This originated as a David Lean project. He ultimately conceived it in two parts, and might have spent 104 weeks filming it.
It fell to Roger Donaldson, in eight weeks. It took John Frankenheimer six weeks to film the car chase in Ronin. Donaldson might be said to have understood the task as impossible, and so filmed it as a direct contrast of natural beauties vs. Robert Bolt’s script.
On one of his 56 shooting days, he shot an insert of the Bounty’s anchor hitting the bottom off Tahiti; he then filmed it at another angle, and used both shots back-to-back.
I take this, and some of the ways in which the actors are treated, to indicate a shorthand derived from Herzog (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes; Fitzcarraldo). It seems extravagant, however.
No Way Out
Robert Garland’s inspired screenplay generates surprising abstractions that are visible in unusual performances like Gene Hackman’s, by means of an invented conclusion. There is a second film here, quite different from the first, which you see once you’ve seen it all.
Garland evidently draws his screenplay from the novel (not John Farrow’s film) The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, who wrote excellent poetry and once compared the city to a shooting-gallery and “the only jungle in the whole wide world where ducks are waiting for streetcars, / And hunters can be psychoanalyzed...”
A subtle variant of the famous Twilight Zone episode with Ed Wynn pitching knickknacks to Murray Hamilton, or an adaptation of Dog Day Afternoon. The car dealership has glass-block windows and razor-wire fences, the youthful element is shaggy and overdressed, the salesmen are somewhere between Smile and Glengarry Glen Ross, which is where Robin Williams incarnates the trim mustachioed archetype having a bad day that amounts to a visitation.
Donaldson’s economy with this perfect setup is to treat it as a Mickey Finn: he lets it fizz over and subside to a canny drink. The hubbub is such that Williams is the calm center, with Fran Drescher in more than expert support.
It’s the slogan of the place that “nobody gets out alive”, and the visitation serves to reverse that desperate nihilism suggestively in the manner of Miracle on 34th Street. Admire, then, the setup, with everything but the kitchen sink coming down on the head of the car salesman, that proverbial and acknowledged “scum of the earth”, so that his salvation worked out in fear and trembling is truly heroic.
In this version of Ninotchka, the girl is a genetic experiment (cf. George Pan Cosmatos’ Leviathan) provided by aliens (who give as a sign of their good faith a catalyst for methane energy production). She cuts a swath through L.A. nightlife (at The Id) in search imperiously of a mate and dies in the storm drains with a progeny of rats.
The purpose of the opening scene is to establish the previous experience of the vulcanologist in Colombia and to quote the strafing scene in Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver.
Donaldson takes his cue from John Ford and accomplishes his satire indirectly, ahead of Wiseman’s Belfast, Maine, by filming a good deal of this with utmost incompetence. He brings to a point the Colombian eruption, the initial earthquake and aerial rescue at Dante’s Peak, the inspection of the town’s water supply and the final sequence.
In a simpler analysis than our critics are capable of making, Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is considered rather as in the light of Asher’s Return to Green Acres. The key image is the NASA transmitter known as ELF, buried underground the vulcanologist and the mayor and the latter’s two children are rescued, the spirit of the town brought to bear upon its destruction.