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This isn't a film for everyone
tsquires-128 September 2005
I saw the film in Westwood, and I don't recall having anyone walk out of the theater. The film is decidedly depressing. It was written at a time when a lot of people in the country were very concerned that America and the Soviet Union were heading towards nuclear war. The catch word at that time was "nuclear winter". Scientists in the late 1970's had just announced to the world that a nuclear war was totally unwinnable---because if just 10% of the nuclear weapons on Earth were detonated anywhere on the planet, so much dust and debris would be thrown into the upper atmosphere that the sun's rays would be blocked, causing another ice age. This film is set in such an ice age. The main theme of the movie is that nothing is more important than love and caring about people, and your family, and children. In the film, we see a world where people have stopped loving others, and where the people have adopted a death culture. The film was not very entertaining, but it was a warning of where our culture could be heading if we weren't careful. The movie certainly made me think. It was a turning point in my life, and made me realize I had a duty to care about other people.
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Different take on Sci/Fi
lisvic24 September 2005
I saw the film for the first time about a month ago on cable. Always heard about it, but never had a chance to check it out.In sharp contrast with most of the reviews on this page I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. While not a big budget film, production team created an interesting world of constant snow. Altman must also be given credit for successfully creating an atmosphere of constant dread. That combined with a powerful music and loud ambient sound effects, presents a cinematic work with imagery that will haunt you weeks after seeing the film.It's not a perfect film, but what film is? Sure, movie takes it's time....,but so what? Sure not everything is explained, but where does it say that story must be spoon fed to the audience? How about letting me think on my own? Sure, it's a low tech Sci/Fi, but so what? Just because there's no plasma rifles or space battles doesn't mean the film is bad...Altman's film is an unusual take on Science Fiction genre...More of a play than a film...more of an allegory than a linear storytelling...and it's just keeps getting better with repeated viewings. More things noticed that were missed before...A surprisingly rich film. In it's tone, the movie I would compare"Quintet" to would be Tarkovsky's "Solaris".... I loved "Quintet"! Too bad it's not on DVD!
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Compelling and much better 23 years later
ddrucker-213 June 2002
I saw this movie years ago on a date while I was in college was completely baffled by it (although I think I was one of the few people who liked it a bit nevertheless). Now, with it on the Fox Movie channel, I had a chance to see it again. What a difference a couple of decades makes! In 1979 there was no concept of nuclear winter, but now we all too well have visions of the world dying in the grip of ice. (In fact, some have pointed out that the same emissions that are causing global warming may end up creating exactly the opposite effect; the continuous fouling of the atmosphere will eventually shut out the sun and a new, deadly ice age will engulf the earth.) That said, the idea of hoplessness - of people having nothing to look forward to except the thrill of their game, makes the actions of the game players understandable, even if they are not sympathetic. In this sense, the movie is oddly like other apocalyptic movies like 'On the Beach', where survivors indulge in the ultimate decadence - willful ignorance of survival, a warped echo of their humanity. This is a movie about intrigue, very much like the spy movie involving double agents and double-crossing, but this is also a movie (like the more recent 'Sixth Sense' which also has a clear set of symbolic imagery) about a pervasive set of symbols. Everywhere you see the number 5. Everything comes in fives or pentagrams. There is a marvelous shot of a woman's face in a mirror, framed by a pentagram. The church scene where 'Saint Christopher' is speaking of the 5 stages of life is a droll parody of Christian orthodoxy, a sort of post-nuclear take on predestination, our lot in life, and the futitility of our existence, all ornamented with Latin and ritual. Far less subtle scenes like the 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes' scene where they worship an atomic bomb come to mind. The musical score is also constantly using the rhythm of 5. I found the music as well as the sound design (the constant howling of the wind, and groaning of ice) extraordinary. The ending, in which there are 4 orchestral strikes - the fifth is left out (perhaps symbolizing the fact that the story is left hanging) is suitably unsettling. My only criticism is the acting . Nearly all of he actors (except for Paul Newman) are not native English speakers, and their accents make many lines nearly incomprehensible. This is a shame, given that so many nuances of the plot are dependent on a line here or there. I'm not sure this film would be good remade by David Lynch (as one reviewer has suggested), but I now wonder what re-dubbing actors voices might do for it! Also, the entire film is shot with vaseline around the edges of the lens. While this technique may work as a special effect (and a clichéed one at that!) doing it for the entire movie is just distracting. I'll bet that Altman regretted that decision. 'Quintet' does not deserve the scorn that has been laid on it. It is not Altman's worst film; it is not a mistake. It is instead, an essay regarding what it is to be human, and an experiment in cold claustrophobic tone. In some ways, the experiment is a success - I found many of the images, sounds and music and ideas very memorable. In fact, I'll bet that the movie has had more influence on some filmmakers than we may realise. I'll bet Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Alex Proyas like this movie. They all have that sensitivity to consistency of tone and vision that this movie has.
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The elements are there but the execution doesn't work!
gr8tful5 May 2006
Altman's Quintet has to be considered more than just flawed: As so many other reviewers have pointed out, the ideas behind the film, even some of the choices in depicting those ideas, ought to work--and yet very little in this difficult film does. The partially fogged camera lens--I remarked to my wife that it has to be the most distracting directorial conceit I've ever seen--never allowed me to get "into" the film's world.

