiff and the production team. Some moments and images in "Black Narcissus" are indelibly imprinted on my mind - most notably Sister Clodagh's walk across the windswept courtyard of the palace to ring out the noon bell on the cliff's edge for the first time.
It's an old one, but they truly don't make films like this any more - the atmosphere of lush exoticism is thick in every frame, and the ingenious model work and matte paintings create the palace as an almost hyper-real setting for the drama.
And because they don't make 'em like this anymore, you deserve to watch it on the biggest screen possible...perhaps invite some close friends round and have a naked "Black Narcissus" party.
Or instead, until they finally invent "Minority Report"-style 3D virtual reality sunbeds, perhaps you could petition your nearest IMAX cinema to give you a private screening of this classic? That would be the perfect way to see it...
(This review initially appeared on Ciao under my alias Midwinter.)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947) is without doubt one of the greatest cinematic experiences I have ever experienced.
This may seem over the top but let me explain why I feel this. I had already seen it on DVD before but last week I had the opportunity to see it on the cinema screen in glorious technicolor.
It really is simply an exquisitely beautiful film from beginning to end.
It's story is a simple one of a group of nuns trying to set up a mission in an old abandoned palace high up in the Himalayas to help the local townspeople. However, while they are there they succumb to the strange air of the place and all are affected by the reawakening of passions and memories thought long dead, with devastating consequences.
The flashback scenes where Deborah Kerr's character Sister Clodagh remembers her early romance in Ireland and runs out into the black void of the night are particularly evocative.
However, the signature scene of the entire movie is when Deborah Kerr's character decides to sit in one night on a nun in her charge that she is deeply worried about, Sister Ruth. Played by Kathleen Byron, the brilliantly unhinged Sister Ruth has decided to renounce her vows and sits applying lipstick in her room, deliberately trying to provoke Sister Clodagh. The vivid colour of the lipstick and Sister Ruth's red dress compare dramatically with Sister Clodagh's plain white habit and white pocket bible.
Never has colour been so integral to a movie - demonstrating the power and intensity of the passions being depicted onscreen.
The acting is also firstrate and Deborah Kerr proves once again that she is the finest actress of her generation. It is no surprise that she got one of the longest standing ovations ever recorded when she finally won her Oscar later on in life. David Farrar's "Mr. Dean" is also worthy of note and a dramatic hit, proving a charismatic & humorous foil to Deborah Kerr's character's po-faced stoicism. His constant riding round on a Shetland pony and choice of clothes in general also prove an unintended source of humour.
The directing is exceptional as Michael Powell throws in such odd moments like Sabu waving his scented hankerchief around to the arousal of Jean Simmon's character Kanchi. Or Sister Ruth's atmospheric journey through the jungle with the various noises she hears. Or the point of view shot when Sister Ruth sees red colour her vision and faints at Mr. Dean's house. The whole movie could have been a good deal more non-descript in a lesser director's hands. Here we have a full-on and unsettling assault of ALL your senses.
Indeed if you were to view the trailer for this movie (which is I believe available on Youtube or Imdb.com) then it is possible that you could dismiss this as a Mills & Boon romance lingering as it does on the worst pieces of dialogue in the movie.
Not so. Michael Powell is one of Michael Scorcese's favorite directors and not for no reason. He is a master of his art, conjuring up a follow up to the equally good "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946) with a powerful tale of people fighting with their repressed emotions.
Think "Remains of the Day" writ large on a big colourful canvas.
Quite literally in fact, the whole backdrop is actually black and white photographs that were painted by the film's art department in an array of pastel colours which makes the whole effect all the more impressive.
Better still, go to Youtube and watch the clip of the trailer which includes The Pet Shop Boys "It's a sin" as the music accompanying it.
This will give you all the ideas you need of the passions on display here.
This review was originally written by myself, here:
A group of nuns are given the task of setting up a school for te locals in a palace high up in the Himalayas. They slowly feel the effects of the odd setting and the altitude, resulting in re-evaluation of their lives, and sheer madness.
Though the plot is relatively weak, the acclaimed cinematography reminiscent of German Expressionism - with its slightly wonky camera angles and close ups - helps to push Powell and Pressburger's film 'Black Narcissus' into being seen as a true classic, both as a statement of the ending of the British Empire and a fine character study of a group of nuns in unknown territory. It seems dificult to believe that the scenes depicting the Himalayas in the background are in actuality simply matte paintings behind a studio set. Jack Cardiff's use of Technicolor also excretes strong themes. The moment Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron, who is almost as terrifying as Billie Whitelaw in The Omen) disrobes her white, pure gowns and puts on her red dress show that she has passion, lust and blood in her mind. This is also shown when the screen turns red as she repeats the name of Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr).
Based on a novel by Rumer Godden of the same name, it begins as a period drama set in eight thousand feet above sea level and gradually starts to show its true colours as a psychological study of loneliness, boredom, and most of all, envy.
With Black Narcissus, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have shown that not only are they capable of covering up a film's weaknesses and gaps, but that they can produce a high point of cinematic artistry.
With increasingly regularity I find myself ostracised from my own living room. I refuse to watch shows like 'Location, Location' so when my partner puts them on I decide to do something else. It seems to me that there are loads of these shows and if a new series is not on then one of the channels will be showing repeats. After you have seen a couple of episodes you have seen them all. Basically it comes down to the house and the location. The less desirable the house the better the location and vice versa. In many cases the view is part of what makes the location so good. To look out of the window and see beautiful sights can be enough for people to spend a lot more money. But could this literally be a killer view - so beautiful that it could make a good girl mad?
Sister Coldagh has been given the privilege of leading a section of her chapter to a new convent in the Himalayas. On arrival the convent seems to be situated in the ideal location on the edge of a beautiful vista it overlooking the peaceful village below and with a backdrop of the surrounding mountains. Look deeper and things are not always as they seem; the convent is an ex-harem, the locals are suspicious and the winds constant. Can the sisters work together to combat the feeling of unease that seems to haunt the building. They must be strong in their faith to survive.
As I was drawing to the end of my collection of Hitchcock films I thought it wise to stock up on some films by other notable directors - one set being Powell and Pressburger. Known for their stylised films I was curious to see whether their films would stand the test of time. Although considered an absolute classic by many I have to say that with 'Black Narcissus' I think they failed.
It is good to know that the problem of style over substance is not a new issue with the onset of CGI. When I came out of the cinema after 'Jurassic Park' I said that it was a good film now because of the special effects, but once they have faded there is no story to hold it up - I feel I was proved right as 'Park' is no longer a great film. In many ways 'Black Narcissus' suffers the same problem - the use of painted backdrops and some special effects shots may have wowed the audience in 1946, but now they are merely quant. No longer can Powell and Pressburger rely on their visuals to sell a film; the story must be up to scratch too.
Unfortunately it is here that 'Narcissus' falls down. The film is a slow one, like many films of the era. It also suffers from being a little too abstract at times, trying to pick out exactly what is happening can be difficult. Perhaps the issue is more with me than the film. P and P are directors interested in romantic storylines and the arts, not areas that I am particularly interested in. I sense that with a strong female cast that the film will be far more compelling to women than men.
Acting wise there are some standout performances, as well as some dated ones. Deborah Kerr as the Sister Coldagh does a good job and remains stoical throughout, but with a vulnerable core. On a more melodramatic note Kathleen Byron as the unstable Sister Ruth is good in terms of entertainment, but hammy in parts. The most dated role goes to David Farrar as Mr Dean who walks around in the most nauseating shorts and smokes a pipe (the ladies love the smell of a pipe). The film is certainly of its era and with its overdramatic dialogue does sit slightly uneasily in the modern world.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is trying to uncover the themes in it. It seems to be a very barren film at time with little explanation for the events that occur. However, the idea that somewhere can have a haunting quality is a good one and this will be missed by many people. The convent makes different people act in different ways as if the beauty of the mountains makes them question their convictions to the order.
