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review added: 2/12/03



The Legend of 1900
1999 (2002) - Fine Line/Medusa (Image)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Legend of 1900 Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/C-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A-

Specs and Features

125 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 80:53 in chapter 14), isolated music and effects track, theatrical trailer, cast and crew filmographies, Lost Boys Calling music video by Roger Waters and Edward Van Halen, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1), subtitles: none


Whenever a successful international filmmaker decides to leave his native shores to make their first English language feature, success is far from guaranteed. For every Paul Verhoeven, who adeptly made a home in America, there's a Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who made one American film before heading back to France to make Amelie. It would appear that Giuseppe Tornatore, the acclaimed Italian director of such films as Cinema Paradiso, belongs to the second camp.

It isn't as though Tornatore plunged deep into the heart of the Hollywood beast with his first English-language feature. In fact, The Legend of 1900 is a leisurely paced fable that bears a number of similarities to his Italian work. At the turn of the century, an infant baby is discovered in the ballroom of the ocean liner Virginian as it pulls into port in New York City. The baby is adopted by a ship-worker and named "1900", after the year of his birth. In a few years time, the boy manifests a gift for piano playing that would make Mozart look like a tone-deaf halfwit. 1900 grows up to be Tim Roth, playing piano for rich and poor alike and never once setting foot on land.

I would like to be able to recommend The Legend of 1900. It's a compelling idea and individual scenes in the film shine with sublime moments of beauty. There's an extraordinary scene set during a storm in which 1900 releases the brakes from the piano and "rides" it around the ballroom. The production design is lush and detailed. The cinematography by Lajos Koltai is often breathtaking. Ennio Morricone provides the original score and much of it ranks with his best work.

But The Legend of 1900's fatal flaw is its inconsistency. As I said, much of Morricone's score ranks with his best work. But that means that some of it is awfully generic. Tornatore will build up a store of audience good will with an enchanting scene, then squander it immediately with a joke that falls flat or a sequence that rambles to no apparent purpose. A good example of this is the piano duel between 1900 and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton (played by Clarence Williams III). The scene will be popping right along, focusing on the fine performances by Roth and Williams, then it'll fall apart in a heartbeat by cutting away to spectators overreacting to the sights and sounds. Even the actors are inconsistent. Roth and Pruitt Taylor Vince (as 1900's only real friend) are generally quite effective. But every so often, they simply hit a false note. It's almost as if Tornatore edited rehearsal footage in with their final performances.

The Legend of 1900 is a frustrating movie, but it's made easier to experience on Image's DVD. The anamorphic picture is very good, if not great. As I said, this is a terrific looking movie and Tornatore fills every inch of his widescreen frame. Image has included both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, the better to enjoy Morricone's score. Both tracks capture the unusual acoustics of the Virginian and the rolling waves of the ever-present ocean. I'd be hard-pressed to give one track the edge over the other in this case.

Extras are slim, although collectors of Ennio Morricone's work might find this disc worth picking up solely for the isolated music and effects track. Image has also included a "music video" for the end credits song, Lost Boys Calling, performed by Roger Waters and Edward (he'll always be Eddie to me) Van Halen. I put music video in quotes because this is an odd duck of a video if ever there was one. It begins with interview footage of Waters, explaining how he got involved in the project. Then just as you start to think, "Oh how cool, I didn't know there was an interview with Roger Waters on here," (it took me about 6 seconds), the interview dissolves into the song, accompanied by footage from the movie. It's not much of a video, it's even less of an interview, and the song itself does not rank with Waters' finest work. Rounding out the package are filmographies for Signor Tornatore, Maestro Morricone and Young Goodman Roth.

Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Legend of 1900 can still boast of enough worthwhile elements to make it worth a rental. Personally, I'd much rather watch ten movies that strive for greatness and fail than watch one that reaches for mediocrity and succeeds.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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