“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Since I’ve written reviews of so many movies set in dystopian settings, I thought it would be fitting to review a film adaptation of the original source material. 1984 is Michael Radford’s adaptation of that famous George Orwell book. If you didn’t understand the first two sentences of this review I would recommend stopping now and going to your local library to catch up on a monumentally important book that somehow was left out of your education. With the recent success of The Hunger Games, this type of story is getting more exposure than ever before, and to be honest it was never a sub-genre that really had any popularity in the first place. Part of the problem is that the themes are just too high-brow for most people, and therefore they don’t always make the most interesting movies. The Hunger Games changed all that of course, toning down the overbearing philosophy for good-old-fashioned action adventure. This version of 1984, unfortunately, is not as successful at attempting to make the ideas work on the big screen. It is virtually all philosophy and no action.

Radford filmed this movie on location in London, which is perhaps the most interesting thing about this film. The novel 1984 takes place in a society that seems to have been ravaged by war. Radford found enough of London in 1984 that was still damaged from WWII to make a realistic setting without having to create anything on a set or with fancy special effects. What you see is London exactly as it was in 1984, no clever illusions and no attempt to make it seem more hospitable. By creating the movie as such, Radford is in essence pointing out that the alternate future society that George Orwell created for  1984 is not really that far-fetched. This is how it could have been.

Thankfully, it is not. Because that world is very boring. The film is jam packed with enough philosophical mumbo jumbo to make you want to go out and see Battleship in 3D so that you can re-balance your brain. While the source material is certainly interesting enough, this film never seems to sort it all out in a way that is both entertaining and thought provoking. I find myself comparing this film to A Clockwork Orange. At times it is just as vulgar, violent, and nasty, but never once is it able to “pull the trigger”. Never once do you feel that it turns the page it was meant to. Don’t get me wrong, it tries really hard, but it feels like it is just running in circles. A movie based on philosophy can’t work if the film just debates with itself the entire time without ever reaching any solid conclusions. My advice, skip this one and go watch Brazil  instead. Same general idea, much better execution.

Story: Winston Smith is a quiet middle-aged man who works for the central bureaucracy. His job is to censor and edit newspapers such that society never changes. Secretly though, he wants to rebel. He questions why he is doing what he is being told to do and wants to do something different. When he meets a young woman with subversive urges of her own, he is exposed to a side of life that he never got the chance to experience before…Bad (11/25)

Acting: Besides the excellent cinematography, the acting is the highlight of this film. The star is veteran John Hurt, who as Winston Smith is impeccable in the minor details that make a character so believable. Richard Burton is present too in his last feature length role, and also does a fitting job. He has excellent focus and is perhaps the most straight-forward and clear-thinking character in the film. The rest of the cast is also surprisingly strong, it’s unfortunate that none of their work really amounts to anything. Good (23/25)

Direction: The film has a gritty, harsh feel. This is fitting for the plot, but I never felt that the direction compelled the story to another level. Much like the circling story, the direction too often relies on going back to the same shots or flashbacks to make a point. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant moments in this film, but the fact that they are so rare means that the direction does not fulfill its purposes. There is simply too much going on all the time for the film to be anything more than a cloud of undeveloped ideas circling around in the audience’s head. Crisper direction would have done wonders to sort some of this out. Okay (15/25)

Special Effects/X-Factor: Another highlight of this film is the cinematography. It is very textured and crisp, and as a result this adds to the tone of the film as well as makes it feel much more realistic. As far as special effects, the movie is interesting in that all of the “futuristic” technology it uses is just normal everyday 1940’s era items re-purposed for different duties. It’s pretty cool, but any visual impact the film might have is ruined by the smothering story and slow-motion plot. This film also has a lot to live up to as an adaptation of the original source material, and unfortunately, for reasons discussed above, it does not. Okay (18/25)

Rating: (67/100) = D (Not Recommended)

  • What’s Good: Strong acting, great cinematography, and some interesting visuals are all very impressive.
  • What’s Bad: The story never seems to execute when it needs to, action is sparse, the plot is painfully slow, and any homage to the original source material ends up in a one-sided philosophical debate where no one wins.

Summary: Tries to shock you, only manages to bore you.

My previous review: Rated: The Avengers (2012)

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