Le Mans – A Cinematic Review

“When you’re racing, it… it’s life. Anything that happens before or after… is just waiting.” – Michael Delaney, Le Mans.

Le Mans is a 1971 racing film, directed by Lee H. Katzin and starring Steve McQueen. Directed as a response to the 1966 film, Grand Prix, which Steve McQueen had hoped to star in, Le Mans is a homage to the legendary French 24-hour endurance race.

The film focuses on a professional American racing driver, Michael Delaney, as he competes in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. Racing in one of the Porsche 917s entered by Gulf Oil and John Wyer Automotive Engineering, Delaney returns to the race after a devastating accident the previous year, in which a competing driver was killed. This time, though, Delaney is in contention for a victory, but the race is long and arduous, taking its toll on cars and drivers, and he must compete with the drivers of the Ferrari 512s, including a German rival, Erich Stahler.

The plot, frankly, never gets very deep in this film. The story is simplistic, merely forming a backbone for the racing action. To truly understand the film, one must know the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the history of Ferrari and Porsche. One must know about the domination of Ferrari during the early 1960s, cut short by a vengeful Henry Ford; the underdog status of Porsche, class winners competing for an outright win; the close finish in the 1969 race, where Porsche was denied a victory 120 metres from the line at the hands of an outdated and overweight car driven by a remarkable rookie and the ingenious plan by Ferdinand Piech to take advantage of a loophole in the FIA rules, leading to the barely-concealed prototype that was the Porsche 917.

There isn’t much characterisation either, and apart from a few brief looks at the rivalry between Delaney and Stahler, the growing relationship between Lisa Belgetti, wife of the driver killed in Delaney’s accident in the 1969 race, and several of the drivers in the race, and a subplot involving a driver intending to retire after the race, most of the characters remain one-dimensional and unexplored.

However, the film compensates for these missing elements with some of the most intense and realistic racing action ever seen in the world of cinema. Le Mans is a film made long before the introduction of CGI, and the scale of the film rules out an over-reliance on stunt doubles. Instead, extreme steps were taken to ensure realistic, believable racing action – some of the racing footage is filmed from the actual 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. Steve McQueen, owner of the production company, went as far as to enter his own personal Porsche 908 sports prototype into the race itself for use as a camera car, and would have entered the race in his own right had his insurers agreed.


Internet cookies go to anyone who can spot the camera car in this shot.

Even the original footage was filmed with the drivers going flat-out. As a result, the racing action looks completely real throughout the entire film. The cars slide around the corners, kept in check with opposite-lock, and scream down the straights, eventually reaching in excess of 230mph on the terrifying Mulsanne Straight. Just as importantly, the cars sound completely real throughout the entire film as well, with the high-pitched screams of the flat-12 Porsche and V12 Ferrari engines, along with the raspy notes of the back-runners in their flat-6 Porsche 911s.

The attention to detail in this film is mind-blowing. Along with the actual footage of the cars captured from the racing camera car and the sides of the tracks, the rest of the racing action shows a true knowledge of racing from the production team. Drafting manoeuvres can be seen as the leading Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s leapfrog each other, the “traffic” from the drivers in the lower classes is accurately depicted, and both of these become plot points at various points in the race. Flashing lights from the overtakers can be seen several times, and the night and rainy racing are dealt with in a consummate and skilful fashion.


The low visibility and slippery track make racing in a wet twilight an unenviable prospect.

The pit action doesn’t suffer either, with anti-static clips connected to the chassis during refuelling, drivers leaving their cars as mandated by ACO rules, and an accurate depiction of the uncomfortable and dangerous conditions which the mechanics found themselves in. Some of the attention to detail is so subtle that one won’t often notice it until a large contrast is made, including cars which acquire dirt throughout the running of the race.

With this attention to detail to the racing, one may logically assume that the rest of the film suffers as a result. However, despite the minimalistic plot, Katzin and McQueen manage to show not only the race on the circuit, but also the people attending the race. There are various fantastic shots of people sitting by the track, attending the carnival outside the circuit, and even a homage to the original Le Mans start with a race between toy pedal cars while the sports car race goes on alongside them.

Considering all of this detail, it seems strange that the plot is so simplistic, but while this will alienate the general viewer, the minimalistic approach will certainly satisfy racing enthusiasts. At its heart, this film is very much a niche film, eschewing many Hollywood conventions to bring the most accurate depiction of racing at the time to the screen. Even the mandatory Hollywood romance is dealt with in a subtle and slowly-paced way.

