The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Hitting my head for not watching this one in a theatre

with 17 comments

I love to go to the cinema. Given the choice I’d watch all films in a proper theatre. Popcorn smell and mobile rattling aside, it gives an experience I never get at home. It’s epic. It’s immersive. It brings me to places. It captures my mind and locks out the trivialities of life with a power field, an almost impenetrable shield.

Hence I go a lot to the movies. Over the last year I’ve been scored about one cinema visit per week, which makes me a good customer and the holder of a golden card, the top level of the multiplex theatre’s loyalty program.

But I can’t watch everything in a theatre – for time reasons and for budget reasons. Unavoidably some movies will be left out for the moment, to be picked up later on after their DVD release. In most cases this works pretty fine but sometimes you watch something that you realize you should have watched in a theatre because it was made for a bigger format.

And you hit yourself hard in the head for not grabbing the chance where you had it.

I know a lot of people feel like that about The Tree of Life from last year. I managed to catch that one. But I missed out on another one for some inexplicable reason, which I’m finally caught up with now: The Way Back. I’m hitting my head. Hard. I should have seen it on a big screen when I could.

My love for Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s name should have been reason enough for me to see it the proper way. You see, I’ve liked quite a few of his movies in the past. They’re wildly different to each other and to be honest I can’t quite tell what the uniting factor is- apart from that they’re good.

Truman Show! Picnic at Hanging Rock! Even Dead Poets Society warrants an exclamation mark. It was unfortunate that I somehow was overexposed to it for a while, which has given it a backlash in my memory. But I think it’s more a case of an overdose, like when you’ve had too much of a certain type of food and suddenly start question if you really like it than that the film actually is bad.

Another Weir film that deserves a special mentioning is one of his earliest, The Cars that Ate Paris from 1974. This is a weird little movie about a small town in Australia where the inhabitants make a living of causing car accidents, picking all the valuables from them. It oozes of low budget and has a 5,4 rating on IMDb, which of cause increases my love for it. Don’t we all need to have a little darling that few people have heard of and even fewer like?

Then there are other Weir movies that are more forgettable. I’m thinking of Green Card, with Gérard Depardie and Andie MacDowell arranging a pretence marriage. It’s a standard romantic comedy, no less, no more. So let’s just forget about it and pretend someone else made it.

Survival theme
All in all Weir is a director I want to follow so I should have watched it. Besides it had a theme that was right up my alley: survival in the wilderness under harsh circumstances. It’s a genre I never grow tired of that includes movies such as 127 hours, Into the Wild, Alive and Touching the Void. I might even include The Road in it. Movies that are designed to make me thankful of what I have in life: the ability to sneak into the kitchen to have a sandwich at night. The option to take a shower in the morning. A soft pillow to hug.

The Way Back is exactly that kind of film, telling the story about a group of prisoners who escaped a gulag camp in Siberia and walked 4 000 miles, ending up in Tibet. It’s a long trip and they endure everything you could possibly think of – hunger, thirst, snow- and sandstorms, mosquitoes, illness and exhaustion.

What makes it especially well suited for a theatre experience is the grandness of it. Those people aren’t just poking around in one small spot where they eat roots, snails or whatever they can get hold of.  The landscapes they’re moving through are no short of magnificent. While the actors are just fine (with a special mentioning to Colin Farrell who shows that he’s far more than just “that actor with the eyebrows” and to Saoirse Ronan, who quickly is becoming one of my favorite actors – astonishingly good for her age), they’re still kind of small and interchangeable compared to the one who has the leading role: Nature itself.

Without knowing, my guess is that The Way Back probably wasn’t a huge hit at the box office. Such a long movie, which basically mostly is just a long stretched out walk of suffering – no romance, no giggles, very little excitement or action – is a hard sell to most people.

But I’m a weird person (no puns intended). I loved it.

And next time a Peter Weir film turns up at a theatre I promise to watch it at once. No matter what strange new direction his career will take next.

The Way Back (Peter Weir, US, 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Way Back

17 Responses

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  1. I was fortunate to see it in a theater at my local multiplex despite the lack of buzz and such the film received. I think it should’ve gotten more attention and I really enjoyed it. It’s Peter Weir man! Hollywood just doesn’t respect great filmmakers or anything that has the potential to be really amazing.

    Steven Flores

    January 24, 2012 at 1:32 am

    • Yes, it feels as if it passed by pretty much unnoticed, didn’t it? And I’m a part of the non-noticing. 😦
      Well, not anymore at least!


