Mary Poppins Returns
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"With the energy of the innocent, they were gathering the tools they would need to make their journey back to nature, while the sand slipped through the opening, and their hands reached for the golden ring, with their hearts they turned to each other's heart for refuge, in the troubled years that came before the deluge." Man, that was a long reference to a Jackson Browne song no one remembers, so it would appear as though there was no way of mentioning a deluge tightly, at least in 1974. Yeah, Jackson Browne, you might need to go ahead and speak your peace, because as long as this film is, I don't think that there is going to be an "After the Deluge". I don't know if I'm more baffled by the fact that this film is about five hours long, or by the fact that this is just the second part of a trilogy, because I think that Peter Jackson could wrap this entire saga up within the time this film takes to get out one chapter. I'm just amazed that the Polish and the Soviets were able to put up with each other for five hours, much less the, I don't know, five years and fifteen days it probably took to make this film. Tensions must have been high during the making of this joint Polish-Soviet project, and I'm hoping some of it translates to this film, because I better be engrossed if we're talking about five hours of Polish. Well, sure enough, patience is paid off just fine in the end, although the film still demands plenty of it, to have dated over the years... of running (It's been 40 years, so the thing is about halfway done).
To be so dramatically and, in other ways, artistically ambitious, this film's technical value has not faired especially well against the test of time, with lukewarm filming and sound mixing which get to be either a little bland or a little cheesy, at least as a supplementation to questionable aspects of filmmaking which include cheesy spots in writing. The cheese is particularly found within Henryk Sienkiewicz's classic story itself, for although the melodramatics are handled comfortably enough to be effectively sold more often than not, they still stand as a touch disingenuous, particularly when directorial kick lapses, as it all too often does. The writing and direction carry enough resonance on the whole to keep a fair bit of liveliness throughout the course of this steadily paced epic, but when things are too somber, blandness ensues, sometimes in the form of dullness, and consistently in the form of dryness which distances an investment that this story concept demands plenty of. As sprawling as this film is, a sense of scope is a little lacking, thanks to the slow spells in directorial storytelling which stress what natural shortcomings there are in this chatty epic, and all but make palpable a thoroughly challenging runtime. Indeed, it all comes back to the length of the film, because, at about five hours, this epic's runtime is among the longer in feature drama history, and is achieved a touch roughly, because as tight as this epic narrative admittedly is in a lot of ways, things get to be mighty repetitious, if not uneven the more the film packs on the layers or draws out material, resulting in an almost ponderous pace which is made all the more difficult by aforementioned storytelling missteps. The film is plenty compelling, make no mistake, but it has the potential and, for that matter, the audacity to be a powerful drama, only to buckle short of what it could have been under the overwhelming weight of hiccups falling over an overwhelming structure. With all of that said, the fact of the matter is that the final product is five hours reasonably well-spent, for if you have patience and investment, it's easy to be immersed, with the help of solid art direction.
Whether it be because of the aforementioned technical shortcomings or simply because of the minimalist aspects of this epic, the art direction is far from spectacular, but its intimacy makes up for that by restoring 17th century Poland with enough subtlety and grace to prove rather immersive, while spectacle goes capitalized in the drama's action. If nothing else proves to be technically impressive, it is the almost surprisingly engrossing action sequences, of which there aren't many, but enough to do a solid job of reinforcing a sense of consequence to all of the talk throughout this intimate epic of limited sweep, and nonetheless considerable potential. Driven by political themes and melodramatics, Henryk Sienkiewicz's classic of an epic novel does not translate to the screen with a considerable about of genuineness or sweep, no matter how much storytelling goes bloated here, but as a dramatization of various affairs of politics and the heart, this story concept offers an almost outstanding deal of potential as a layered and grand opus with plenty of intimacy. What further endears you to the characters is, of course, their portrayals, whose across-the-board charisma and solid deal of striking dramatic highlights bond you with this sizable ensemble cast, and arguably grace the roles with more depth than Jerzy Hoffman's, Adam Kersten's and Wojciech Zukrowski's script. With that said, the performers would not be so engaging if they didn't have plenty of engaging material to work with, because as much as I criticize Hoffman's, Kersten's and Zukrowski's cheesy touches and excessive layering as screenwriters, the wit that they place into this film help sustain your investment in a sprawling structure which is surprisingly tight enough areas to make sure that there's always something going on in this plot, even if it's just the bare minimum. There's a lot of ambition in the writing, alone, and it pays off enough to give you an adequate taste of this drama's potential, betrayed by and further reflected within Hoffman's direction, which, with slicker pacing, flashier style and, of course, a greater sense of scope, could have carried the final product a long, long way, but is still pretty engrossing, with technically questionable, yet haunting visuals and plenty of meticulous scene structuring to reflect an audacity that intrigues almost as much as moments in directorial thoughtfulness which truly bite as tense, moving and all around resonant. There are some very strong touches found here and there throughout the film, and although they grow a little more recurring as the plot thickens, the final product goes on for so blasted long that, relatively speaking, the highlights are few and far between, bridged by enough inspiration to overshadow many of the shortcomings, and secure the final product as, at the very least, reasonably rewarding.
When it all comes down to the paper cup, if you will (Forget Sweden's invasion in the 17th century; what about the Aussie invasion of the '80s, Crowded House fans?), some cheesy technical shortcomings and melodramatics, in addition to more than a few directorial dry spells, defuse a sense of scope that should never abate throughout an exhausting and often repetitiously unreasonable course of about five hours, which is still far from wasted, thanks to the immersive art direction, grand action, and intriguing story concept - carried by charismatic performances, clever writing and audacious direction - which make Jerzy Hoffman's "The Deluge", or "Potop" a generally quite compelling and ultimately worthwhile challenge of a sprawling epic.
3/5 - Good
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