I know it's the '60s, but don't get this film confused with the Australian psychedelic rock band, Sand Pebbles, mainly because that band showed up way too late, in 2001, well after psychedelic rock and, well, music, all together, died out. That's right, I just refered to a contemporary rock band, and one that no one's even heard of, so you know I looked into that bull. It just goes to show you how committed I am to these jokes, which is pretty depressing when you consider that most of them still fall pretty flat... *cough*like*cough*this*cough*one*cough*. Man, forcing myself to actually look up that terrible band - whose songs I haven't even heard a microsecond of, but I'm sure are terrible - makes me feel like I was actually on the stuff they're marketed towards, because I'm feeling pretty sick, and it doesn't help that I just watched a three hour movie about people at sea. Now that's some sea sickness for you, but hey, I don't mind, because I'm still having a good time watching this film. However, it's an experience that goes tainted by some rough tides along the way.
I hear the film ran an astronomical 243 minutes upon its submission to the BBFC, and my only regret is that I didn't see that version, as I am curious to see how in the world they could possibly drag out this film even more. As it stands, the film runs a whopping three hours, with 14 minutes tacked on in the "Roadshow" cut, and it does not justify that mammoth length. The film is plagued by long periods of nothingness that, admittedly more often than not, help in establishing our characters, leaving them still enjoyable pieces of nothingness, but piece of nothingness, nevertheless. Still, unlike most cases of nothingness throughout film, the excess material doesn't slow down the film, partially because, even during more significant segments, the film is quite slow to begin with, further slowing down the intrigue in a film already plagued by the fact that it's just too '60s, and by that, I don't mean that this film is too safe, because with its racism and being a [u]1960s[/u] film that deals with [u]American and Asian political issues[/u], this film film is anything but too safe, or at least from 1960s standards. No, the problem is that the film feels so very conventional to other films of its era, which certainly drags it down a bit, and were it not for its being so long and audacious, it would almost be forgettable. However, its being conventional is, well, about as much a good thing as it is a bad thing, in that it does fall into familiar tropes and flaws, but ultimately comes out, boasting the charm and quality of those classic pictures. It's no knockout, but it is certainly enjoyable, with all of its mistakes, and is made so by the aspects in which it does, in fact, accel.
The score isn't at all as glowing or original as many claim it to be, but it is still quite lively, sobering and charming, giving the film texture and, at times, even dramatic weight. Yes, the film hits its dramatic points, and harder than you would expect it to, but more often than not, the film understands classic comradery, neither overly sapping up or overdoing the chemistry and scenarios that fall upon our leads. This film is colorful and enjoyable, as far as charm goes, and although it does so in a conventional fashion, this film earns your investment in our characters, which, of course, makes it all the harder when the audacious drama of the film falls into place. Sure, while it's not on a "Gone With the Wind" level, where war, sham marriages, love triangles, alcoholism, child death and so on and so forth come off as borderline wacky, but the drama is a victim of the film's time, going diluted a fair bit. However, the film powers on more than you ever would have expected, having the guts to paint as brutal, harsh and emotional of a portrait on even the lightest of warfare as it can, and whether it be the somewhat disturbing auction scene or that pretty messed up "Shoot me!" sequence, this film delivers on some shocking drama that genuinely sticks with you, and for that, credit goes out to the performers, as well. Okay, now, there's not a whole lot for the performers to do, and when there is some material, it doesn't quite milk them for all they're worth, but the entire cast is, if nothing else, charming and distinctive, but when the drama does come along, and emotional material with it, while they aren't asked to really hit, the performers deliver with some decent resonance. The film is indeed slow and tonally conventional, yet it still triumph fabulously, and more than you would expect it to, leaving the film generally entertaining and, to a certain degree, even dramatically rewarding.
In conclusion, from a tonal standpoint, the film feels conventional, and it doesn't help that the film falls into the long periods of nothingness and slowness that plagued films of its type and of its era, yet the film almost stands as a highlight among that crowd, putting a few twists on that classic feel of charm and comradery between the leads, while pumping in genuinely effective dramatic aspects, and all goes empowered by a colorful group of distinctive performances that help in making "The Sand Pebbles" a compelling and generally entertaining, classic war drama.
3/5 - Good