      January 24, 2012 at 7:53 am

  2. I love Peter Weird so much, and I really thought The Way Back was quite great. I saw it in the theatre because I knew I couldn’t miss a new Weir film. But the way they timed the release to get Academy Awards consideration with a limited release in other cities in January really made it go unseen by most people. It’s too bad. Great scenery, an engrossing survival story, and great acting from all the big names. So glad you got to see it.

    Corey Atad

    January 24, 2012 at 5:08 am

    • So they were obsessed with timing it for the Oscars and missed out on how to time it for the market so to say? Silly. Did they even win anything?


      January 24, 2012 at 7:55 am

  3. Great director. Though I found Master and Commander pretty tedious. As for the survival theme, I love the films you mentioned there and would be interested to know if you’ve seen Rescue Dawn with Chritian Bale. It’s very much about survival but didn’t do it for me for some reason! Anyway I must check this film out now, sounds good!


    January 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    • I’m afraid I haven’t seen Rescue Dawn but I guess I should check it out, even though you apparently weren’t a fan.

      I can definitely recommend The Way Back. Be prepared though: it’s pretty long. Not for everyone. But I got sucked into their struggle. I also think it’s about time that someone makes a movie that takes place in the gulag. Innumerous movies have been made about the Holocoust, not that many about the terror and suffering under Stalin. As far as i know of at least. It’s a territory that should be explored.


      January 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

  4. Yeah, I missed this too, Jess. I can’t wait to pick it up and explore it’s complexities for myself!

    Rodney Twelftree

    January 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    • You should. It’s a very straightforward story. They escape. They walk. They fight for survival. They walk. They walk. But it’s very well executed with fantastic sceneries, cinematography and some great acting. I had nothing to complain about.


      January 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm

  5. Lovely review Jessica. I haven’t seen this one, but I want to.

    I am lucky enough to have a very (VERY) big screen so it is the nearest to cinema experience i can get at home. But there is something very special about the theatre. SOmething more magical.

    Scott Lawlor

    January 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    • Thank you Scott! I’m envious of your home cinema arrangement. I’ve only got a cheap standard TV and a DVD player, no surround sound devices, nothing like that. So the difference to watching something in a theatre is huge. I’m still glad you can see the charm and magic of the atmosphere in a real cinema.


      January 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm

  6. I have totally fallen out of the habit of going to the movie theatre which is a shame. On the up side, I actually feel like the immersion works almost as well for me in front of the TV.

    What Weir movies I have seen I have liked. But the Cars that Ate Paris was extremly weird, I just could not get my head wrapped around it.


    January 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    • You’re excused, living where you live.
      The cars movie was was weird indeed! Just looking at some pics from it made me smile. 🙂


      January 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

  7. I agree, Peter Weir is a great director, but also with a depth that is highly uncommon. However, I do think that he lay emphasis on an intellectual level more than on an emotional one. On the other hand, he has a very honest approach to his audience. He doesn’t try to manipulate their emotional response as Spielberg, Jackson or Cameron. Personally, I respect the approach of Weir as an artist and filmmaker, much more than I respect other mentioned and most Hollywood dfirectors.


    January 25, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    • I think it’s true with some movies, but as far as I remember Dead Poets Society has a lot of emotions. (Not that it necessarily is a bad thing!) But maybe you’re right in the majority of his movies. They certainly differ to each other. I’m glad you too like him! I haven’t seen all of his movies to be honest, but now I feel a renewed urge to catch up on the ones I’ve missed.


      January 25, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      • Somehow, my brain can’t accept Dead Poets Society as a Peter Weir movie. Most of it is great, but the end part is just too much. The movie might even had reached my top ten favourites if he just had hold back a bit. As it is now, it probably doesn’t even reach my 100 favourite movies.


        January 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  8. I was glad I caught this one in theaters. In fact, I’m fairly sure this was the first 2011 movie I saw in theaters. The scale works well on the big screen. I could see people not liking it. I called it The Lord of the Rings with just the walking parts, which is fine by me.

    I’ve seen a lot of better 2011 films since then, but it certainly was a good start to 2011.

    James Blake Ewing

    January 28, 2012 at 1:22 am

    • “The Lord of the Rings with just the walking parts”. That’s spot on. I actually DID think about LOTR on several occasions though it fell out of my mind when I was about to write the review.


      January 28, 2012 at 8:31 am

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