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.
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A flawed masterpiece
raidavies-110 December 2005
I am one of those who was haunted by this film on first viewing and watched it for a second time soon afterward and understood - and appreciated - it far more as a result. It's often disingenuous to say that a film which so clearly divided opinion has to have something going for it but, in the case of Quintet, that is pleasingly true. By trawling the other comments about Quintet on the website, you can see that some people have a visceral dislike for the slow pace and unfolding of the film and a discontent with the actions and reactions of characters within it. Others point out that this is precisely the point of the film - it is profoundly nihilistic and demonstrates the breakdown of modern social conventions when a culture is forced to make a dramatic change to itself. Also, Quintet should be taken in the context of Marshall Mcluhan's comment: "the medium is the message". I wish I could claim this next comment as my own, because it's very perceptive, but it came from my then girlfriend: "This must have been what it was like for people in the last ice age, when just surviving was the priority and anything, even killing people, was a welcome break from the tedium". You see, Quintet isn't actually about how a society evolves to meet the challenges of environmental change; it's about how a society devolves to minimise the effect of environmental changes. Having watched this film again just last night, I agree even more with Altman's vision of where the human race is likely to go - I think he is remarkably prescient. Like 'Three Days of the Condor', this is a film that has, with the passing of time, become remarkably relevant to the world in which we live today.
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I really wanted to like this movie, but...
ejonconrad28 November 2016
I had never heard of this movie until I saw it in an "obscure sci-fi" list. That was surprising, because it sounded like it was right in my wheel house. I love 70s post-apocalyptic sci-fi, I love Paul Newman, and I love Robert Altman movies.

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.
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Too much Vaseline
capitainehaddock14 June 2007
This is one of the many very good performances by Paul Newman, who was always underrated as an actor because of his all-encompassing beauty. The main problem with this movie, in my opinion, is the huge Vaseline budget they had. The whole movie was shot with Vaseline at the edges of the lens. I find that very annoying. When I make the effort to remember not to be annoyed by that "Vaseline experiment", I find it is not a bad movie by a long shot. The cast is brilliant, the futuristic plot is innovative for the period and the decor is intriguingly apt. The smearing of Vaseline on the lens applied to a whole movie may have been innovative, it was certainly daring, but I, for one, like to be able to look at the part of the screen I choose, and not be forbidden to have a clear look at the edges. CH
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pretty good
KyleFurr25 September 2005
I don't know why i had never heard of this movie before with Paul Newman and directed by Robert Altman. This movie doesn't even seem to have a cult following and this must of been a big flop when it came out to be this unknown. A lot of the other people writing comments on this movie seem to really hate it but i actually liked it. I liked the fact that it didn't give any answers about what happened to the earth or even what year it is. The first hour of the movie is very slowing and you really don't know what's going on. I would like to know what Newman and Altman would have to say about this movie now and i guess i can see why so many people hated it even though i liked it.
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A hidden gem
SammyK25 December 1999
It's a shame that I'd held off so long before finally watching this film - on TV at midnight, no doubt. Many have criticized and disowned this film, citing it as a low point for Robert Altman and nothing more, but this is an unfair judgement. While it may not deliver to fans of "Nashville" and "M.A.S.H.," "Quintet" is a provocative and eerily unsettling bit of cinematic science fiction. Its depiction of a post-apocalyptic ice age is frighteningly vivid, and its nihilistic theme is perhaps one of the reasons many find it off-putting. However, if you're looking for a diamond in the rough, "Quintet" could quite possibly be the movie you're looking for. Altman may not be in top form here, but he certainly creates a vision worth noticing.

