Saturday, January 28, 2012

Things to Love about Michael Mann's The Keep



Just because a film is dated, it doesn't mean that it can't be awesome. This is exactly the case with Michael Mann's 1983 film, The Keep. Said film is awesome for two reasons: (1) its philosophical questions about power, evil, and suffering espoused by excellent actors and (2) its trippy laser light show action. 


Set in 1942 Romania, a group of German soldiers (regular army, not Nazis) are assigned to station at a keep. This would seem to be an excellent military fortification, except that the structure is designed to keep something inside, not to keeping something out. After several mysterious deaths occur within the keep, cruel S.S. soldiers are sent to investigate. Ultimately, we discover that a powerful force is locked inside the walls of the keep -- a force that could destroy the human race with ease.
Turn around...
And here's where we get all philosophical. Could such an extreme and violent power be used for good? In fact, couldn't this be the answer to terminating Nazi forces and returning the world to peace? That is what Ian McKellan's character supposes. As a Jew who has witnessed countless atrocities, the idea of a violent force to crush the Axis is tempting. However, if such a power was unleashed, what could stop it? And in fact, isn't it up to man to end the violence that he created? (Pardon the gender insensitivity.)


It is in the human condition to look for an easy solution to suffering. An all-powerful being would in fact be the easiest solution to the Nazi menace. Time (and countless stories) have told us that the easiest solution is rarely the right one. Often used to ponder the existence of a higher power, the question of why people are allowed to suffer is an important one. 
We are treated to many discussions about power and coercion, led by fine actors such as Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, and J├╝rgen Prochnow. Scott Glen is also in this movie, but he's not one for words. Michael Mann's attention to detail is apparent among the well-directed dialogue, as the quiet conversations in darkened rooms are never dull. 
Bright eyes.
In contrast to the deep philosophical banter are the dated elements of the film: the fog-filled sets, the score by Tangerine Dream, and the flashy effects. At several moments in the film, I wondered if I was watching a Bonnie Tyler music video. Celestial beings have glowing eyes. Wind sweeps back the hair of actors accompanied by dramatic blue lighting. A pink light saber is used during the film's climactic battle.

And you probably think I'm joking about the light saber thing, but really, I'm not. 

Amidst the synthesized score and the glamour shots, there are some great ideas. Surely this could be an appropriate film to remake. I'd even like to see Michael Mann give it another shot. The Keep is an adaptation of a novel by F. Paul Wilson and word on the street claims that the movie isn't an ideal representation of the original story. Though I can't say I didn't enjoy the 80's rendition, I would certainly be interested in witnessing a modern adaptation.

If all else fails, at least we have awesome conversations and awesome laser effects to fall back on.

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