Saturday, December 15, 2012

In short: The Giants of Thessaly

Original title: I giganti della Tessaglia (Gli argonauti)

After having been robbed of its godly gift, the Golden Fleece, Thessaly is slowly devoured by volcanoes, for the gods are assholes. Thessaly's king Jason (Roland Carey) takes a crew full of heroes and the mighty ship Argo to sail to the other side of the world and steal the Golden Fleece back.

Alas, the voyage is slow and dangerous, and at the point the film starts, Jason and his crew have been gone from home for long months. Jason's cousin Andrastes (Alberto Farnese) is taking care of the throne and Queen Creusa (Ziva Rodann) while the King is away. Unfortunately, Andrastes has long held a dangerous crush on Creusa and power, and uses the opportunity to find fiendish ways to undermine the country's trust in the success of Jason's mission, marry Creusa and buy himself a new kingdom with Thessaly's treasure.

All the while, Jason and his companions encounter bad weather, hunger, witches, a cyclopean ape, young love and other every day troubles of mythical Greece.

I was expecting a bit more of The Giants of Thessaly than I actually got out of it, given the immense reputation its director Riccardo Freda has won over the years.

On a visual level, Giants succeeds quite wonderfully. The film's sets are particularly beautiful, full of interesting details, and clearly constructed to woo the audience with a sense of the monumental. Freda's direction emphasises this aspect of his film greatly, with nary a shot that isn't framed with a painterly eye, and compositions that often have a classicist feel to them, as is only too appropriate in a peplum.

Unfortunately, being beautiful and painterly isn't all a film needs to be. Giants suffers from several problems even Freda's obvious eye for beauty can't distract from forever. It is, to start with, a badly paced film, with the operatic melodrama going on in Thessaly permanently undermining what could and should be the flow of a fast-paced adventure movie. The film's main problem here isn't so much the existence of the melodrama - I for one approve of Freda's wish to also dive into the tragedy and emotion of Greek myth - but how badly it is realized and integrated with the adventure movie elements. There's something too stiff and too operatic surrounding all emotional scenes here that goes beyond the usual peplum stiffness and melodrama, as if the director were neither conscious of the flatness of the writing in these scenes nor of the inability of his actors to play them convincingly in either a naturalistic or a stylized manner. Consequently, the film drops dead in its trail whenever anything related to human emotions comes up, be it Andrastes being ineffectually evil, or Orpheus making a supposedly moving speech on love. It's quite a shame, for it's easy to imagine a film managing to realize these moments convincingly, providing the film they are in with emotional and thematic richness and at the same time making it's adventurous moments more interesting by virtue of given them actual stakes beyond the spectacle.

Alas, that's not what we get with The Giants of Thessaly, and so I'm left with a very pretty movie with okay peplum action that seems to be moving at a snail's pace even though it's just ninety minutes long.

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