My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 71: Chariots of Fire (Best Picture Ranking)

When Loretta Young presented the Oscar for Best Picture of 1981, it became quite obvious which nominated movie was her favorite as she congratulated ‘tasteful filmmakers’ for showing that reality was not only violence or swearing but also heroism, inspiration and romance. Chariots of Fire, the upset-winner that night, was certainly the kind of movie that the old-fashioned part of Hollywood would love to honor. It’s based on the true story of two young men, one Christian, one Jewish, who run at the 1924 Olympics. Harold runs out of the urge to fight against anti-Semitism while Eric feels the presence of God whenever he is running. This certainly sounds as noble as it can be and director Hugh Hudson does his best to present the whole story as harmless, uncontroversial and sublime as possible. The outcome is a movie that does feature some interesting aspects and elements but is too slow, safe and uninspired at the end.

One of the major problems of the movie are the two central characters and the actors who portray them. Neither character does ever really become the main aspect of his storyline, they both remain extremely thin and underdeveloped and, unfortunately, also the two actors Ben Cross and Ian Charleson lack any kind of personality or screen presence – some star power would have been needed to raise those characters above mediocrity. But also the supporting players are strangely uninteresting and pale – secondary characters like Harold’s girlfriend or Eric’s sister seem to stay in the background even when they are the center of attention which is mostly the fault of the script that never develops any of the characters.

Another major problem of the movie is the theme itself – running. Considering that this is the focus of the story, the movie doesn’t truly know how to project it. The dilemma is the simple fact that some people running along a raceway lacks any real possibility for exciting cinema – so some endless reprises in slow-motion with dramatic music are necessary to even highlight this whole sport in any way but this doesn’t change the fact that, at too many moments, the whole subject of the story seemed to have overstrained Hugh Hudson. Compared to other sports, like boxing, running doesn’t seem to qualify for a cinematic event.

Speaking of dramatic music: The most famous aspect of Chariots of Fire is, of course, Vangelis’s legendary score. A couple of young men, running along a beach, accompanied by synthesizers and a piano – an iconic movie moment. But watching this scene, it’s almost shocking how little the score actually works within the presentation of the scene. There is almost a disharmony between Vangelis’s score and Chariots of Fire and a lot of times it feels as if there was no other reason for the use of this particular score than the need to do ‘something different’. In some later scenes, the music blends together with the movie better but once the novelty has worn off, little excitement remains.

But besides all these problems, Chariots of Fire does present some special moments that prevent it from being a true failure. The use of Gilbert and Sullivan is a rather nice touch and the training sequence, accompanied by ‘For he is an English Man’ is put together expressively and is probably the only moment of the movie when Hudson really captured the joy and the seriousness that these two men feel when they run. And while Ben Cross and Ian Charleson never really impress on their own, their succeed in their scenes together and make the ‘backstage’-story aspects of Chariots of Fire much more interesting than the Olympics themselves.

Overall, Chariots of Fire is a surely interesting concept but unfortunately the realization is often too bland and unimaginative and needed a better cast and more developed characters to impress.


dinasztie said...

This is a fantastic movie, I think.

BTW, we've just performed Carmen )and the Andrew Lloyd Webber mix). It was a huge success and we had to repeat it twice. :D If you're interested to hear, I'll send the video in a couple of days, if I can get it. :D

Fritz said...

Congratulations on the success! :-)
Will you upload it on youtube?

Louis Morgan said...

I must completely disagree on this one Fritz. I think both Cross and Charleson found and developed the characters well. I find the music and the direction made the running scenes work quite well, and some of the supporting cast has great moments, particularly John Gielgud who was hilarious in my opinion. It found the film on a whole to be an interesting and very inspiring film, that I enjoy every time I watch it.

dinasztie said...

Yes, if I have the video. :D

Fritz said...

@dinasztie: great!

@Louis: I know that this movie has its supporters and I know that you put the two actors on your alternalte list for 1981, but it was too much of a bore for me.