Overall, I enjoyed 'Black Narcissus' as a curio as much as a film. The acting is good and there are some fabulous shots on offer. However, I refuse to over rate the film just because it is now considered a classic. It is slow in places and makes little sense in others. The special effects are no longer as special and some of the characters are dated to a fault. I still enjoyed watching it, but I am unlikely to go back to it, but with its strong leaning towards a females cast I think that some audiences will love it.
Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Deborah Kerr et al.
Price: Amazon uk £7.48
The version I watched was a Vanilla disc, but was a good transfer. You can get one DVD version with a commentary with Powell and Martin Scorsese. It has also been released on BluRay, although I am unsure how a 60 year film would benefit from the format.
Following the events of the first BACK TO THE FUTURE movie, 1980s American teenager Marty McFly has returned from the 1950s to his usual time period of 1985. He has found it subtly changed, with his parents happily married, rather than putting up with each other as they were at the beginning of the first movie. His brother and sister have successful jobs, and his mother fully supports his relationship with his girlfriend, and is even suggesting that they go away together for the weekend. Interrupting this happy return Marty's friend, the eccentric inventor Doc Brown, returns from the future (where he had gone at the end of the first film) and whisks Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer forward in time to 2015. Whilst there events transpire which result in Marty and Doc returning to 1955 after a brief stop off in yet another alternate 1985, to try to stop the bully of the piece, Biff Tannen (the version from 2015 who had temporarily stolen Doc's time machine to return to 1955 to help the younger version of himself win at gambling), from carrying out his evil deeds and thus restore 1985 to normal. Sound confusing? Well it is when you sit and try to think about it, but it makes perfect sense when watching the film unfold in front of you! A cliffhanger ending sets up the film for the 3rd and final BACK TO THE FUTURE movie.
Most of the principal cast from the original movie return to reprise their roles, including the star Michael J. Fox as teenager Marty McFly (in addition to playing other members of Marty's future family). BACK TO THE FUTURE was Fox's career-defining role and he was clearly happy 4 years later to return to the franchise. He had made other films in the time since, including the Vietnam-based CASUALTIES OF WAR, but it was the FUTURE films which made his movie career. By the time of the making of the second film, his popular sitcom FAMILY TIES had come to an end and he was able to fully focus on movies (although he would of course later return to television, most famously with the sitcom SPIN CITY).
Christopher Lloyd return to play the wonderful character Doc Brown, having also appeared in numerous films in the interim, including the famous WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, which was also directed by Robert Zemeckis, director of the FUTURE films.
Although Lea Thompson returned to play Lorraine, Marty's mother, Crispin Glover did not return to play Marty's father, George, due to an unwillingness to come back on the salary being offered. Instead the character was played by Jeffrey Weissman, who was filmed in quite odd ways to try to convince the audience that this was still the same character. Indeed Glover appeared in scenes shot for the first movie (during the 1950s set sequence of this sequel) despite not having given permission for his image to be used. This led to a court case which in turn let to the American Screen Actor's Guild setting up new rules to do with the derivative use of actors' works in film and on television.
In the early years of his career Robert Zemeckis was seen as being 'under the wing' of his producer Steven Spielberg, and indeed the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies were produced by Spielberg. Zemeckis has however since then really come into his own and has worked hard on developing new techniques for making films, leading to the upcoming release of BEOWULF, filmed using performance capture technology.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II was filmed 'back to back' with the 3rd film and sometimes feels like the filling in a sandwich, like an extended trailer for the last movie. Don't get me wrong, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film (as is the entire series), but it is not recommended for anyone who hasn't seen the first film (you will be completely confused if this is the case), not for anyone who is not willing to watch the third and final film (PART II ends on a fantastic cliffhanger which begs you to move straight onto watching the final part).
New ideas are added to the mythology, such as flying hoverboards (which feature as an important plot point in the 3rd film) and the Delorean time machine also being able to fly. It is also great seeing some wonderful special effects and some great in jokes (watch out for a promotion for the fictional movie JAWS 19 in the future sequence).
I have to say that I thoroughly love the BACK TO THE FUTURE films and could watch them again and again (and indeed have done over the years). I strongly recommend them to anyone who enjoys watching movies.
