Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The Thief of Bagdad
Today I watched The Thief of Bagdad, a fantasy movie directed in 1940 by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan, with contributions by Korda's brothers Vincent and Zoltán, and William Cameron Menzies. I thought I would hate it. The special effects are constant and old, so I figured that they would be laughable and dumb. I don't often like adventure-y, fantasy movies either, and I assumed I wouldn't like the plot. Once it started, there was singing and all sorts of nonsense, and I was immediately surly. But for some reason, one that I can't even put my finger on, I started to really enjoy the movie. I really liked it! I just had a lot of fun watching it - the effects were campy at many points, but it was just so endearing. I don't know what drew me in - the characters, the story, or just something about the bad blue-screen effects, but it was a really good time.
The movie is sort of like Disney's Aladdin, which I don't even really like to bring up but it does make the whole thing instantly easy to understand. Ahmad, the King of Bagdad, is told by Jaffar, the evil guy, to act like a poor person to get to know his subjects. Of course, this is just a trick and Jaffar throws Ahmad into the dungeon. There, he meets Abu, a young thief, who arranges their escape. During some stealing, Ahmad lays eyes on the Princess and he falls in love. However, she is supposed to marry Jaffar (her father likes the flying robot horse thing that he has). Obviously Ahmad and Abu try to save her from this fate, and along the way become cursed. Later Abu meets a weird genie who ends up helping him reunite with Ahmad.
The effects are horrible and awesome at the same time. There are a lot that look really good still, feel sort of fun and retro with all the bright colors of the film. The genie is super tall, and there are sets constructed that he climbs all over while the other actors are blue-screened in. Yes - the blue screen is not the best - but it still looks really cool and was impressive, especially when I reminded myself it was only 1940. Some effects I didn't like so much. The genie (again) can fly, and often a stationary image of him in an awkward "action" pose is used against a moving background. I laughed, but it was really more charming than anything else.
Like I said above, I'm not sure why I enjoyed this movie so much. It was just fun, I guess. I liked all the characters, although there were nitpicky things that bothered me about them. They were sort of simplistic but in a comforting way, like it was easy to get to know them and then just relax and have fun with the movie. It's not a film where you worry about motivations or inner turmoil. It's straightforward and easy, but something was sort of neat about that. Like the cinematic version of comfort food. The story is similar. You sort of know how it will go, but it's still fun and exciting.
I just enjoyed this movie a lot, and I'm still not 100% sure why. I think it's because it was simple enough that I could relax during it and have fun watching it, but still had a good story and characters couple with awesome visuals. It was simple but it was coherent. It was campy but in the best, most endearing sort of way. It was just a fun way to spend a little over an hour and a half. It's on Hulu right now, and is worth checking out if you have access. Alright, I really really need to sleep - a lot to do tomorrow!
Have any thoughts on The Thief of Bagdad? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Thief of Bagdad
Buy it on Amazon