Cameron's Review of Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Ivan Grozniy)
Hey, I don't know about terrible; this film is just fine. Man, I can't even crack a lame joke, because this is a 1940s foreign language period piece biopic by the dude who did "Battleship Potemkin", so of course the critics weren't going to call it terrible. If anything pertaining to this film in the slightest way is terrible, then it's quite decidedly Sergei Eisenstein's hair, because even when the dude was balding, he was still getting the symbolism lovers ready for a world with David Lynch in more than just a few ways. Hey, when your surname sounds like that of Einstein's, you're bound to inherit a little something from good ol' Al. Eisenstein certainly didn't quite inherit Einstein's genius, which isn't to say Eisenstein and his symoblism lovin' self wasn't clever, though it is to say, "Shut up, critics!" So yeah, this isn't quite the sensation that most everyone and his or her Russian grandmother say it is, and yet, with that said, this film remains a promising start to a saga that I thankfully don't have to wait 11 years to continue... yet will never finish, because Eisenstein died before he could finish the third part. Oh well, it's not like this film built up that much anticipation, for although this film is a decent one, it's not without its shortcomings, none of which are really "terrible" (Ha-ha), yet remain nevertheless.
Whether it be because of dating or simply slip-ups with the handling of what advancements there were at the time, this film gets to be rather faulty technically, with the ever so occasional awkward editing slip, as well as consistently improvable sound design that may prove to be to many as both obnoxious and rather unappealing. The technical missteps aren't quite as glaring as I make them sound, yet they are there, and they undercut the technical areas in which the film accels, while tainting engagement value, though certainly not as much as the awkward spots in storytelling. Sergei Eisenstein is generally quite decent and sometimes fairly commendable, yet he just can't keep his perhaps overly artistic mindset completely at bay, and while we're certainly not looking at a Terrence Malick film here, there is a kind of limp lyricism to certain moments that gets to be a touch overbearing. Eisenstein's directorial storytelling touches make glaring Eisenstein's overambition, which goes both betrayed by the occasionally over-inspired artistry and, of course, Eisenstein's screenplay's moments of improvable story structuring, for although there's not too much to complain about with the written plotting, there is the occasional forced happening, as well as long do-little, if not just plain do-nothing periods. If nothing else, the film gets to be repetitious, treading along in circles with not much going on, thus leaving steam to fall, little by little, even without the aforementioned other problematic storytelling moments. Now, there's not really a whole lot to complain about, none of the missteps that I just listed are quite as severe as I made them sound, yet they remain, and all too consistently, biting at the film until the final product finds itself with only so much of its own bite to deliver, thus an underwhelming execution of a worthy vision is rendered rather underwhelming. Nevertheless, for every betrayal of Eisenstein's perhaps too palpable ambition, there is something to fulfill Eisenstein's worthy vision, certainly to where the film rewards, as a whole, yet still to where the film engages your investment, or at least, thanks to visual style, your eyes.
Being behind a 1940s black-and-white film, certainly, Andrei Moskvin's and Eduard Tisse's cinematography has dated, yet to this day, there's no missing the sharpness in this film's visual artistry, with lighting being striking and detailed, to where it not only catches your eye, but emphasizes environment and atmosphere in order to supplement the film's tonal and thematic depths, and by the time we're facing a scene near the final act in which shadows are heavily accentuated, perhaps even more than the performers from whom the shadows are cast, Moskvin's and Tisse's photographic efforts are defined as quite significant in the final product. Just as, if not more significant than the photography is, of course, Sergei Prokofiev's score, which often finds itself betrayed by a few sound design mishaps, yet is, on the whole, well, near-phenomenal, boasting spirited sweep and delightful dynamicity in a grandly classical fashion that not only provides awesome music and entertainment value, but further compliment to the film's depths. Sure, the faults within the atmosphere undercut the effectiveness of the atmospheric supplements, yet the visual and musical artistry of the film help in bringing the film's tonal depths to life, while what brings this world itself to life is the upstanding production value, which goes packed with fine designs that bring this era and setting to life quite handsomely. There's no getting around the aging of this production, yet just as much difficulty rests within the challenge of getting around this film's artistry's being still fairly impressive to this day, both by its own right and as an aid in this story's being brought to life rather engagingly. Still, it's not like this subject matter needs a whole lot of pretty stuff and fine production designs to sustain your attention, because although the film does lose all too often, on the whole, it's easy to stick with the story, as its subject is worthy and rather interesting, so much so that it deserves to be brought to life in a better film, which isn't to say that this film faults exceedingly with its portrayal of this story, for although Sergei Eisenstein makes his share of mistakes, when he picks things up, he delivers, both as writer and an almost elegantly subtle directorial storyteller. The film is rich with symbolism that goes betrayed by the limitations in storytelling sensibilities, yet still stands reasonably firm, and as a rather intriguing supplement to the film's depths that, when truly brought to life, create a fair bit of resonance that gives this tale some weight, until by the time we come to the conclusion of this first part, the film has wrapped most everything up reasonably well and left you looking foward to see what Eisenstein did next with the second part. I do indeed wish I could say that the directorial strengths carry the final product enough to make it genuinely rewarding, yet at the end of the day, the film, while underwhelming, engages enough to keep you going through and through, even if you walk away wanting a little bit more, and not just because there's a part two.
When the first chapter closes, the film is left tainted by a few technical mishaps, as well as plagued by storytelling missteps, spawned from a kind of overambitious and occasionally overly lyrical atmosphere, and somtimes problematic and often repetitious plotting, until the final product is left with only so much steam and bite, though not to where it's rendered toothless, boasting nifty visual artistry and remarkable score to supplement tonal and thematic depth, commendable production value to bring this world to life handsomely, and direction by Sergei Eisenstein that often stands as improvable, yet graces the film with enough occasional resonance, subtle grace and engagement value to make "Ivan the Terrible Part I" an enjoyable first installment in Eisenstein's trilo-I mean, two-part saga (Sorry you died, Serg, my man), even with its shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair