Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Boat That Rocked

Lowdown: The life and times of a British pirate broadcasting ship during the happy sixties.
One of the pillars of my musical upbringing had been a pirate broadcasting ship off the coast of Tel Aviv called The Voice of Peace. Operated by a peace activist called Abie Nathan, the intention behind the ship was to act as another Israeli radio station in order to promote peace through [mostly] pop music. Given Israeli law, Nathan couldn't run a proper radio station in land, so he had to do it from outside the territorial waters of Israel.
I have lots of fond memories of this station: its music, seeing the ship off the coast, swimming all the way to the ship with my father... It was a part of my life. It had weird things about it, too, like its weird advertising campaign to promote water drinking when Coke cut down its advertising money, or its insisting on having only British guys to running its shows.
Fate did not fare The Voice of Peace too well. The authorities didn't like it, and eventually Nathan just didn't have the money to run it anymore using a ship and equipment that were breaking down. The legacy of The Voice of Peace still remains, though, at least in my head. It is exactly this type of a legacy that director Richard Curtis (of Love Actually fame) was aiming at with his recent film The Boat That Rocked.
Set in middle of the sixties UK, The Boat That Rocked tells the story of a pirate broadcasting boat off the North Sea transmitting rock music to the British Public, which, at the time, was almost completely deprived of off the air rock. The authorities, represented in the film by a Kenneth Branagh redoing the exact same role he did in Rabbit-Proof Fence, don't like the idea of this authority bypass trick and do their silly best to stop the station. That's the background; the main event of the film is the microcosm that takes place on a boat filled up with men (and one lesbian) and a lot of hippie sixties atmosphere. Plus tons of love for the music.
It's a kind of a setup to tell us lots of interesting short character based stories, not unlike Love Actually. The cast is superb (Philip Seymour Hoffman is worth special mentioning, but he's far from alone in delivering a quality act), the good times roll, and everyone is in for some fun. It really is funny, and its helped by having some good comedy talent on board (borrowed from TV acts like Flight of the Conchords, Coupling and The IT Crowd). And Emma Thompson has a smashing cameo, too.
In short, this is a funny feel good film where you can clearly see everyone had fun making it. I had much fun watching it, and I agree about the importance of the points it had to make.
Best scene: Given the way the film is made, this is a tough call to make. It's a question of which of the mini stories is best, and there are a lot to choose from (and then a few more in the deleted scenes). My vote? A guy about to lose his virginity loses his promising girl to a fat DJ while searching for a condom. Ah, it's a tough life out there!
Technical assessment: The picture on this Blu-ray suffers from the effort to make everything look sixties, colors wise. There's also a lot of wide angle shooting that causes optical distortions. The soundtrack, featuring a lot of period music that's very smartly inserted is magnificent, even if it completely ignores a certain Liverpool based band that was pretty dominant at the time and even if the overall sound on this Blu-ray is far from stellar in quality.
Overall: Entertaining from start to finish, this boat rocks to 4 out of 5 stars.

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