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Winter’s Tale
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • WaterTower Music / 2014 / 64m

Batman and Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has finally realised his lifelong dream of directing William Shakespeare with this classical adaptation of the Bard’s comedy.  With a digitally-recreated John Gielgud starring as the King of Sicily, Emma Watson as Hermione and able support provided by Derek Jacobi and Brian Blessed, both in multiple roles, it seems almost certain to dominate the movie awards season in a year’s time, and in fact I would be amazed if it isn’t still packing out the multiplexes long beyond even that.  The score is credited to Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams and manages to be largely inoffensive without much ever actually happening in it.  The twinkly opening track “Look Closely” is the kind of morosely beautiful but deliberately anonymous music you might hear in a Cancer Research advert, aiming for something like James Newton Howard’s Lady in the Water but never being close to getting there.  That’s really the whole thing in a nutshell – it feels churlish to throw out insults because it’s clearly well-intentioned, but it’s always a bit like Tesco baked beans – there’s beans, there’s tomato sauce, it’s hard to see how it could go wrong, but you’d never taste them and not wish you were having Heinz instead.

Things gently plod along for the next hour or so – some twinkly bits, some spooky supernatural bits, lots of gentle oohing and aahing.  You can almost hear the boxes being ticked off at the same time you can sense the onset of diabetes from all the sugar.  But even if you like the sugary bits – I don’t, but some people will – you will surely find the other parts hard to digest, because so little happens.  The lengthy “I Love Blood on the Snow” briefly rouses itself from the slumber, but that’s only when it adds a sugary chorus.  It’s only late on – a couple of minutes in the second half of “The Girl With Red Hair” (in the Cancer Research advert, it would be over the bit where they go through the great progress that has been made) and the more dynamic parts of the final score track “Becoming Stars” (the only time the music sounds remotely like Hans Zimmer, to be honest) – that finally anything happens that feels really worth listening to.  The rest is not awful, honestly it isn’t, but I’m struggling to think of anything particularly nice to say – it’s just so bland, so innocuous, there are literally thousands of film scores in a similar style which are better and which you’d reach from the shelf before this one.  Rachel Portman might not write the most substantial music for this kind of film, but her twinkly piano scores seem to be as weighty as a group of sumo wrestlers after a Pizza Hut buffet compared with this.  Anyone listening to audio clips, or maybe a track in isolation, will probably think I’m mad.  The beans are there, so is the tomato sauce.  But listen to the whole thing – and you want Heinz.  I know I’ll get hate mail, probably death threats, and the people who write those will as ever admire how wonderful the emperor’s new clothes are looking, particularly in that delightful beige colour.  Sorry, I like a bit of meat on the bone.

Rating: **

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  1. Chris Caine (Reply) on Monday 24 February, 2014 at 21:31

    Wrong movie or overwrought wryness, grin?

  2. Christian K (Reply) on Monday 24 February, 2014 at 21:44

    So Heinz Zimmer is the solution, then? 😉

  3. Mikal (Reply) on Tuesday 25 February, 2014 at 06:42

    “…’The Girl With Red Hair’ (in the Cancer Research advert, it would be over the bit where they go through the great progress that has been made)…”

    Are you aware that the “girl with the red hair,” Abby, actually *has* cancer in the film? If not, this is a very droll coincidence. 🙂

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 25 February, 2014 at 08:47

    Oops, no I wasn’t. Now I feel bad.

  5. Brendan Cochran (Reply) on Tuesday 25 February, 2014 at 09:24

    Interesting perspective, a little different from my review, but I can totally see where you are coming from and your points are very well justified. Although after reading this review I want beans and steak!

  6. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Tuesday 25 February, 2014 at 17:36

    …”her twinkly piano scores seem to be as weighty as a group of sumo wrestlers after a Pizza Hut buffet compared with this.” Ha!

    It would have been interesting to see Zimmer, RGW, and all the gang tackling Shakespeare, but the reviews make it pretty clear that Shakespeare this ain’t (and more’s the pity).

  7. Kalman (Reply) on Wednesday 26 February, 2014 at 09:34

    I think the movie was amazing – if you took it as it was: a fairy tale. Most of the critics missed this point, in my opinion. As a modern fairy tale it was really good and touching. I admit that while the music could have been a bit more dynamic or memorable, it is far from being totally bland. But it needs repeated listening to be really appreciated.

  8. Jens (Reply) on Wednesday 26 February, 2014 at 20:24

    I don’t have a problem with magical realism, but even a fairy tale needs some consistency to the rules that govern its world. Winter’s Tale felt like it was making up those rules as it went along. It was barely comprehensible at times.

    I expect more from The Bard.

    • Mikal (Reply) on Friday 28 February, 2014 at 04:37

      Jens – Neil Gaiman addresses that VERY issue in one of his blog posts. If you haven’t read it, and you’re interested, here’s the link:

      http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2014/02/why-you-should-see-winters-tale-and.html

      To sum up my own thoughts on the matter, I more or less agree with Gaiman. I don’t think the audience needs all of the rules or explanations spoon-fed to them in a straightforward, by-the-numbers sort of way. I think one of the most endearing qualities of fantasy, and indeed magic, is its mysteriousness, the ability to suspend disbelief and fully immerse ourselves in a world that offers an escape by way of its often inexplicable wonders.

  9. Jens (Reply) on Friday 28 February, 2014 at 12:37

    Mikal, I do NOT need everything spoon-fed to me in a straightforward way, but there are limits to what I am able to accept. I don’t agree that Winter’s Tale is mysterious in any way – it falls over itself trying to explain its concepts and philosophies. They simply don’t make sense to me. Lost Highway, The Tree of Life, Santa Sangre – these are examples of movies that are mysterious and do magical realism well.