The DVD features some great additional features, including deleted scenes and outtakes, a comparison of the original storyboards with the filmed versions of certain scenes, and a variety of featurettes. All of this additional material is worth watching.
Amazon UK currently have the DVD available for under £4 and I would recommend that you buy it now!
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
Produced by Steven Spielberg (amongst others)
Music by Alan Silvestri
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd
In the first movie we saw Marty travel back in time to 1955, unwittinly interfer with his Mother and Father meeting for the time, so they don't fall in and love, and making his mother fall in love with him instead, so having to fix that, and try to figure out a way (with the much younger Doc Brown) of getting back to 1985. At the end we see Doc return to 1985 to Marty, and his girlfriend Jennifer to tell then they must travel with him to 2015 to stop their future children being sent to prison.
When they get there they quickly put right his kids situation, but Marty buys an almanac, a sports magazine reveal all the sports results from the year 1950-2000. Doc spots the almanac of Marty, tells him off and dumps the mag. But, Biff (the bully boy from the first) , now aged 72 sees the situation and figures out that the dolorean is a time machine so he jumps in (of course without the doc and martys knowledge) and goes back to the year 1955 to give the 17 year old him the almanac so he will rich. He suceeds. When Marty and Doc return to the year 1985 they discover that everything is different, and much much worse, Martys dad is dead, his mother Lorraine is unhappily married to the millionaire biff and the town is in a dire state, tramps and guns a plenty! So now Marty and the Doc must go back to 1955, and get the almanac off of the young Biff before he can cause so much damage.
At the same time the other Marty and Doc are in 1955 making martys parents fall in love, so the 'new' Marty and Doc must not interupt that in anyway to cause damage to that chain of events.
I love this movie, i must of seen it 100 times. It raises so many questions about time travel. It makes you think and paradoxes and things. Plus a question I always ask is, the 17 year old Marty and Jennifer went forward in time to 2015, so why doesn't the 47 year old Marty and Jennifer know that the teenaged them would be there. Because the 47 year old jennifer fainted when she accidentally saw her 17 year old self, but why would she when she was the one who did it?? She's remember right? Don't get me wrong I'm most certainly not dissing the movie, I understand that in order for the movie to work you have to let a few things slide, its the same with any time travel based plot.
It's very cleverly filmed, they had to recreate the set from the first movie, and as n 'new' Marty is walking around trying to get the almanac you can see the other him in the back ground doing the things he was doing in the first movie, very very clever.
I won't ruin the end of the movie, but will Marty and and Doc get the almanac back, without ruining the other chain of events?
Its not an expensive film to buy, its around 5.99 from most places and you'll love it, its really special if you watch the first one first.
Michael J. Fox ... Marty McFly/Marty McFly Jr/Marlene McFly
Christopher Lloyd ... Dr. Emmett Brown
Lea Thompson ... Lorraine Baines/McFly/Tannen
Thomas F. Wilson ... Biff Tannen/Griff Tannen
Elisabeth Shue ... Jennifer Parker/McFly
James Tolkan ... Mr. Strickland
Jeffrey Weissman ... George McFly
Whats it about:?
Marty McFly must visit 2015 to stop his son committing a crime which will destroy his family. Unfortunately, whilst hes there, he sets in motion events which create an alternative timeline, requiring him to return once more to 1955.
Whos in it?
Michael J Fox is probably the films biggest revelation. More renowned for playing slightly cheeky, happy-go-lucky characters, here he is called on to play several members of the McFly family. These include the 1985 version of himself, the 2015 older version of himself, the 2015 version of his own son and (most unnerving of all) the 2015 version of his own daughter. What is surprising is the versatility he displays, managing to invest each of them with a different character.
Equally up to the challenge of playing multiple versions is Thomas F Wilson, who is again brilliant as bully Biff/Griff Tannen. He plays four different versions of himself and again, manages to make them all different enough to be interesting, yet similar enough to be recognisably related. Its also worth noting that despite the fact that Biff is a bully, because of the way Wilson plays him you still feel a degree of sympathy each time he is bested.
