Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ravagers (1979)

The world has ended again, though it's not quite clear if in a bang or a whimper. Be it as it may, what's left of the world is rather brown and barren. Nothing grows anymore; men and animals have become barren too.

What's left of humanity largely falls into two camps - there are the "flockers", who hide away in remote places, seeking safety in numbers, and then there are the "ravagers", whose hobbies seem to be quite self-explaining.

Our hero of the day, Falk (Richard Harris, laying it on even thicker than usual with him, probably to make up for his character being a total non-entity without a past beyond the one we see being made at the beginning, and without any discernible character traits) does not belong to either of these groups. At the beginning of the movie, he leads a scavenging nomad life with his wife who dreams of better days and things beginning to grow again. They have been lulled into a sense of security by things going rather well for them, and practice some good old-fashioned domesticity. Alas, the couple's happiness is short-lived. A group of ravagers led by a very tenacious man without a name (Anthony James) discovers them, and rapes and kills Falk's wife, while Falk manages to escape.

Falk ferrets out the hiding place of the gang, kills one of their members and then goes a-wandering through the wastelands again. For some reason, the nomad gets a minor entourage, first in form of an old soldier (Art Carney) taking him for his commanding officer. Later, Faina (Ann Turkel), a young woman from one of the flocks gets rather keen on our hero. Falk doesn't exactly want to travel with others, but it's not as if he could stop them. While the trio has not exactly riveting post-apocalyptic adventures, the ravagers follow Falk for no good reason at all wherever he goes, this being the sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland where following people is easy.

Things finally come to a head when Falk and his friends come to a not quite utopian community led by Rann (a wasted Ernest Borgnine) and the more sympathetic Brown (an equally wasted Woody Strode).

See that word "finally" I used in the last sentence? That's Ravagers problem right here. While I don't expect every film - not even my post-apocalyptic adventure movies - to be a fast-paced and exciting from beginning to end, Richard Compton's film puts even my patience to the test with one of the most uneventful post-apocalyptic travelogues I've seen.

The lack of outer events would be less of a problem if the film had anything much to say, but thematically, this neither adds to nor subtracts from the expected of the end of the world. If the film has a thesis, it's "people need hope, and they'll even turn to the most boring man alive - Richard Harris's character - to project it onto". Which would possibly work out better for the movie if Falk ever did anything at all to make everyone else's fixation on him believable. It's possible he is meant as the empty page everyone can project his on ideas onto, but it's not as if the film would do anything to explore that besides looking po-faced and having dramatic music (the only actually dramatic thing on screen, I'm afraid). From time to time, Falk and the ravagers meet again, but Compton does his humanly best to film these run-ins in the least exciting or disturbing way possible; and of course, he never answers the question why the ravager leader is so damn obsessed with Falk, because his actions go far beyond vengeance for a dead gang member.

The film's not a total wash, though. The photography is moody, and does its best to milk some dilapidated buildings and many different shades of brown for the proper post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Even though there isn't anything of interest happening on screen, at least the film looks like a proper non-generic end of the world happened. The other aspect I found well thought out and well done is how differently the body language of many of the film's characters is - the new world after the end has made most people visibly afraid and insecure, remembering how living as animals must have been, and their bodies show it.

It's just unfortunate that there is no story, no thesis, no interesting character to make any use of these flashes of something better in Ravagers. Watching it is like waiting for the actual film to happen. Alas, it never starts.

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