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.
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 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.