As in the first film, though, Christopher Lloyd is the star as Doc Emmett Brown. Recognising that he was easily the best thing in the first film, here he has a much expanded role and is a key character. Its clearly a role which Lloyd relishes and has great fun playing. The craziness of his character leaves him with the freedom to do and say pretty much anything, yet he always treads just the right side of the line, and never lets Doc get TOO crazy!
Is it any good?
Its always difficult for a sequel to follow up on the success of a first film, and this is no exception. The problem for Back to the Future Part II is that it was filmed back to back with (wait for it ) Back to the Future Part III. So, as well as being a interesting and entertaining in its own right, it also had to make sure that it set up the final film in the trilogy.
There is no question that Part II is the darkest of in trilogy, and this is where the films problems begin. The original Back to the Future was a fun, light-hearted piece of disposable entertainment. By making Part II darker, it loses much of that sense of fun. Everything about it becomes darker the settings, the environment, the humour, the character . Normally, youd get no complaints from me about this, but here it just doesnt quite work. After the bright colours and gee whiz optimism that characterised the original film, it somehow seems wrong to watch everything get very black and pessimistic.
The film also has an uneven quality, caused by it trying to be a little too clever. The original film was predominantly set in 1955, with bookend scenes in 1985. Here however, the action takes place across multiple timelines. It starts in 1985, zips forward to 2015, then goes to an alternate 1985, before returning to 1955. Still with me?! The original, by concentrating mainly on a single time period, was a nostalgia-tinged science fiction-fish out of water-rom-com Part II places a much greater emphasis on the science fiction element, which may turn some viewers off.
Similarly, the original was a light, feel good film. You could watch it without having to concentrate too much. By contrast, the second film requires much greater concentration to keep up with events. Indeed, its interesting to note that, although Part II is shorter than Part I (108 minutes, as opposed to 116 minutes), it actually feels longer, because you dont engage to quite the same extent with the story.
Since the film is partly set in 2015, it has also dated slightly more. The special effects are actually not as good as in Part One (because of the need to appear more futuristic) and show their age badly at times. As with any predictions of the future, the ideas about what life would be like in 2015 (flying cars etc.) look hopelessly silly the sort of thing you used to see on Tomorrows World. Of course, thats with the benefit of hindsight back in 1989, when the film was released, who could have said these things wouldnt have come true!
Finally, in order to tie things in with the first film AND set up the third, Part 2 sometimes feels a little contrived (Doc Browns sudden interest in the old west, Marty unable to resist a challenge if he is called a chicken etc.) All these things add up to a somehow slightly unsatisfactory story and it has the real feeling of a middle film. Indeed, it would be very difficult to watch the second film in isolation. Whereas Parts I and III could be enjoyed as standalone films (although, obviously, you get far more out of them if you have seen the others), Part II relies so heavily on Part I that newcomers would be completely bewildered.
Once the film returns to its roots (the final act is set in 1955) it becomes much more enjoyable, recapturing the spirit of its predecessor. This section is skilfully woven together, re-playing parts of the first film from multiple perspectives and introducing new elements each time). Crucially, though, it never feels forced or like its being clever for the sake of it. It always feels like events makes sense and are logical (within its own constraints, obviously!) and that the story is very much driving this part of the film.
There is still much humour to be had in the film from sly digs at the unoriginality of Hollywood (Jaws 19 showing at the cinema in 2015), through to the repeated catchphrases of the key characters (Heavy, Great Scott) etc. The fun element which made the original so enjoyable is still there, its just a shame it gets rather lost at times in the over-complicated plot.
Best of all is the ending, which leaves us on a real cliffhanger . The writers obviously benefited from knowing that Part III was already imminent and make full use of this to deliver an emotion-packed gut punch to end on. Its like a return to the old Saturday morning serials, where each episode would finish with a cliffhanger to be resolved the following week. Its perhaps fitting (deliberate?) that these serials were at the height of their popularity in the 40s and 50s where the bulk of Parts I and II are set.
Although it tries a little too hard at times, Back to the Future Part II is still highly watchable. Although Ive concentrated more on the films negative points dont let that put you off . Its certainly the weakest of the trilogy and you have to have seen Part I to make sense of it, but its still a great film!