* 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.
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A turn about opinion
enkiduu11 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw Quintet in the Theater I was bored to tears. I couldn't understand why my best friend had dragged me all the way into Berkeley to watch such a slow paced, dull movie. Paul Newman's performance was so dead pan I thought, what is going on with this guy?

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.
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Another misunderstood Altman orphan
matt-20120 February 1999
QUINTET is generally regarded as the greatest blooper of Altman's career, a pretentious embarrassment attributable to an overconsumption of drugs, power or both. Seeing it again twenty years later, it sparkles as one of Altman's bravest achievements.

Set in an apocalyptic snowscape so blasted it makes the Coens' Fargo look homy, it's ostensibly about a loner played by Paul Newman trying to fight his way to shelter or safety, blocked by the survivors' lethal betting game, Quintet. But that just suggests the thinnest layer of skin on this movie, which evokes a collaboration between the Tarkovsky of SOLARIS and STALKER and a crotchety American modernist like Aaron Copland.

What astounds in this movie is Altman's ability to use his flexible, improvisatory, colloquial style to create a geography of dreams as palpable and authentic as David Lynch's. (Moments of this movie, with their garish, one-of-a-kind production design, suggest the outre fantasias of the great Spanish B director Jesus Franco.) The cinematographer Jean Boffety softens the corners of the lens to create a snowbound, claustral feeling in every image, and Altman conjures scenes that could only have come from dreams: dogs on a snowy hillock feasting on the flesh of dead men in black, forming a living Motherwell painting; a concrete 411 directory made of painted glass charts, shattered and spinning, that tinkle like wind chimes.

The composer Tom Pierson's work--alternately elegiac and horrific--equals the finest, most dissonant scores Jerry Goldsmith wrote for Peckinpah. And the film reminds you that, of all contemporary directors, Altman is the most able to unearth pictures of naked dread from the unconscious--remember the ruby-eyed statue glaring in the dark in A WEDDING, or the rape fantasias glimmering on the swimming-pool bottom at night in THREE WOMEN? We think of Altman as the great democrat of American cinema, the first to tell stories about interwoven communities rather than heroic subjects. And we think of him telling them in his patented offhand, homespun voice. QUINTET is a reminder that Altman is also one of our great lyric poets, a high-flier who like his hero lays it all on every roll of the dice. In QUINTET, Altman throws away all the gifts he'd come to rely on--and time reveals that this daring long shot paid off big.
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Visually accomplished, daring film, about a world in death throes
Quintet is a post-decline film, I use the word decline rather than (post nuclear) apocalypse as something quite a lot more gradual seems to have happened. It's not implicitly suggested that this film happens on earth, or suggested otherwise.

We have a snowbound pentagonal city, and we have a seal hunter Essex (played by Paul Newman) approaching the city from the infinite snowscape of the South. We have an almost bizarre quality of cast including Bunuel favourite Fernando Rey and Bergman regular Bibi Andersson. And we have a deadly game, Quintet. The game it seems is played both on a board and occasionally in the flesh so-to-speak (imagine if people tried to act out chess). Robert Altman even invented a real game of Quintet for the film, and apparently people still play it. It's clear that the game is vicious from the start, when we see a player manipulate pieces so as to arrange the "killing order"; also that there is a philosophy behind the game, individuals covet their pieces which are often high craft, and passed down as heirlooms (Altman had people finding curios in antique shops for this). The central driver of the plot is that Essex witnesses a murder and spends the whole movie trying to find why it happens and what it all means.

I would call the set for the film one of the "great movie sets". It's shot on the dilapidated remains of the Expo 67, or the Montreal World Fair from 1967, which was based on some partly man made islands in the Saint-Lawrence River. Expo 67 was a fairly enormous matter of Canadian pride back then, the housing development built to coincide with it "Habitat 67" is stunning (pictures can be got from google quite easily).

