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In general there are serious problems with the mise-en-scene employed here. It's clear that no small amount of thought went into factors like costume and production design, but neither is very effective in evoking a believable world. Perhaps it is a matter of scale; the film is so stage-bound that I laughed out loud once it was mentioned that "five million" people lived in the city. (Yes I understand the constraints of the film's budget. Matte paintings here and there might have helped.) In all the most disappointing Altman film I've ever seen. Great ideas and grand metaphors do not always come through in art--it's just part of the game.
For the record, I loved Zardoz, which is generally regarded as another high-concept misfire, so I had hopes I would like this one in spite of the suspiciously low Rotten Tomatoes score.
Unfortunately, RT was right. This was just boring and terrible. Basically, an ice age has enveloped the Earth and everyone passes their time playing a game called Quintet - and people get killed over it. That's it; that's the plot.
The whole thing had the feel of a pilot for a TV show that was never picked up. You know, like maybe in the next episode, something interesting would happen. There definitely wasn't enough there to stand on its own.
On top of everything else, it takes itself really seriously, so it even fails in the "so bad it's good" category".
I can't recommend watching this movie for any reason whatsoever.
* A point of note - "Quintet" was filmed at the old Expo '67 site in Montréal, Québec, adding to the film's vision of decay and abandonment.
Well, despite this, something about it must have made an impression though, because a few years later I rented it on tape and gave the movie another try. I was surprised by how different the movie seemed to me. I watched it again a day later and thought, "Wow, this movie has a lot going on."
I appreciated the underlying theme that life is more than simply surviving - otherwise it becomes a sort of twisted addiction of playing a game with death. Essex's question , "What do I win?" and it's hollow answer of "The chance to play again" pretty much sums up the generation we find ourselves a part of as well.
I know this is a flawed movie, but somehow it has become one of my favorites. I still have it on beta and am hoping it comes out in a restored letterbox version with the frosted window effect I remember from the theater. It is a cold movie and you are expected to watch it from arms length - once you get hat, the movie begins to come into focus.
If you hated the move the first time, give it another try.