Nowhere is this minimalism more apparent than in the dialogue. Indeed, the character with the most lines is the track commentator, and most of the main characters have very few lines, including Michael Delaney. Even then, most of the lines said by the main characters are focused on the race itself, and more is said through body language than dialogue, but in among all of this, Delaney expresses succinctly the reasons why the drivers risk their lives in such powerful cars, making the viewer very aware that some of the world’s most daring deeds have been performed by men with flawed personalities.

While most of the soundtrack is provided by the roars and screams of the cars, some of the scenes are backed by a great ensemble of music by Michel Legrand, which helps establish the mood without becoming overbearing. The sound elements of a film in this fashion are as important as the visual elements, and the engines certainly suffice in providing their own sonic impact.


Two Porsche 917s on the exit of Tertre Rouge, entering the legendary Mulsanne Straight.

Le Mans is certainly flawed in various respects, including the simplistic plot and the one-dimensional characters. However, at the same time, it is a marvellous film, showing attention to the smallest details in a way that rivals the films of Stanley Kubrick. By all means, it is a niche film, and won’t be enjoyed by the general audience, but for racing enthusiasts, it’s unmissable.

Bottom Line: Le Mans is a racing film for racing enthusiasts. The uncompromised view of some of the most amazing cars ever made will satisfy any petrolhead, but the simplistic plot and lack of dialogue will alienate most viewers.

Recommendation: A must-see for racing enthusiasts, but give it a miss if you’re not a fan of the automobile. A great present for the budding petrolhead.

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – A Cinematic Review

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: It’s a title that almost everybody knows. With a myriad of references, pastiches and imitations, it’s almost certain that you’ll know something about the film, even if your knowledge is limited to the critically acclaimed title theme. It’s anything but a stretch to call this one of the most iconic films ever produced. Opening up a new dimension in the Western genre with its novel approach, the film is arguably the magnum opus of its director, Sergio Leone (although others would credit that specific honour to the 1968 film, Once Upon A Time In The West.)

The film, released in 1966, and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as Blondie, Angeleyes and Tuco Ramirez, also known as the titular Good, Bad and Ugly, follows the three protagonists in a journey across the southern states of America, as they cross a country divided and ravaged by civil war in a battle to unearth a fortune of stolen gold buried beneath an unmarked grave.

The plot is surprisingly deep and very complex, combining bloodshed and betrayal with a cynical look at the American Civil War, filmed to resemble the battlefields of the First World War. Cynicism is very much the order of the day throughout the film, as the protagonists occupy a world where the “Good” only ostensibly lives up to his title. Sergio Leone delights in his role of deconstructing the once-tired myth of the West, substituting the cliched puritan and upright ethos of preceding Westerns for a seedy standpoint where morality is subjective, and never interferes with the main characters’ desire for money. The frontier spirit of the early Western conquests is captured, and despite the fact that the film was shot in Spain with mostly European actors, it arguably does a better job of recreating the Old West than many American-made Westerns.

Key to this cynicism are the characters themselves. The Man With No Name is considered to be the “Good” only because he refrains from the blatant banditry of his fellow protagonists. Yet, within the opening scenes of the movie, we see him shooting other would-be bounty hunters, obstructing the law by shooting the hangman’s rope tied around the neck of a notorious bandit, then, once the source of money from his ploy has dried up, he abandons the bandit in the middle of the desert with a fifty-mile journey to the nearest town.

If the “Good” doesn’t quite live up to his billed title, the same couldn’t be said of the “Bad”. Angeleyes, a mercenary-for-hire, has absolutely no trouble in playing two sides against each other, in torturing, in exploitation or murder. We see this hammered home within the first fifteen minutes, as he shoots down two paymasters in opposition to each other as soon as he’s collected the money that they offer him. Yet, Angeleyes still works to a steadfast principle: “When I get paid for a job, I always see it through to the end.” Despite his lack of loyalties and his impartiality, he still works to something at least resembling a moral code, even if the details leave much to be desired.

While the “Good” and the “Bad” represent the closest things to moral absolutes in a film which delights in its cynicism and loose morality, the “Ugly” is an altogether more complex character. With the film opening as Tuco Ramirez smashes through a window in order to escape a group of bounty hunters, we immediately see his volatile and unpredictable nature. Despite that, though, he shows considerable charisma and charm. In contrast to Blondie, the taciturn bounty hunter, or Angeleyes, the murderous mercenary who lurks behind the scenes, Tuco is a more fleshed-out character. Tuco’s notoriety has led him to a growing list of crimes, which almost seems comical in its length and variety, but we see later that Tuco’s behaviour seems more selfish than abjectly “good” or “bad”, fuelled by the same money-lust that drives the other protagonists, only with a more unpredictable and more driven personality behind it.