It is an example of the great genius of Robert Altman that instead of control freaking a script he went to Montreal and let the script fit itself around the deserted bewintered pavilions. One of the players, called Saint Christopher runs a mission for the feeble where he preaches all sorts of skewed dissonant religion. Behind him whilst he orates, we see a banner, clearly a relic from the Expo, "The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but we cannot live forever in a cradle". This is a quote from Konstantin Eduardovitch Tsiolkovsky, the father of Russian space exploration, and written in 1911, perhaps decorating some sort of planetarium originally. In the religious context relating to the afterlife in which Altman places it, it becomes phantasmagorical and bewitching (as does a photo collage in the main quintet hall). This is a true example of film aleatoricism, the film was already green-lighted before Altman had been anywhere near the Expo, originally the idea was to shoot in Chicago.

Another thing Altman makes an asset out of are his clearly wizened and ageing cast, it lends gravitas because the world of Quintet is one where no-one has been born in at least a generation, it's just something else that he made fit. One common complaint of the film is that the cast didn't have very good English. That is undoubtedly true, however I wasn't having very much problem with it myself. It goes to emphasise the estrangement of all the characters, it's right that they find communication difficult, one character smiles on hearing Essex use the word friend because he hasn't heard that word in a long time.

This film is very philosophical about the nature of existence and the directions we should take, however let me give you the big health warning that you will only get out of it what you yourself put in, hence the current 4.6/10 rating on the IMDb, it is not a film for the idling. One thing I also liked about it by way of image is that it was very much like a silent film. Altman in a great many of the shots has had Vaseline smeared around the edges of the camera to create that kind of cosy centring effect that you see in early silent films, ie. the oneiric lack or periphery. He's also enjoying the shooting of nature. It reminds me a bit of Sir Arne's Treasure (1919 - Mauritz Stiller), where a lot of the focus is simply on shooting nature, and also of the frozen alpine scenes you get in German bergfilms.

At the moment this film is available on R1 DVD via a four-disc box-set of Altman films. One extra bonus point for the set is it has a Quintet documentary with chat from RA himself. As regards what people have said of the Cold War, I didn't hear Altman mention it once, it's a film that works just as well now. Surely there were Cold War parallels, but in fact the film is utterly timeless.

I want to give you a further health warning that for those of you who are looking for a lot of plot and in depth characterisation, you will find in this film two hours of monotony, and it will also depress you. For me it's true genius.
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Stinks On Ice
Mr Blue-45 March 2002
In a up and down career with all sorts of movies, this is Altman's one try at science fiction, and it clearly shows that it's not his forte.

The film is practically incomprehensible. It seems a disastrous combination of experimental theater pretentiousness and a major studio trying to jump on the post-Star Wars bandwagon (not that this film is at all modeled after that one, but you can imagine that the studio signed on hoping for a much different Paul Newman sci-fi film). The story is nonexistent, and the characters remain strangers to us all the way through.

Altman has packs of dogs feeding on dead bodies throughout the movie, obviously straining to make some sort of POINT. But since the movie is so poorly thought out, starting with the lack of plot on up, it really isn't about anything at all.

The production design is confused, the photography is undone by the blurs on the edges, and the score is terrible. However, "Quintet" does have one redeeming feature. Not only is the movie clearly filmed out in the snow and ice, but the interiors are kept cold as well. You see the actors' breath in every scene. You really FEEL the cold.
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This movie forced my wife and I to fight over our gun's only bullet
snakattakr2 February 2005
...it was that bad.

I thought that maybe I had suffered a stroke during this movie because I couldn't concentrate very well and I seemed to be drooling more than normal. It was SSSSOOOOO slow and SSSOOOOO quiet that we both fought like wild dogs to stay awake. At one point, I almost bit my tongue off in order to stay awake for this piece of shite. Unless, of course, I was having a seizure-- which wouldn't surprise me in the least.

If there is a hell, then the movie theater in hell shows this film and only this film. (Ok, OK...maybe it sometimes double features with "Shirley Valentine.")

I'd gladly take Ed Wood, Jr's masterpieces over this guano ANY day. Seriously... I'm crapping you negative.

Did Altman have a painkiller habit while he was making this film? I'm just curious. But more than that, I'm dying to find out if he was thinking at all and, if so, what exactly could that have been??!!!! Doing his laundry maybe?

