But the worst thing, really, is the lack of structure. Musicals are selective in the parts of the story that they take to build the three-act structure; the characters have to be established before we can care about them, have to face an obstacle so that we care more, and have to overcome it or die trying, at which point the big numbers come out. Here, we start with a big number -- the dance on the LA freeway -- but there's no reason for dancing as of yet. The love- not-at-first-sight motif is a good old one, but here it's so choppily presented that we're not sure whether we should care or not. It could be a slow-motion screwball comedy, or a musical revue punctuated by little life-dramas -- but to be a musical it must soar. This one is leaden, forced, and was painful for me to watch, despite much admirable production work and cinematography.
After I got home, I watched "Singin' in the Rain" as an antidote, and felt much better. It's not impossible to revive the moribund musical genre -- it was done in 1981 with Pennies from Heaven, and several times over by Baz Luhrmann, who even managed to make some of his non- professional singing stars sound pretty darn good (see Moulin Rouge). But despite all the hype, this film, to me, felt like seeing an old friend imperfectly resurrected from the grave, with none of the old lively exuberance for which -- once upon a time -- he was known the world over.
"Satire. A literary work in which human vice or folly is ridiculed or attacked scornfully. B. The branch of literature that composes such work. 2. Irony, derision or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice or stupidity."
And that's what Spike does, at his best. And this is one of his very best: a scatter-shot, no-holds- barred, old school Greek comedy, with Jackson's "Dolmetes" as its one-man chorus -- in short, a provoking work for our times.
What was it that actors did before they could speak? Did they, pace Hamlet, "saw the air too much with their hands"? Yes, but here, with fewer words than any "talkie" since 1927, Redford speaks with hands, eyes, and shoulders, and heart. Was there ever a man who did more with only one word of dialog, and that a word guaranteed to bump up the film's MPAA rating? We have looked upon, and loved Redford's face; now let us look upon his hands and works. Winching himself up the mast, patching a hole with resin and fiberglass, aiming a belated sextant at the sun -- here is a man, a human, in his inmost essence, striving to find his way on our planet of mostly water. There has been no better, no more economical, no more moving performance this year, or any other.
And since the IMDb, to which I contributed long before it became such a commercial concern, insists that I have at least 10 lines of text, I will keep on jabbering for a few more lines, in order to preserve the above comments for posteriority ...
There is none of the cerebral intensity, none of the subdued emotion, essential to Holmes as a character. A pipe appears precisely three times, and a cigar if proffered but unsmoked. Jude Law's Watson shows little affection for or understanding of this nouveau Holmes, and their little bits of stage business evoke nothing of the vital feeling between them.
That said, if a steam-punk action-adventure film that's built around three or four elaborate chase sequences appeals, this film may be a fun way to spent an afternoon -- it's certainly a decent "popcorn" flick. But anyone who knows anything about, or cares very much for, Conan Doyle's immortal character would be better off staying home and popping a few Jeremy Bretty DVD's into their player.
But it's depressing to see how many people regard this as an accurate portrayal of Inuit culture. One hardly knows where to begin! The Inuit customs regarding "wife-sharing" are distorted (the idea that it would be a terrible insult not to accept such an offer is groundless), and the use of "laughter" as a euphemism for sex is merely an old Hollywood notion. Inuit mothers are not left until their mother's death to be told of common matters such as the importance of cutting a child's umbilical cord, and a grandmother, however infirm, would never be left out in the open to be eaten by a polar bear (a special igloo would instead be prepared, with important personal items, and then sealed up, after which the village would be moved). Most insulting of all is the notion that somehow Inuit would be unaware that babies are born without visible teeth!
The inaccuracies are not merely cultural, but historical as well. There is simply no period of time when the Inuit (or other Arctic groups such as the Inighuit, Inupiat, or Yupik) would have been unfamiliar with firearms and yet exposed to 1960s-style rock music -- these events are anywhere from 75 to 100 years apart, depending on the region. Inuit who went to trading posts would never be mocked by other Inuit, or by traders, at a trading post -- trading was serious business -- and would never be sold a gun with zero ammunition. This is not to say that traders were always totally fair; the guns were often of inferior quality, and the addiction to a source of powder and shot, along with the switch to fur-bearing animals as a sort of cash crop, were indeed problems.
The saddest thing of all is that, 27 years before "Savage Innocents," a far more accurate account of the disparities, tensions, and injustices between Inuit and traders and police was released by a major Hollywood studio -- this was 1933's "Eskimo," starring Ray Mala, a half- Inupiat Alaskan actor.
Having nearly no Inuit in the cast at all is, despite comments to the contrary, a problem as well. Hollywood had cast Inuit as Inuit as early as 1911, and "Eskimo" enjoyed an almost all- Inuit cast. The fact that all of the principal photography was done on a sound stage decorated by people with no knowledge whatever of either Inuit or northern homes is a further issue.
There's no question that "Savage Innocents" works hard to elicit sympathy with an "alien" culture -- the only problem is that this culture is almost entirely a fantasy.