This brilliant documentary, with no conventional plot, is a collection of expertly photographed scenes edited together to show aspects of human daily life in different cultures. Without words, cameras show us the world, with an emphasis not on ‘where,’ but on ‘what’s there’. It begins with morning, natural landscapes and people at prayer before moving to images of the destruction of nature via logging, blasting, and strip mining. Images of poverty, rapid urban life, and factories are followed by those of concentration camps and mass graves. But the cycle is completed with images of prayer and nature returning as a monk rings a huge bell and stars wheel across the sky. Fricke’s use of slow-motion pans and time-lapse photography make Baraka a visual odyssey – a sort of 70 mm moving postcard tour of planet Earth done with artistry in sight and sound. The music adds to the powerful effect of the film, allowing the viewer to just enjoy it as simply something beautiful, or allowing them to delve into the messages that the film portrays regarding religion, nature and technology.
Chariots of Fire (PG)
Directed by Hugh Hudson
20th Century Fox
This film has become a modern classic, winning four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Musical Score. It tells the story of two British track athletes, Harold Abrahams, a determined Jew, and Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, who eventually compete in the 1924 Olympics. From the memorable opening shots of the runners on the beach, which introduce the theme music, the developing narrative explores each man’s goal and his motivation and determination to achieve it. As different as they are, it is drive that these men have in common. The film invites discussion of many issues and reflection on how values have changed over time such as the role of sport and the Olympics in society, the notion of ‘amateurism’ in sport, friendship and loyalty, faith and belief, racism and nationalism. The richness of Vangelis’ musical score lifts the film to another level, evoking emotional responses in the viewer while enhancing the visual images and cinematography.
Chicken Run (G)
Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park
Chicken Run is a funny and visually inventive comedy. It is set on a chicken farm in 1950s England. When the owner decides to turn all her chickens into chicken pies the chickens have an urgent need to escape. There are many adventures before an escape is successful, with the action sequence in the chicken pie machine making a film allusion to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There are tests of daring and skill and character, and the film reveals much about the human condition through its chicken characters. The film is the work of Peter Lord and Nick Park who use a technique called Claymation, in which plasticine is changed from shot to shot to give the illusion of 3-D movement. In Chicken Run, their technique ensures a smooth and authentic movement to their characters.
The Dark Crystal (G)
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
This visually arresting film has been made entirely with human-sized models and puppets. On another world two races exist, the gentle Mystics who teach about peace and love, and the Skeksis, a violent and powerful tribe. Two Gelfings, Jen and Kira, survivors of a race wiped out by the Skeksis, go on a quest to find a shard to heal the Dark Crystal and bring unity back to their world. The Dark Crystal took five years to make and the directors have created a fascinating world with a diversity of creatures and ingenious flora and fauna as well as providing a cathartic and satisfying conclusion.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (G)
When a small alien is accidentally left behind on earth he finds help from three human children: Elliott, Michael and four-year-old Gertie. Initially Elliot hides ET and then reveals his new friend to his brother and sister. The children keep the secret but ET wants to return home. The intervention of the government nearly kills ET but with the children’s help he is able to escape and a spaceship arrives to take him home. This humorous and poignant film has much to say about human behaviour and expectations. The film’s visual imagery and symbolism are worthy of study. The film was re-released in 2002 and the additional scenes added for this twentieth anniversary edition are well integrated into the original. The visual effects have been enhanced and the film has a re-mastered soundtrack.
Ever After (PG)
Directed by Andy Tennant
20th Century Fox
This film is an appropriation of the fairytale Cinderella. It challenges the belief that the legend of Cinderella was derived from the original fairytale and suggests that in fact the fairytale came from a real-life story. Focusing on retelling the actual events, the film dismisses the fairytale’s magical and fantasy elements such as fairy godmothers and pumpkin coaches. Set in medieval France, it tells the story of Danielle, her treatment by her ambitious stepmother and her developing relationship with Prince Henry. A gender reading of the film is a clear base for study. Danielle challenges the viewers’ preconceptions of Cinderella. She is independent and strong, and can fight with a sword, saving Prince Henry and later herself from attack. She is well-read and intellectual, and challenges the prince’s patriarchal and aristocratic thinking. Intertextuality is used in the film to reinforce its sense of being a retelling of a true story: Leonardo da Vinci replaces the fairy godmother as being instrumental in bringing Danielle and the prince together to live ‘happily ever after’.
Fly Away Home (PG)
Directed by Carroll Ballard
The real life experiences of scientist Bill Lishman who has spent his life saving endangered species of birds provided the impetus for this film. The film opens with a silent car crash in New Zealand that kills Amy’s mother and sends the thirteen-year-old to her father, Thomas, in Ontario, Canada. The relationship between Amy and her father is difficult but improves with his plan to help Amy teach the sixteen geese she has raised how to fly and migrate. Issues of love and trust and concerns about the environment provide much to discuss and the cinematography of the aerial scenes is exhilarating.
Galaxy Quest (PG)
Directed by Dean Parisot
A complete spoof of the Star Trek television series and films, this is an excellent text for teaching parody and caricature. It presents the ageing actors of a successful television series, Galaxy Quest, still dressed in their costumes doing the talk show and advertising circuit years after their show has been cancelled. The fun begins when real aliens, believing transmissions of the show they received were factual, arrive on earth to get the Galaxy Quest crew to help them against their enemies. As their ship is a direct copy of the show’s stage set, the actors find they are more than capable of taking command, with hilarious results. The film’s humour works best when the illogic of the TV show gets in the way. There is on board, for example, a passageway blocked by alternating vertical and horizontal clappers that smash back and forth across the passageway. Negotiating it could be fatal. Why are they there? No reason. Just because they look good on TV.