Back to the Future Part II
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Running time; approx. 108 minutes
Elijah Wood (Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) makes his film debut in Back to the Future 2 as one of the small boys looking at the Wild Gunmen arcade machine in the Café 80s (during the 2015 section)
© Copyright SWSt 2007
This is not a film that I was particularly interested in watching - the title is odd and the idea of nuns trying to convert natives with their own religion does not appeal in the slightest. However, I watched it once years ago when there was nothing else on the TV and was delighted to have the opportunity to see it again recently. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, it is a quite extraordinary film with excellent actors such as Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons with breathtaking cinematography that adds to the rather supernatural atmosphere perfectly. This is a film that should be much better known and valued than it is.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger worked together on a number of films during the 1940s and 1950s. Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian Jew, came to London looking for work as a scriptwriter, but unfortunately didn't speak good enough English. Through friends, he met Michael Powell, already known as a director. Pressburger provided an insight of how foreigners see the English into the films that they made together, whereas Powell, quintessentially English, provided the English viewpoint. Their films made together were referred to under the banner of 'The Archers'. Some of their more famous films include 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp', 'The Red Shoes' and 'The Elusive Pimpernel'.
Five nuns, let by the austere Sister Clodagh, leave their convent in Calcutta to set up a mission in the Himalayas. They settle into a former palace, the home of The Old General, who agrees to let them stay and helps them to find female students. The nuns, Sisters Clodagh, Phillipa, Ruth, Honey and Briony, all have strong faith and begin willingly to teach and nurse the natives. They are shocked to find that the Old General has to pay children to come to the school, but eventually accept that this may be the only way to persuade them to come. Eventually, they even accept The Old General's son as a pupil.
The nuns' only link with the outside world is with Mr Dean, an Englishman turned native, who does not believe that the nuns should be carrying out missionary work. He is rude and unhelpful to begin with, although eventually does try to help the nuns when the bleak environment begins to affect them and the death of a baby given medicine by one of the nuns brings the wrath of the natives down on their heads. One by one, the nuns begin to lose sight of hope and reality until there is nowhere left for them to turn.
Deborah Carr shines as Sister Clodagh. She is completely covered from head to foot in her habit and all that can be seen of her is her face, which when it changes from her usual severe countenance to pain at past and present sufferings, is truly enthralling. Her efforts to grip hold of sanity when she suffers from flashbacks from her past life is one of the most realistic pieces of acting I have seen in a long time. At this point (in 1947), Deborah Carr was only beginning her career, but it is one of my favourite roles.
Jean Simmons has also been praised for her role in this film as Kanchi, a young girl who has fallen in love with Mr Dean. The role is silent, but effective. However, I find it hard to reconcile myself with the fact that a white woman is playing the part of a Nepalese one. I know that it was common for this to happen in films of the period because it was not easy to find actors of the right ethnicity, but I do find it slightly offensive. Other roles played by white actors are that of Angu Ayah, played by May Hallatt and The Old General, played by Esmond Knight. Ayah's role in particular is ridiculous and Hallatt makes little effort to pretend that she is not an English speaker.
Sabu, the first Indian/Middle Eastern actor to make it big in Hollywood, plays the role of The Young General. This is a small role, but he does it well.
The other role of importance is that of Sister Ruth, played by Kathleen Byron, who eventually loses all sense of reality and renounces religion, dressing herself in ordinary clothes and smothering herself in make-up. She is really terrifying in this role and deserves far more praise than she has got - Jean Simmons very much steals her thunder.
Mr Dean, played by David Farrar, with whom Sister Ruth professes to be in love, although he clearly has feelings for Sister Clodagh, is supposed to be an obnoxious man, and he does that well.
With the odd exception, the actors in this film play their roles beyond reproach. The cinematography is also excellent - the palace is at the top of a steep hill and the view up to and down from it is spectacular. The scenes where Sister Ruth finally goes mad and stalks Sister Clodagh round the palace before running through a bamboo forest are so creepy that I could barely watch them. This is all capped by the final scene when the mission's inhabitants are leaving by horse and the rain begins to fall gently on soft green vegetation - a sign of cleansing.