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A total bore...
chani-615 August 2000
This movie was sooooooo sloooow!!! And everything in it was bland, the acting, the plot,etc. It was such a disappointment, since the description looked so good! Do not be fooled! This movie is not worth the time it takes to watch it!!!
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Pretty much on target
winstonnc-113 July 2005
The earlier review is pretty much on target, which Altman was NOT with this film. I haven't seen it since its original release but I have seldom spent two hours in a theater feeling as miserable and disappointed as I was with this film. If some pretentious community theater attempted a sci-fi version of a Ingmar Bergman film, it might come off like this. I can't bring myself to give anything Altman has made a "1" but this is probably the nadir of a career that has had some remarkable highs and lows. I would have walked out, but as a paid film critic I couldn't. (Think about that the next time you envy movie critics.)
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Turn back before it is too late.
filmstudentalpha13 June 2002
Robert Altman's "Quintet" involves and comprises many things. A mystery without suspense. A thriller without visceral response. A cinematographer with glaucoma. A pokerfaced block of wood known as Paul Newman. An audience without emotional attachment. A work of hate. A derivative monstrosity. An unsalvageable mistake.

Do not believe "Quintet"'s supporters. Those who "like" the film have executed the amazing feat of effectively lying to themselves. This is not an intelligent art film. It is not complex or thought-provoking (unless you count, "How did this get made?"). It does not effectively create a "mood" (unless you appreciate utter, insufferable boredom). It is not a "cool" head movie. It is not Lynchian (that is an insult to David Lynch). It is not "deep" or "brave" or any other such nonsense. The distorted lenswork is not revolutionary or fascinating or even justified. Everything about this film is embarrassing and amateurish. This tragedy could have been prevented in the earliest stages of preproduction, with the realization that there was no script.

Altman is a valuable director. He can be utterly brilliant. But he is human. Humans make terrible mistakes. Like "Quintet." Don't make the mistake of watching it (or, if nothing else, paying to watch it).
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The worst major motion picture ever made
chez-38 February 1999
Robert Altman's "Quintet" is a dreary, gloomy, hard to follow thriller where you finally give up after awhile because it's so complicated.

I remember seeing this at my local twin on opening weekend with a full house. By the time the picture ended it was less than a quarter full. Never have I witnessed such a mass exodus without there being an emergency to drive people out. That should tell you how bad it is. I believe it to be the worst film ever made involving such major talent in front of and behind the camera.
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A true low-point for all involved
Gargoyle-1918 June 2000
Having finally found this film on video, I was actually looking forward to it. Now I truly wish that I had never come across this dross. This is the first film to actually make me physically ill. I've seen numerous horror films, numerous films that are very disturbing, but nothing that made my gorge rise as this did.

To say Quintet is plodding and pretentious is like saying that being shot in the gut is somewhat uncomfortable. The actors involved either look shell-shocked (Newman and Anderson) or as if they stumbled out of a community theater production of The Merchant of Venice with bad costumes and fake accents intact (everyone else). The plot makes so little sense that there is no point in trying to follow it (something to do with a post-apocalyptic society centered around a game that turns deadly). The sets, while somewhat interesting in the abstract, are so poorly filmed that the viewer cannot distinguish a frozen dog from a metal statue. And the musical score is akin to listening to two hours of fingernails being scraped down a blackboard. Actually, that would probably have been preferable to the bombastic, high-pitched noise that was passed off as a "score". To top it all off, Altman uses the most horrible filming technique imaginable: everything is framed in a blurry halo, so that one's eyes are constantly trying to focus on the edges of the screen. This, along with the "music" is, I believe, what provoked my feelings of nausea.

About 10 minutes into the film, I realized how awful it really was but I kept thinking that, perhaps, Newman would, at least, be decent. Sadly, he is clearly as astonished as the viewer that he is in this trash. Anderson has the same look of shocked horror. In one scene she brakes down in very genuine tears. The poor woman must have been thinking "I went from The Seventh Seal to this, someone kill me now!"

Before putting this in the VCR, I jokingly said to my husband "well, it can't be as bad as The Omega Man or Zardoz". Now I know the truth: both those films are masterpieces compared to Quintet.

