a film by Vincent Ward

 Bruce Lyons, Chris Haywood, Hamish McFarlane and Marshall Napier. D: Vincent Ward.

I'm willing to bet you haven't seen this beautifully made and utterly heartbreaking time-travel fable out of New Zealand. Search the video stores—it's well worth the hunt.

"The Navigator" is a little boy who lives in a copper mining village in the harsh, rocky north English countryside during the Middle Ages. The Black Death is knocking at the door, and the villagers know it won't be kept at bay for long. They resolve to forge a great cross of the finest Umbrian copper and erect it on the tallest spire they can find, as a talisman against the Plague. The spire is the tricky part, for these people live hard-scrabble lives in drafty huts. But our boy is special. He has epilepsy. And when he seizes he sees things—like the future. He sees a way to the tallest tower in Christendom--through a mineshaft. In a stunning, dreamlike sequence he leads a band of intrepid adults through the tunnel—and into the late twentieth century.

Now the film, which has been black and white, switches to full color, and our villagers find themselves in a wondrous city of light. Each one sees in this fantastic world what he must see. The simple miner who has clung to his image of the Virgin Mother for solace and protection all his life sees only a Celestial City too fearsomely glorious and beautiful to enter. The village hero, who has secretly betrayed his people, wanders into a landscape of machines and robots that look to him like the demons of Hell. And the Navigator is confronted by a store window full of televisions, a hundred images of himself, all of them crystal-clear and confusing at the same time, like the visions he has during his seizures.

 The film has a dreamlike quality, yet despite its odd atmosphere and its fantastic storyline, it lacks the whiz-bang-pow knock-em dead brute power of most sf films, both good and bad. The feeling is one of fierce, quiet intimacy. By the time this movie's over, we love the Navigator and the people he is trying to save, we love the unemployed 20th century foundry workers who help them cast their cross of copper, and when we go back to the black-and-white world of 14th-century Umbria, we go home.

To a terrible truth. For this movie was made indepently in New Zealand, not in Hollywood, and it does not look away from what must be. And that makes it a truly excellent film.

Watership Down meets A Wrinkle in Time.

Sullydog approves .

Reviews Index