If this film has any message (other than women living in seclusion will go nuts!), it is that every religion has its own prejudices and trying to convert a group of people from one set of prejudices to another is bound to fail. The natives linked their religion with magic, which the nuns found intolerable, yet the idea of the natives finding fault with Christianity, such as when The Young General is told he cannot be a student because he is not female, and he asks whether Jesus Christ was not a man, was impossible for the nuns to cope with. This Pressburger attempt at looking from the outside in has to have been groundbreaking for its time.
All in all, this is a marvellous film, well-worth watching. Highly recommended.
I watched the film version, but the DVD is available from Amazon for £17.99. Cheaper versions are available in the old and new section.
As the name suggests this is part II of the time travel trilogy. It is unique amongst the three as the only one to to propel itself into the future as well as the past. In fact the film not only gives a glimpse into a possible 2015, but also offers an alternative 1985 and a return visit to 1955. Yes it is confusing at times, and the fact that Michael J.Fox himself plays no less than 4 rolls ( a teenage Marty, a middle-aged Marty, his son and even his daughter) adds to the "fun" shall we say. The plot spins forward, backwards and indeed expands outwards, but remains credible, entertaining and above all fun. It is highly watchable and works well as an immediate continuation of the previous film. Of the trilogy this film would probably stand least well if viewed as a single offering, but it is a valid part of the trilogy's jigsaw. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd head a cast which works well together, so it is worth sitting back and enjoying the ride, just don't think too deeply!
It's clear that Back to the Future was not made with its two sequels in mind. The start of Back to the Future 2 reprises the end of the first film, except Doc Brown now hesitates a lot longer before saying that Marty and Jennifer's kids will turn out fine. This is clearly the point at which a great one-off film becomes a trilogy. From here, characters and plot twists are introduced which will lead seamlessly into the series finale, while incorporating large chunks of the original film. The stakes are raised in this second episode. From the original romantic comedy with a science-fiction spin, we now launch into a full-blown time travel epic. Timelines are tangled and paradoxes (1) run loose as Marty struggles to save his family and his whole town from a hellish fate, while trying not to destroy the universe in the process. Marty's theme becomes the film's score, the music full-blown Indiana Jones-esque orchestrated grandeur. The action sequences are also a lot more dangerous, the sense of fun that the original gloried in has faded. Biff has changed from a bully to a psychotic madman, capable of anything. The lovable Doc Brown has undergone a complete overhaul. He is starting to live by his preaching about not changing history, scolding Marty for buying a Sports Almanac with sports results until the year 2000. Despite the fact that in the original film, he said that he intended to do just that. It's a logical development of the character and works well. What doesn't work is the way in which Marty is suddenly incapable of being accused of being a coward. Where did this come from? It's exactly the sort of trite, hackneyed 'character-by-numbers' rubbish that the original film strove so hard to avoid! Yuk, yuk, triple yuk. My major gripe with the film. Of course, a criticism of most sequels is that they tend to merely repackage the best moments from their predecessors. Back to the Futur
e 2 not only does this, but glories in it, with its tongue firmly in its cheek (naturally). Only the trappings change as Marty evades pursuers on a skateboard, again. As he makes a fool of himself in a cafe, again. As he checks newspaper articles and photos, again. But this is a fantastic approach to take. History goes in cycles, or so the theory goes, and here we see this in action. The whole sequence set in the (now fairly near) future is a fascinating mixture of the self-referential (the holographic Jaws still 'looks fake'), the satirical (the conflict between Reagan and the Ayatollahs reduced to computer sprites arguing over customers in a cafe) and the genius. The makers have avoided the temptation to create a uniform future of spangly buildings, and have instead built their future firmly on the present. Futuristic architecture springs up organically among the older buildings, lending a plausibility lacking in even the greatest science-fiction films. It's a future in which people could actually live. Oh, and a young Billy Zane appears in it. Odd. The same fantastic special effects zip the film along, with added split screen genius. By having much of the film run alongside events from the original, the audience gets a clear sense of a production team glorying in their own cleverness. Luckily, Spielberg and Zemeckis are just as smart as they think they are. And, just as in the original, a seemingly sewn-up plot bursts into a terrific shock ending that throws open all the options once again. This isn't as good as Back to the Future, but then Back to the Future is a defining moment in recent film history. It does have the same high-quality acting, effects and music, and more fantastically composed tracking shots (particularly of the airborne Delorean). It's probably the weakest link of the three films, but it's still magnificent.
