Monday, 5 November 2007

DVD: Dead Poets Society

Lowdown: Be yourself no matter what they say.
July 2000 Review:
When I first saw the film, some ten years ago, I utterly despised it. I thought it was one of the most boring things created; I don’t even think I’ve watched it all. The situation is very different now: I think this is the best film I have seen for quite a while (at least since Magnolia).
It’s funny to note the effects of time. That kid who could only watch action and sci-fi movies, turned into someone who watches film for the sake of their technical merit, now enjoys drama the most (this one, by the way, is far from being of high technical quality). As I said in a funny accent back in 1991, “the more contact I have with humans, the more I learn”.
I’ll use my famous “time test” on it, and if I’ll still be thinking of the film in the future, then Amazon will have another order to ship.
One last note: The cinematography in the film, by John Seale, is one of the best ever. On its own, it’s worth watching the film for.
Contemporary review:
Indeed, the thing that interests me the most about Dead Poets Society is my reaction to it. Back in 2000 I saw it as a carte blanche for trying to seize the day, interpreting it as "get yourself a motorcycle" (something I ended up not doing; instead, I settled with merely taking one step towards that goal by migrating to Australia). Now, however, with much less bias between me and the film, I see it as a film scorning conformity and advocating a second look at life and everything in it. Basically, a film that asks the audience to think for themselves.
The story is one of those stories about a magic teacher that makes a difference to the lives of his students. Set in a prestigious American high school in the fifties, a school that acts as a production line for generating high scores so that future doctors and lawyers can choose the university that would make them doctors or lawyers, it tells the story of Robin Williams. Williams is an ex graduate who is now the English literature teacher, and he tells the kids that they should seize the day, avoid conforming for the sake of conformism, and try and have their own look on things instead of just accepting things for the way they are. The result is magical; the impact on the kids' lives is immediate. But the result is also tragic with the inevitable confrontation between the now free spirited kids and their parents.
All in all, Dead Poets is another interesting yet eccentric film by Peter Weir, the Aussie who did Witness. It is a good film, a thought provoking film, but it is a bit too much of a sugar coated lollipop even if it doesn't follow regulation Hollywood standards and supply a happy ending. It is also quite predictable: from the minute you first see Williams you figure the inevitable confrontation that is to take place later and you guess its outcome.
Don't ask me why I thought so highly of the film's cinematography back in 2000; it's good, but it didn't draw enough attention from me now, at least not until I have re-read my old review. What I can say, though, is that watching a very young Ethan Hawke was an interesting experience; it made me wonder how Dylan will look like in a few years' time.
Best scene: I have found the scene where Williams makes some of his students walk while the rest observe, thus giving them a lesson about conformism, to be most interesting. I wonder how I would react in such a situation.
Picture quality: Bad, with significant noise and distortion from the analog copy out of which the DVD version was made. I understand there is a new version of this DVD, and I hope they redid the picture side.
Sound quality: Bad. Aside of two climatic scenes I wasn't able to detect much from anything but the center speaker.
Overall: Dead Poets seems to be a film where I see the things I want to see. I guess that is good, even if it is too predictable. I generously hand it 4 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

This is definitely a film of which my opinion has changed over time...the first time I saw it I loved it, and a more recent viewing revealed some pieces that were less cool than originally thought. An example is the climactic desk-standing scene near the end, which after seeing it again, became much more silly. But there is a lot of greatness in the movie as well. It has a lot of heart, and while some find that to be the downfall of many movies, I loved it about this one.

Uri said...

For good or bad, I haven’t changed as much over the last couple of decades, so I’ll repeat what I said the last time:
1. The final “stand on the table” scene always bothered me since if there’s peer pressure to do a non-conformist action, it’s not really non-conformist.
2. The great Friends quote:
Fake Monica: I-I used to be just like you. And then one day I saw a
movie that changed my life. Did you ever see Dead Poets' Society?
Monica: Uh-huh.
Fake Monica: I thought that movie was so incredibly... boring. I
mean, that thing at the end where the kid kills himself because he can't be in
the play? What was that?! It's like, kid, wait a year, leave home, do
some community theatre. I walked out of there and I thought, 'Now, that's
two hours of my life that I'm never getting back'. And that thought
scared me more than all the other crap I was afraid to do.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I didn't think of the last scene as problematic until I read your criticism. While I understand where you're coming from, I don't think things are that bad: It started with a single person getting up and it featured some people that didn't get up. There's not much point in being a non-conformist for the sake of it; you can't ask everybody to always be a non-conformist. But that said, I think it was a rather of mushy ending to the film.
The criticism about the kid killing himself is more valid, even if I think there's no such thing as a great Friends quote by definition.
Overall, the film made me think of stuff, which is good, even if I don't think it's as great as I once thought it was.