  10. Jens (Reply) on Friday 28 February, 2014 at 14:11

    I do agree with Neil Gaiman that once you attempt to explain magical rules, you’re in trouble. That’s when people (like me) have trouble suspending disbelief. Better to go for a purely dreamlike narrative that doesn’t bother with explanations, IMHO.

  11. Mikal (Reply) on Sunday 2 March, 2014 at 19:59

    Jens – I didn’t mean to imply that you did, so my apologies if it seemed that way. But I do think a lot of moviegoers like explanations in their films concerning phenomena, and when they don’t get them, they become frustrated. Although not a film, the TV series Lost is a great example of this–once the show’s finale aired, there was a frenzy of discontent expressed by longtime fans regarding the various unexplained happenings. It never bothered me, and I found the ending satisfying, but I appear to be in the minority…

    Anyway, you stated that the concepts and rules didn’t make sense to you…aren’t key aspects of mysteriousness its inconceivability and absurdity? Also, are you referring to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? That’s one of my favorite films released in the past decade, but I wouldn’t say it exemplifies the magical realism genre. There’s only one scene in that movie where I might argue otherwise: where Sean Penn reunites with his family, who appear unaged, and joins miscellaneous others, on the shores of a beach which seems to be in an alternate reality, or another plane of existence. Why do you think it belongs to that genre, though? Is it the way it’s shot? Quick transitions between shots of nature overlaid with philosophical musings and ethereal choral music? Because those are trademarks of all of Malick’s films. 😛

  12. Jens (Reply) on Sunday 2 March, 2014 at 21:06

    As far as I recall, Tree of Life is a film in which dinosaurs experience the birth of compassion and people are literally reunited with their loved ones after death. Those are strong elements of magical realism, IMHO, much more so than other Malick films like Days of Heaven or Badlands.

    I think the reason so many people got so upset with Lost is because the show continually teased answers it couldn’t possibly deliver, then hand-waved away the questions. In the end, the whole thing felt like six wasted years of TV to me. There’s an incredible specificity to the questions Lost raised, and that made it extremely frustrating when we never learned why, for example, children couldn’t be born on the island, or how the Darma’s supply drops continued.

    As for Winter’s Tale, consider this: an immortal amnesiac wanders the streets of New York for 100 years, including the depression and multiple world wars, yet he never chooses a new name for himself, never makes any friends, never gets an ID, and never does anything other than painting the Red Haired Girl. I can accept that his unfulfilled miracle made him immortal, but I cannot accept the day-to-day reality of his life.

    I feel that with magical realism, it’s easy to accept the big, mysterious concepts, like life after death, telekinetic connections, or angels and demons meddling in our lives, but the more specific and macro-level the rules are, the more one cannot help questioning them.

    By the way, I just wanted to add that I’m happy that we can have such civil discourse about these things, when we literally don’t see eye to eye on anything. I guess that’s what makes it interesting.

  13. Christian K (Reply) on Tuesday 4 March, 2014 at 20:23

    LIstening to/reading the discussion between the two of you is fascinating. 🙂

  14. Mikal (Reply) on Wednesday 5 March, 2014 at 03:17

    Jens – Well, I did strongly imply that I would concede the “afterlife” sequence as being an example of magical realism, but I wouldn’t say the emergence of compassion among dinosaurs is *too* far out there. There is an increasing consensus among scientists that animals can feel empathy, although research has heretofore shown that to only be applicable to other mammals. So, it’s not an altogether implausible notion–it just hasn’t been studied enough. Thus, I would say that Malick just took some scientific liberties, or made some scientific leaps, that have a possible, reasonable basis in evolutionary biology.

    Regarding Lost, don’t forget about the polar bears! 😛 Still, none of that bothers me because I never really expected answers. In fact, I thought it was apparent fairly early on that it would be impossible for the creators/writers to address and explain all of the mysterious phenomena that occurred on the island. Now, would it have been nice if everything had been neatly wrapped up? Sure. But I don’t think it was necessary, and I certainly didn’t enjoy the show any less because of the lack of resolution.

    Admittedly, I was a little incredulous of Peter (Colin Farrell) having spent the better part of century being a vagrant and singlemindedly drawing the red headed girl, and doing *nothing* else. However, I can reconcile that with the film’s narrative because it adheres to the Romantic feel of the film.

    Oh, I wouldn’t say we don’t see eye-to-eye on ANYthing (see what I did there…), but I nevertheless share your sentiment: it’s great being able to have level-headed discussions, even if/when disagreements arise. 🙂

    CK – Well, I’m glad we’re able to provide you with some degree of entertainment. 😉 Also, I received the book today! I can’t wait to plunge into it like I would a dripping, sopping wet…ice cream sundae. 😀 Thanks again, mon frère!

  15. Jens (Reply) on Wednesday 5 March, 2014 at 04:58

    Lost was all about setting up intriguing mysteries and plot twists, and its marketing promised answers. They also frequently answered things along the way, all the while raising more questions. It was presented as a riddle. The whole appeal of the show was watercooler discussion, trying to figure out what it all means. While you may not have expected answers, I think it was pretty clear most viewers did. I don’t think this is unreasonable.

    In the end, Lindeloff and co. simply stated that the mysteries were never the real point of the show, and that it was all about the characters. As long as the character arcs were somehow resolved (which, IMHO, they did in the worst way possible in the final season), viewers shouldn’t worry about the details. After it all was over, it was clear the writers didn’t really have a plan, but simply made things up as they went along.

    It is hardly surprising that fans reacted negatively to this, and the show is now regarded as a colossal disappointment.

  16. Brendan Cochran (Reply) on Tuesday 17 June, 2014 at 05:11

    James, you should really consider looking at Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron if you havent already (expanded score edition). I get the feeling you would like it.