Well it’s 2015, and Marty (Michael J Fox), the Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and his girlfriend Jennifer are cruising down the skyway To Hill Valley in the now flying DeLorean on a mission to stop Marty and Jennifer’s future son from going to prison. They do, but Marty’s plan to take a book of historic sports statistics back with him to make some fast money at gambling goes horribly wrong, Biff (now aged 77), the saga’s villainous bully steals the time machine and the book and gives it to his younger self back in 1955. Old Biff returns the DeLorean to 2015 and Marty, the Doc and Jennifer go back to 1985. However, Hill Valley is very different to the way they left it… A Plan to resolve the situation leads them back to the fifties and to a scene with Marty observing a parallel of himself who is trying to get back to 1985 using a lightning bolt (remember the first part?) After the success of 'Back To The Future' this was a sure fire hit. In fact, Universal Pictures were so sure it would be a success, they green lit the simultaneous shooting of parts II and III to cut the overall production costs, and also I’m sure to prevent Michael J. Fox going grey, after all, his character was still supposed to be 17, and four years had already passed in real time. This does not often happen in Hollywood. It is a big risk to take, as nobody is ever sure if a film will actually make a profit. Only four in ten made do. The result of this double sequel is in the first place a second entertaining 'Back To The Future' and if I didn’t have a definite rule about sequels not being able to match originals, then I might say that this is the better film. However, I consider it one film in three parts which means I never answer the question “Which is the best Back To The Future film?” The future scenes are impressive, although one gets the feeling that 3015 is being represented rather
than 2015! Today we are closer to this ‘future’ than we are to the film’s ‘present’ of 1985, but you wouldn’t believe it. Will cars fly in thirteen years time? Will café staff be replaced by hovering television screens? And will there be establishments which celebrate and pay homage to the 1980s or would we all rather forget they ever happened? Still, this is a truly exhilarating film and a must see, as long as it is watched along with the preceding and subsequent chapters.
The second of three. In this one Marty AND Doc go into the future to try and help Marty’s future kids before they are locked up in jail. Of course, everything has changed in the future and there are now flying cars and hover skateboards (perfect for Marty, he being a skateboard fanatic). Anyways, he comes across Biff’s grandson and of course, as usual Marty sorts him out. There are things to notice such as the café has changed from the first one, its supposed to be a 20th century café and in Marty’s time its supposed to be a 1950’s café. Not as good as the first but still a laugh.
McFly's back, and this time he's got to sort out his own future.. this of course goes horribly wrong, and actually ends up changing his past, when an elderly Biff manages to acquire an Almanac from 2015 (which Marty had actually bought!), and then stows away in the DeLorean, which can now fly! He takes the alamanac back to Biff in 1955, and tells him to use it wisely, which soon makes Biff a very powerful man, and changes the cours of history completely along the way. Of course Marty has to go back to 1955 again, and sort out the mess there, using his newly acquired hoverboard to keep one step ahead of Biff. Unfotunatley, it's just not as good as the other two films in the trilogy, but it's difficult to see how it could be easily improved!
This movie is certainly not one to watch without having seen the first in the series. It follows directly on from BACK TO THE FUTURE and also ends with a cliffhanger which leads into Part 3. On the whole this is a great movie, with some excellent re-workings of scenes from the previous movie. There are some plot problems, but then there always does seem to be in time travel movies, but it's still great fun, especially to see Michael J. Fox play so many parts in one movie. See it!
A visit by Marty and the Doc to the year 2015 seems to resolve a few problems with the future McFly family. When they return home, they discover someone has tampered with time and Hill Valley, 1985. They must once again get back to 1955 to save the future...