[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]
by Lorelei Marcus
“5 weeks in a balloon!” What an exciting phrase — so much potential for many interesting stories and ideas. Thus, you can perhaps understand the excitement I felt in anticipation of the new Jules Verne spectacular based on the book of the same title. Going in without a hint of what the film might be about, I already had a bunch of wild adventures thought up. I was certain the movie would involve a group of explorers struggling to survive a month in the air. Maybe they would run low on food. Perhaps they’d get on each others’ nerves. A giant storm might throw them off course or prevent their landing. Seeing it on the big screen was going to be fantastic!
Or so I thought. To be frank, the movie that I actually got was disappointing, especially compared to the wondrous stories that I’d already imagined before the movie. Rather than a cool and creative survival movie of living in a balloon, we got a rather dull sight-seeing trip.
Get used to scenes like this. There are a lot of them.
The movie stars a small cast of stereotypes: The witty professor, the kooky general, the teenage heartthrob (Fabian), the obnoxious American reporter (Red Buttons), the slave girl who knows just enough English to sound foreign (but is totally understandable), and the love interest.
I’m glad Fabian’s working again. Dig that 19th Century hair!
“Which man do you want to end up with?” “Anyone but Red Buttons, please.”
Oh, and I can’t forget their ape companion either, because every Jules Verne movie has to have an animal companion.
This seems thoroughly responsible.
Now if I told you that this movie was about this crew racing in a balloon across Africa to beat slave traders from staking a valuable claim, and getting caught in various misadventures along the way, you would probably say, “Well how could such an adventure be boring?” I’m not sure, especially considering the movie started off so well!
Everything before the balloon’s take off (the first 20 minutes or so) was funny, clever, and fast paced. The first scene, in which the professor and his inventor friend take reluctant investors on a demonstration flight, and then the next bit in which the professor prepares for the expedition and collects funds and crew, was quite fun to watch!
“Jane! Stop this crazy thing!”
“This is Africa.” “Oh! Good to know!”
But once he’d picked up the American reporter, and the balloon took to the skies, the movie ground to a sudden halt. Unfortunately it never seemed to pick back up again either. The entire movie was: the balloon flies around, lands someplace; the crew gets out and gets into trouble, they run back to the balloon and fly away. There were no real conflicts, because they could always just retreat to the balloon and escape danger. Moreover, many of these scenes went on for ‘way too long. There was never any real tension through the whole movie, and without tight pacing of events, the movie felt like it was really dragging on for five weeks!
Now I will give the credit for its visual quality. It was in color like all the Jules Verne classics, and it had many exotic settings and beautiful sets. However, with the lack of a real plot, the movie really just felt like “Look at this pretty thing!” over and over again. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a common trend, the substitution of pretty special effects for a good story.
The acting was alright. In fact, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the singleminded professor and the prissy general sent by the Prime Minister to co-lead the expedition. Their banter was genuinely funny. But it was also very British, or I should say, what Americans think of as British. That was a big problem with this movie: racial stereotyping. There were certainly quite a few racist portrayals of different cultures, to say the least. The journey took place over Africa, so there several scenes set in Muslim palaces. The problem was, rather than using this opportunity to show these cultures in an interesting and insightful way, we got very clearly not Muslim African actors in brown makeup spouting nonsense. And the Black Africans were hordes of dancing/yelling savages. It really just felt kind of insulting.
“I’m British, you know.” “What a coincidence! So am I!”
Sensitive portrayals of foreign cultures.
In the end though, the largest fault of this movie was not its own shortcomings, but the fact that we’ve already seen this plot done better. Master of the Air, another film inspired by a Jules Verne novel, lived up to the expectations set by its title. It has a tense and satisfying story, characters with lots of depth, an awesome set…and weeks spent in an airship! That movie is everything Five Weeks wants to be.
This explains a lot…
All in all, I would not say Five Weeks in a Balloon is a bad movie. I think the creators were trying to make an exciting adventure movie and mix it with comedy, and they ended up succeeding at neither. Still, the high budget did make it a fun tour through Africa. The movie wasn’t a waste of my time, but I was disappointed that it didn’t meet the standard previous Verne films (particularly Master), have set. Overall, I give this movie 2 stars. It was quite mediocre, and I would say if you’re looking to watch a great Verne spectacular, then you’re better off with one of his other films.
This is the Young Traveler, signing off.
[I watched this movie, too, and I really have very little to add to this excellent review. I might charitably give the film 2.5 stars as it is less bad than not good.
One interesting observation — we saw this in a double-feature with This is not a Test, and both flicks featured chicken abuse. Is this a new cinematic trend? [Ed]]