I cannot emphasize enough how terrible this movie is. Anyone thinking of seeing it should do themselves a favor and stare at a wall for two hours, you will find it more rewarding and considerably less painful! If you must see it out of some strange, masochistic desire, at least take dramamine and wear ear plugs. I gave this a 1/10 and wish that I could give it lower.
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Cold war...
Merwyn Grote21 May 2004
Watching QUINTET is not unlike watching a group of people playing a word game in Portuguese, or some other language you do not understand. You get the idea that they are playing a game, and if you watch closely enough, you may just begin to understand the rules. But, why bother, since it is clear you can't join in and you wouldn't want to if you had the chance.

Director Robert Altman is not one to beg an audience to like his films, let alone understand them. Sometimes he lets you slip into the picture to be a part of the crowd, like in M*A*S*H, NASHVILLE and A WEDDING, films so full of hubbub and orchestrated chaos, one or two more bodies in the scene wouldn't make much of a difference. And other times, he seems to resent the fact that someone might even be watching his film; as in IMAGES or THREE WOMEN, where the stories are almost personal monologues made for an audience of one, Altman. With QUINTET, Altman seems to purposely dare anyone to become involved with the narrative.

You can't depend on Altman to do the logical or the expected, which is sometimes the thing that makes his films so remarkably iconoclastic. But sometimes doing the unexpected isn't daring, just dumb. For instance, in QUINTET, we are introduced to a young woman who is apparently the last person on earth capable of getting pregnant, and she is, indeed, with child. This last ray of hope in a decaying society is almost immediately extinguished; Altman doesn't even wait until the end to play his last depressing card in this elaborate nihilistic and pessimistic tale. He lets us know how empty and meaningless life is right off the bat. Brave? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely. Devoid of a purpose, he tries to build a story on a rapidly melting iceberg, all the while reminding us how pointless the effort is.

For the record, QUINTET, can at least claim to be prophetic. The story is centered on a treacherous game played by the various bored characters. It is a form of TAG (the assassination game): a handful of people target each other for elimination, each as a would-be assassin and each as a would-be victim. Two or more can form alliances to kill a third. As they die off, new targets are assigned. Whoever lives, wins. All of this happens at some exotic, inhospitable wasteland. It is, to a great extent, an extreme, sci-fi version of "Survivor" -- minus the commercial plugs and faked "reality."

It is not a bad concept for a sci-fi epic. A post-apocalyptic setting, a microcosm of the world (the cast is pointedly multinational), a game where no on can be trusted or least not for long, and where no one really wins. Literally a cold war. A steely eyed director with a taste for dark humor and violent invention could have a field day. The mystery in QUINTET is not in the game or how it is played, but in why it exists it all. If the game "Quintet" is a metaphor for life, then Altman, seems to see nothing in the material but a chance to show life to be an empty, meaningless game -- a conclusion as obvious as it is untrue. Given the lively, albeit cynical nature of the rest of his diverse films, I don't believe that Altman believes in QUINTET either. And if Altman has no faith in his material, why should we?
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No clear story line after over an hour of viewing leaves me cold.
Karnak20126 February 2005
Perhaps one should be required to read about the basic plot of any story before being allowed to watch the movie. I had not read the book or script, and had not seen any reviews beforehand, and so began watching the movie "cold." (Pun not intended.) And it is indeed a very cold movie in more ways than one.

Why should a viewer be expected to watch over an hour of any movie before whatever's going on becomes clear? I simply do not enjoy watching a movie with no clear plot, or one where the viewer must be kept in the dark for an extended period of time.

I think I've given a score of "1" out of a possible "10" fewer than ten times out of the hundreds of movies rated. This one is indeed as cold as they get.
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One of the worst
lesgermsheid20 November 2002
I'll never forget Quintet.I have to say it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen.As a matter of fact I can't recall ANY movie that was worse.This is probably because a friend and I actually PAID to see it in a theatre.Just the mention of Quintet has been an excellent laughing stock for us over the years.Naturally,I remember virtually zero about the "plot" so I guess what we laugh at most, is our own gullability
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Bad, very bad. Very very bad.
sychonic13 October 2000
I really wanted to like this movie--I like Altman, I like Newman. I like science fiction and I liked the idea. And since this movie seems to be universally hated, I wanted to swim against the tide and find the intellectual quality in the movie that others seemed to be missing. All that going for it, and I still hated it.