With these characters comes a great deal of unpredictability, as such strong personalities don’t lend them well to teamwork, and the film is full of betrayal and shifting, uneasy alliances, which will keep the viewer asking themselves questions to the very end, and making the plot far less derivative and more riveting than would be immediately expected from a Western.

Cinematically, this film is a masterpiece. Sergio Leone proves himself an able practitioner of the “show, don’t tell” principle, eschewing dialogue in favour of the cinematic approach. With some of the most able and competent uses of cinematic techniques in a movie, ranging from sweeping camera pans over the battlefields of the Civil War, to framing of the characters, right through to some of the most fantastic close-up shots ever, particularly during the shoot-outs, with close shots of darting and squinting eyes and fidgeting hands (bonus points for those who notice the missing segment of Lee Van Cleef’s middle finger), Sergio Leone creates a fantastic sense of style about the film, from the fabulous beginning sequence with its abstractions all the way to the very end, with a shoot-out so stylish that it entrances.

While Leone never relies on his dialogue to propel the movie, managing to do more with a single person’s expression than most film-makers manage with most characters’ dialogue, when the characters do speak, it’s usually something worth listening for. The characters fire off ripostes from their mouth almost as often as they do from their guns, and the lines in this movie prove themselves able to withstand repetition by never seeming forced, and always seeming natural. Of particular note is Tuco’s response to a man who has cornered him and gives him a monologue about how long he has waited to find Tuco – a surprise shot, followed by four more, and a reply, “If you need to shoot, shoot! Don’t talk!”, which perfectly illustrates both the emphasis on action over dialogue in the film, and the one-liner nature of the entire film, where nearly the whole film is worthy of quotation.

While the film would be notable for these preceding characteristics alone, proving itself a fantastic deconstructor of those over-used tropes in the genre, there is one element not yet covered which ensures and cements this film’s deserved iconic status.

The music in this film goes beyond good. It goes beyond brilliant. It is quite simply masterful, the work of a virtuoso at his very finest. Apart from the iconic title theme, which is deservedly one of the most well-known tunes ever, Ennio Morricone builds tension throughout with his outstanding score and the unpredictable and inventive use of instruments not usually encountered in the sort of classical music which Morricone composes. Out of this fabulous score, we see two stand-out successes: L’Estasi Dell’Oro (known in English as The Ecstasy of Gold), one of the most fitting and masterfully orchestrated pieces of music found in cinema, a sweeping epic backed by the entrancing wordless vocals of Edda Dell’Orso, and Il Triello, a powerful, tension-building piece of music which backs the final shoot-out, once again backed by Dell’Orso’s vocals, this time at soprano levels.

With the fine mixture of cinematic art, dialogue which never grates and the plainly beautiful music, there’s very little to criticise about this film. It is, however, a very long film at 156 minutes (171 for the extended version), and while the film sustains its pace over its entire length, it is not a film which one can go into with the idea of wasting time. It must be watched from start to finish as a cohesive package, because this film is an epic in the most traditional sense, twisting and turning enough to keep people excited throughout.

If there was one thing I would criticise, I would note some of the editing decisions made in the extended version of the film. Adding 18 minutes of extra footage, the extended version adds to the film several scenes which were formerly excised from the cinematic release, for American audiences which had grown accustomed to shorter films, usually only an hour and a half long. Unfortunately, these scenes are not of uniform quality, ranging from those which actually add a bit of extra flavour to the film, to those probably best left on the editing floor, and as somebody accustomed to the cinematic release just as much as the extended version, the extra scenes can occasionally grate.

Despite this minor criticism, there is very little that can be said against this film. Forcefully sweeping aside the puritanism of prior Westerns, it stands as progenitor of a new sort of Western film, one that would more accurately look at the Old West as a cynical, blood-stained chapter of American history. Combined to some of the finest cinematic technique ever seen in a film, sparkling and imaginative dialogue and music which fits perfectly and remains utterly memorable more than forty years after its first release, it’s not hard to see why The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is so critically acclaimed, and why I give it such a recommendation.

Bottom Line:This film is epic, this film is art, but most of all, this film is enjoyable. There’s no reason why any self-proclaimed cinephile should not have seen this film.

Recommendation:Watch it. DVD boxsets of the “Man With No Name” trilogy go for comparative pennies these days, and along with one of the finest and most artistic films ever made, you get two films which are enjoyable in their own right and show just why Clint Eastwood’s career was suddenly elevated from that of a lowly television actor into that of a superstar.

