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REACH FOR THE SUN

Sometimes you watch a film that catches you by surprise, even one you had watched 30 odd years earlier. Spielberg's brilliant Empire Of The Sun, proved just that for BILL WATT.

Current wisdom states: "Old movies are for old buggers." But, there are some amazing masterpieces from years gone by that should not be classified O for Oldie and can be enjoyed by all, not just those looking through the rose-coloured lens of nostalgia.

Now, I along with many others love re-watching "classics" like the original Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Gone With The Wind, Die Hard (hmm maybe not a classic) etc but amid the nostalgia rush there's a part of you that screams ... "DATED"!. Yep, interesting and fun, but try showing them to today's generation of movie buffs and they will shrug and explain how poor the special effects are, the performances are hammed up. the politics questionable etc. And, it's all probably true.

Even some of the more rigorous "classics" like my favourite films Alien and Aliens have scenes where you cringe just a little bit. Like when nearly the whole crew of the Nostromo have lit up a smoke as they stroll about in a 1980s vision of future military fashion. Don't they realise it's been a work place no-no for several hundred years.

But there are a few movies that, like a fine wine, improve dramatically with age. One such movie is Steven Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun.

I recently watched Empire Of The Sun for the second time (the first time being in the late1980s) and I was blown away. If this isn't Steven Spielberg's best movie it is close. And, it never (to my knowledge) gets mentioned when critics start collating their great movies lists.

But, it is truly astounding filmmaking. And, one of the keys to its greatness is the fact it was filmed before the mass use of CGI (computer generated imagery). The crowd scenes seem staggeringly real. You can almost smell the sweat, fear and adrenalin.

A bit of background: Empire Of The Sun was originally a novel by English writer JG Ballard and is based on his experience as a child internee imprisoned by the Japanese after they took over the international/Chinese city of Shanghai in December 1941. (Just as an aside - the book is one of the best novels I have read.)

It begins in the last days of Shanghai's rule by a conglomerate of colonial powers ... an island of prosperity amid the chaos of the Chinese/Japanese war. And, far from eulogising this period, the first scenes are a damning satire of British colonialism. The scene showing our young hero, 11-year-old English elite private school (read white supremacist) Jim dressed as Sinbad the sailor and running into a battalion of Japanese troops preparing for the city's invasion is surreally funny. It portrays the English as foppish caricatures of a time gone by, and the Japanese as a ruthless post-industrial threat to that fragile world.

From here, the story wanders through the chaos of the Japanese takeover; the terror, then excitement, then distress of a child left to fend for himself; the strangeness of being imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp with a mix of weird-as-hell Brits and Yanks; and, the decline and fall of a military superpower from the narrow perspective of a teenaged prisoner with a fascination for military aircraft.

One of the subtle achievements of Empire is how the Japanese military personnel are treated with respect and portrayed as deeply human, despite their obvious and sometimes brutal flaws.

And, compellingly, Jim moves from being a foppish, racist schoolboy writing a book on contract bridge, to being a capable, self-reliant (but damaged) survivor with a deep respect for the Japanese kamikaze pilots flying rundown Zero aircraft against the American P51 Mustangs ... "the Cadillac of the Skies".

Jim, or Jamie as he is also called in the film, is portrayed by Welsh-born actor Christian Bale, who many of you will know from the Batman movies, American Psycho etc. And what a performance he gives for such a young actor. Almost flawless, I would say. And the rest of the cast is also impressive with great performances from John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Masatō Ibu and more.


Oh, and the soundtrack is wonderful, especially the boy soprano rendition of the beautiful Welsh hymn/Christmas carol Suo Gân at critical junctures in the film.

I won't go into further detail because I don't want to ruin anyone's viewing experience. So, do yourselves a favour and stream Empire Of The Sun (or dig up a DVD like I did) and sit back and prepare for a rollercoaster of sights, sounds and emotions. You won't regret it.

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