Incomprehensible drivel.

And what's with the vaseline all over the camera lens? Folks who like this movie are fooling themselves, just because you dont understand a movie doesn't mean that it's deep, it means that the director and writer didn't know what they were doing.
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A Rarity - Science Fiction movie done right
IAmTheMessageCenter11 December 2004
I'm going to start this review by saying science fiction movies suck. It's not something I enjoy saying but there are only a handful of good sf movies (2001 and the original Solaris for example). It's really unfortunate because there are so many good sf books but when the genres is translated into the big screen it loses all its intelligence. The movies tend to be formulaic, dull, dumb action hybrids aimed at the adolescent crowd. So it is a rarity to see a good science fiction movie and Quintet is one of these. From the poor ratings on this site I was pretty upset but after I began to read the comments I didn't mind the ratings - after all people admitted that they couldn't understand the movie, that it was too complex, that you had to pay too much attention, etc. This isn't a problem with the movie. It's a problem with the audience. The movie is really not difficult to understand and I honestly wonder about people who find it is. What are they looking for in movies? A couple hours of mindless entertainment perhaps? We live in an era where stupid movies like Gladiator and Cube are considered "intelligent" and "literary". So when there's a movie that's deeper but you actually have to pay attention to it it's shunned.

Quintet is like a lot of the new wave of science fiction that came out of the 60's (I found it especially reminiscent of John Brunner's "The Squares of the City"). Set in an enigmatic future where another Ice Age has occurred it's the story of a game - a game that at one point mirrored life but now, in the city, it has become life that mirrors the game. The protagonist - Essex comes into this city with his wife and becomes involved in this game, not realizing how far the game leads. The game is played by a variety of interesting characters but the most fascinating is Saint Christopher. He just infuses the whole landscape of the snow bound city with his preachings on the desolation of life. The whole atmosphere of the setting just pulls you right into it with it's strange buildings and falling snow. And then there's the ending. An ending of a story is perhaps the most important part, as this is what you leave with, the part you take with you after the story is done - so an ending needs to be good. If done wrong it could ruin the whole story. Luckily Quintet has a great ending. The final, slightly ambiguous scene makes this future world seem even more captivating.

If you're a fan of 60-70's sf (Silverberg, Brunner, Ballard, et al.) or stories revolving around games (Hesse's Magister Ludi or the Glass Bead Game for example) then you should check out Quintet. If you are looking for a movie that you don't have to pay attention to or think about then look somewhere else, Hollywood is full of such movies.

(Note: I find it amusing that movies like Last Year at Marienbad at Naked Lunch which don't make any sense except what each individual decides for themselves get great reviews yet Quintet which does make sense to anyone who actually pays attention and uses a few brain cells gets poor reviews.)
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There are many points the other reviewers missed.
rcelic@cs.com20 November 2004
I saw Quintet on a Sunday afternoon in Northbrook, IL in the winter of 1978-1979. There was so much snow plowed badly in the parking lot that I had a hard time finding a space. When I got to the theater there was a strange little notice hand printed on a 3x5 file card that there would be no refunds to Quintet once you had entered the theater. I asked the ticket seller why and he said that so many people had left during the previous night's performance that they almost had a riot.

I knew I was in for something special. As the movie began I noticed that there were credits for the original screenplay and then for the final screenplay. Dissension in the ranks. There was inadequate explanation of where Paul Newman and Bibi Anderson came from and why they were going to the city. Indeed, the idea of hosing down Expo '67 in the winter and allowing the icicles to freeze gave it an other-worldly appearance. (I think that could have been Altman's attraction to the project.) Living in the Midwest during the winter of '78-'79 made me very sensitive to freezing weather. I moved to California the next fall.

There are two last items to consider: the dogs and the fish. The city was home to dozens if not hundreds of dogs. They scavenged for meat (often human bodies.) The malaise affecting the human population disabled them from disposing of the human dead. And finally the fish. There are several shots showing fish being harvested and processed at the beginning of the film, showing that there was an adequate food source for the people who lived in the city.

And finally a mention of the Game: there was a feeling of depression to the movie and the inhabitants of the city. When cut off from a natural human life that includes the having and raising of children, one can get depressed. An aberrant lifestyle that made a game out of killing others might result.
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