Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Hell in the Pacific (1968) - John Boorman

A couple of weeks back I watched Point Blank - the film Boorman directed right before this. When the time came to write my quick review of it, I kept playing scenes from Hell in the Pacific over in my mind. So I knew it was just a question of time (or more a question of finding time), before I'd be sitting down with a pint of Guinness and a couple of cats to watch it.

Now Hell in the Pacific is a great little oddity, with one major flaw - of which I'll get to later. The premise is a simple one, a US pilot (Lee Marvin) crashes and washes up on an island in the Pacific, only to find that a Japanese navy captain (Toshirô Mifune) is already there, and isn't all that keen on having company. And that's your lot basically. Now I love Marvin, but not half as much as I do Mifune. Both actors have screen magnetism, and by that I mean when they are on screen you can't help but watch them. So Boorman had already set himself a tricky enough task by trying to make a film that would feel even, when first there are only two characters, and second they are played by such attention grabbing actors. Add to that the fact that both speak different languages and you have what in lesser hands it could have been a bit of a disaster. Boorman however always manages to encourage great performances from his players, and nowhere is that more apparent than here. I like the fact that the two characters are flipsides of each other. It's the sort of thing that John Woo would spend a decade perfecting in his better thrillers. For example Lee Marvin has a white beard, Mifune a black one, Marvin is a pilot, Mifune a sailor, well you get the idea.

Now this is a key film for John Boorman since it touches on many things that would recur again and again in his later films. Men against the elements, men against each other, WWII, the natural world backdrop et cetera. It is a strange little film, obviously a parable not only about WWII, but also of mans inability to interact with people from different cultures. This is illustrated in a number of ways, first up is the fact that in most films of this nature they would find a common way to communicate, learn each others names and all that jazz. That doesn't happen here, the first half of the film is spent showing that Mifune is smart in a Japanese way, able to fish and collect water, whereas Marvin spends his time trying to steal from Mifune, after he figures that he hasn't got the nous to be able to gather provisions for himself. Around the halfway mark the odd couple manage to figure that hey it's better to work together than against each other, after all this was 1968 the height of the hippy era. But as I say they make no effort to learn anything from one another. They do eventually manage to build a raft, and sail off to another island. Here they stumble across a Japanese camp that has been destroyed by the Americans, and find food, sake, smokes and a fresh set of threads.

This brings us up the end of the film, and the small flaw that I mentioned at the start of this review. You see the producer didn't like the original (as shot by Boorman) ending, where after getting along fine, the duo start arguing again and eventually walk off in opposite directions. A pretty neat ending I think. Said producer thought otherwise though and decided to take some footage (an exploding building) from another film (The Party), and use that as the end shot. So what we are left with to this day is a weird little late sixties film with an awful tacked on and very sudden ending. Quite grating, but not enough to ever make you not want to sit down and watch this again every now and then. Still annoying though.

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