Predators – A Cinematic Review

For various reasons, 1987’s Predator is one of the best-remembered science fiction films of its era. Combining balls-out action with an interesting and imaginative antagonist and a cast of action stars on top form, it was a solid action film and certainly looked like a good foundation for a franchise. Unfortunately, the intellectual property has been rather squandered, with Predator 2 inexplicably being set in Los Angeles, of all places, and the Alien vs. Predator crossover series yielding two rather mediocre films and a handful of computer games of varying quality. After this mixed bag of movies and games, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal have taken on the task of trying to give the series a new lease of life.

Immediately, Predators establishes itself as an uncomplicated film, eschewing exposition and jumping straight into the action. The film starts with the main protagonist, Royce, played by Adrien Brody, falling from the sky towards an unfamiliar jungle. After successfully parachuting into the strange surrounds, he soon finds that he isn’t alone – a collection of people have been parachuted in with him, from a female sniper for the Israeli Defence Forces to a death-row inmate, and one civilian doctor who doesn’t seem to belong. With unknown dangers hiding away unseen in the jungle, this motley collection of soldiers, murderers and criminals have to stick together to take on the far more threatening foes which persistently stalk them.

To be honest, Adrien Brody would hardly be my first choice for a main protagonist for this type of film, with his gawky looks which make him look rather geeky, but when the action begins, he manages to play the part of his cynical, impersonal mercenary quite well. Unlike the original, the cast doesn’t contain many established action stars, instead relying on the services of some obscure actors. Considering that there isn’t much time to establish any character development, it isn’t a huge loss, although the actors play their parts well nevertheless.

It takes a while for the action to begin, with the opening sequences taking time to explore the previous victims of the Predators’ hunting techniques. When it does begin, it’s choreographed well, with the requisite amount of bullet spraying and convoluted environmental hazards that such a movie really needs, and once the Predators begin making themselves known, it all escalates towards a fast-paced finale which may not be all that clever, but which is certainly entertaining.

It goes without saying that a movie like this is rather trope-heavy and doesn’t go out of its way to break with tradition. Instead, it embraces it, with a genre-savvy main character who manages to lampshade some of the more obvious places where action movies have tread before. The places where the film does break with tradition are quite welcome, with limited ammunition meaning that the characters have to be discriminate with their gunfire, and even the romance in the film being dealt with in a subtle manner. In fact, the romance plays out a lot like the same scenes in Aliens, with a respect growing between two strong characters who manage to escape a dangerous scenario.

Ultimately, though, this is an unapologetic B-movie, which will never be regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, but which has some rather interesting elements and is overall a solid action movie. At the very least, it manages to get the series back on the right track after the juvenile efforts of the Alien vs. Predator movies, and as that is all it could have reasonably been expected to do, it could be commended on that alone.

Bottom Line: Predators is a solid action movie, and a decent sequel to the original movie.

Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the first one, or just simply looking for a simple action movie, check it out. If plot and character development is your thing, give it a miss.

Predators – A Cinematic Review

For various reasons, 1987’s Predator is one of the best-remembered science fiction films of its era. Combining balls-out action with an interesting and imaginative antagonist and a cast of action stars on top form, it was a solid action film and certainly looked like a good foundation for a franchise. Unfortunately, the intellectual property has been rather squandered, with Predator 2 inexplicably being set in Los Angeles, of all places, and the Alien vs. Predator crossover series yielding two rather mediocre films and a handful of computer games of varying quality. After this mixed bag of movies and games, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal have taken on the task of trying to give the series a new lease of life.

Immediately, Predators establishes itself as an uncomplicated film, eschewing exposition and jumping straight into the action. The film starts with the main protagonist, Royce, played by Adrien Brody, falling from the sky towards an unfamiliar jungle. After successfully parachuting into the strange surrounds, he soon finds that he isn’t alone – a collection of people have been parachuted in with him, from a female sniper for the Israeli Defence Forces to a death-row inmate, and one civilian doctor who doesn’t seem to belong. With unknown dangers hiding away unseen in the jungle, this motley collection of soldiers, murderers and criminals have to stick together to take on the far more threatening foes which persistently stalk them.

To be honest, Adrien Brody would hardly be my first choice for a main protagonist for this type of film, with his gawky looks which make him look rather geeky, but when the action begins, he manages to play the part of his cynical, impersonal mercenary quite well. Unlike the original, the cast doesn’t contain many established action stars, instead relying on the services of some obscure actors. Considering that there isn’t much time to establish any character development, it isn’t a huge loss, although the actors play their parts well nevertheless.

