Friday, March 20, 2009

Just Adventure

As fun as 'high adventure' is, I'd like to remind all us fans that there are a lot of 'just adventure' films out there that are just as great in their own right. I don't know about you, but most of my collection in the genre is made up of these movies.

Now, some people might not classify Legend of the Lost as an adventure film, because the past ten years have seen the rise of 'super-action' and digital mania, thus presenting all adventure movies with an increasing emphasis on machine-gun rapid, choreographically obsessed action imagery. Legend of the Lost is an adventure movie, though, if only for its setting and basic plot: a man is searching for the fate of his father who was seeking an ancient lost city in the Sahara Desert. Sounds a bit like the upcoming Col Fawcett movie to me. Indeed, John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi (wearing a pith helmet!) journey through the hazards of the North African desert with tagalong Sophia Loren and do reach the lost city. Another fine example of the 'just adventure' movie is Mountains of the Moon, based on the true story of Sir Richard Burton and John Speke and their search for the source of the Nile. Nope, there's no ultra-cool martial arts posturing between Patrick Bergin and Delroy Lindo here, just excellent acting and a fascinating story.

One reason I love these movies so much may be that I've traveled extensively. Travel can be one of those things in real life that is truly movie-worthy. Real life adventuring can be as well. The point is, most of even the greatest real-life adventures were not wall-to-wall action a mile a minute and yet they still can make some of the best adventure movies. Take Zulu. There's a movie that most of the young moviegoers today just would not tolerate -- and they'd miss out. This movie tells the tale of Roarke's Drift where about a hundred British soldiers (a dozen who won the Victoria's Cross) hold off a seige of a thousand or more Zulu warriors. This movie takes the time to set up the situation and the characters before it begins the standoff. There is not the endless barrage of 'action music' and there isn't the annoying requisite posturing we see in today's film. Zulu has a pace that is real. Much like travel. Not every single moment must be tension-intensive to be enjoyable. Just being there can be an adventure in itself. Getting there certainly can be. I remember every time I went to Kabul, I had to take a small propellor-driven aircraft over the Hindu Kush to get there. Ask the white-knuckling newbies if it didn't feel like adventure when the plane hit turbulence over the jagged icy peaks (every time because it's unavoidable). If you've ever had to experience a 'combat landing' in a Twotter to land in Iraq because of the threat of anti-aircraft weaponry, you've experienced adventure. But it's also adventure to take the horse or camel ride into and throughout the ruins of the valley of Petra,
or to pull on your backpack and hike into your local mountains for the weekend. Those who have done such things can appreciate 'just adventure' movies.

Among my favorites are The Tiger of Eschpanur and its companion The Indian Tomb. You have to realize that the classics The Man Who Would Be King and The Wind and The Lion are also 'just adventures', as are Gunga Din, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and She. One of many reasons why Raiders of the Lost Ark remains the best Indy movie is because it is the most physically realistic of the series. Not necessarily in what is being depicted but in how, and that makes all the difference. It's usually (not always, for you stick-in-the-asses reading this) this element of presentation that is a difference between today's 'high adventure' (more like spastic adventure) and 'just adventure'. It's that you CAN believe Indy could pull off the under-the-truck maneuver more than the Mutt-straddling-two-jeeps-while-expertly-fencing-gag because Raiders took the time to present something unlikely in a physically believable way whereas the latter film relied on the digital cartooning we've come to expect. (I argue that if they had taken the time to do that shot physically, it would have been a lot cooler). The difference between the adventure film styles today is like the difference between a novel and a comic book. Both are good, depending upon what you're in the mood for, but some think everything should be a comic book.

I urge those who haven't to take some time occasionally and watch a 'just adventure' film. Try any of the above mentioned films and also films like The Island at the Top of the World, In Search of the Castaways or any of the Sinbad movies. Cinema seems to be the only art form wherein many of those who enjoy it want to throw away its history. That would be a shame for the adventure genre because the overwhelming majority of its best achievements predate the last thirty years. Fortunately, we have projects like Lost City of Z to look forward to, showing there is hope for the future of the genre.


Mark Orr said...

My dad was stationed at Wheelus AFB in Lybia in 1957. Right after he and Mom got married, they went out into the desert where Legend of the Lost was being filmed and took enough snapshots of the stars eating lunch to fill two pages in a scrapbook.

BTW, the music in Zulu was lifted straight out of Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy.

AdventureMan said...

Could you scan some of those? I'd love to feature them in the magazine!

Mark Orr said...

I'll try to liberate, I mean borrow, that scrapbook one of these days and do that very thing.

AdventureMan said...

Those would be a treasure indeed!