Movie Review: Royal Hunt of The Sun (1969)

by @edent |

Movie poster.So, farewell Christopher Plummer. This might be one of the most bizarre role he's ever played, in this charming - but flawed - production of the stage classic.

I met my wife at a University production of Royal Hunt of The Sun. As an anniversary gift, she got me the DVD. The film is incredible - the DVD is terrible. So this review will be in two parts.

The Film

Would your lust for gold drive you to kill god? Is divinity a reality or a coping mechanism? RHoTS asks us to watch men sacrifice everything, including each other, for gold, glory, and god.

Like a lot of 1960s films, there are a lot of men shouting at each other. Performances which work on stage become overwrought on screen. But it still remains a power piece of cinema - showing how a small group of colonisers can destabilise an entire kingdom.

Star of the show is Christopher Plummer playing the god/king Atahuallpa. He perfectly captures the "alien" nature of the man. He is a caged bird, chirping and squalling - unused to confinement, and unhappy with his powerlessness. While the other actors chew the scenery - Plummer pops out of the screen. He transcends the mortal squabbling of those around him. His entire body shines. Not least due to the copious make-up.

Is it "blacking up"? Probably. There are plenty of South American cast members in amongst the extras - but it is a pretty whitewashed crowd. Fifty years later, it plays oddly - but then, this is a film about European colonisation...

The film looks cheap - to start with. Drab sets, a small cast, unconvincing locations. But as we progress, things become more luscious - mirroring the prosperity the conquerors discover. The cast swells, the costumes become more ornate, the tension rises, and the cinematography become more intense.

What could have been a straight filming of a stage play becomes something much grander.

The DVD

The picture quality is atrocious! Forget digitally remastering - this looks like it was converted by pointing a camcorder at a dirty wall while a worn-out print was lazily projected on it. It's a 4:3 pan-and-scan job, with ludicrous cropping decisions. The film is covered in smudges, and some parts are completely pixelated.

Sound is mono - just like the original movie - but sounds like it has been recorded off a dying VHS.

Like every bargain-bucket DVD, it boasts interactive menus and scene selection. That's it. OK, half the cast and crew are long dead - but surely someone could have recorded a trivia track? Or even paid for a new scan of a decent print?

It spoils what is otherwise a fine movie.

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