It takes a while for the action to begin, with the opening sequences taking time to explore the previous victims of the Predators’ hunting techniques. When it does begin, it’s choreographed well, with the requisite amount of bullet spraying and convoluted environmental hazards that such a movie really needs, and once the Predators begin making themselves known, it all escalates towards a fast-paced finale which may not be all that clever, but which is certainly entertaining.

It goes without saying that a movie like this is rather trope-heavy and doesn’t go out of its way to break with tradition. Instead, it embraces it, with a genre-savvy main character who manages to lampshade some of the more obvious places where action movies have tread before. The places where the film does break with tradition are quite welcome, with limited ammunition meaning that the characters have to be discriminate with their gunfire, and even the romance in the film being dealt with in a subtle manner. In fact, the romance plays out a lot like the same scenes in Aliens, with a respect growing between two strong characters who manage to escape a dangerous scenario.

Ultimately, though, this is an unapologetic B-movie, which will never be regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, but which has some rather interesting elements and is overall a solid action movie. At the very least, it manages to get the series back on the right track after the juvenile efforts of the Alien vs. Predator movies, and as that is all it could have reasonably been expected to do, it could be commended on that alone.

Bottom Line:Predators is a solid action movie, and a decent sequel to the original movie.

Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the first one, or just simply looking for a simple action movie, check it out. If plot and character development is your thing, give it a miss.

Bullitt – A Cinematic Review

Bullitt is a 1968 thriller film, directed by Peter Yates, and starring Steve McQueen as a San Francisco detective ordered to protect a witness with evidence that could bring down a powerful mobster in Chicago. The witness, Johnny Ross, has been accused of stealing $2 million from the Mob and attempting to flee, and has gone to the San Francisco police with information that could help bring down his brother. But all hell soon breaks loose when Johnny Ross is located and targeted by hitmen who gun down Ross and his protecting officer with a Winchester pump-action shotgun. Frank Bullitt, played by Steve McQueen, is then charged with locating and identifying the hitmen. But all may not be as it seems with Johnny Ross…

For a movie which contains a significant amount of action, Bullitt is surprisingly character-led. Filmed in the streets of San Francisco with real people going about their lives in the background, the film immediately takes up an authenticity which is further bolstered by the realistic performances of its stars, and the research into police and medical procedure which is frequently demonstrated throughout the film. There’s a distinct lack of hammy acting, a lot of the communication in the film being expressed by those almost-imperceptible body movements which people often take for granted.

Steve McQueen puts in a sterling performance as Frank Bullitt, as an impersonal character who stands as a contrast to the opportunist – almost self-serving – Walter Chalmers. Indeed, McQueen goes through much of the film saying little at all, seeming effortlessly and ineffably cool throughout the whole film. However, the film does a good job of demonstrating that sometimes that coolness is a cloak for depersonalisation – as exhibited in a scene where Bullitt and his girlfriend encounter a strangled body, where Bullitt barely flinches while his girlfriend runs off, upset at the sight unfolding before her.

Really, though, in a modern context, it’s difficult to watch Bullitt for anything but the car chase – and what a car chase! Taking place through the slanted streets of San Francisco, the chase between the green Ford Mustang driven by Bullitt and the black Dodge Charger has become part of film legend, and probably represents the film’s greatest contribution to cinema.

Unlike previous films, which used speeded-up film of cars chasing each other at relatively low speeds, Bullitt has two cars going at full speed, including all of the associated danger of driving ludicrously powerful and ill-tempered muscle cars at such speeds. What’s more, it really demonstrates the focus on realism which both the director – a former racing manager for Stirling Moss, of all drivers – and McQueen – an accomplished driver and motorcycle rider in his own right – were determined to achieve.


Awesome-looking cars, V8 rumbles and smoking rear tyres – a recipe for automotive success!

The car chase therefore includes all of the smoking rear tyres and low bass rumbles of American V8 engines that a car fan could want, and has the added bonus of having Steve McQueen at the wheel during part of the chase. Both of the cars come very close to crashing several times during the scene, prompting the directors to hire Bud Ekins, formerly working with McQueen in The Great Escape, to perform the more risky stunts – without McQueen’s prior knowledge.

Ultimately, with the police movies of the 1970s, including the tour de force that was Dirty Harry in 1971, Bullitt seems to stand today more as a progenitor of a genre than its own self-contained film. The “cowboy cop” character represented by Frank Bullitt would later become a significant trope and later a cliché, while the realistic action of the car chase cemented that sort of action into the public consciousness.

Bullitt is still a strong film today, and there isn’t much that you could point to when talking about flaws of the film, although the relationship between Frank Bullitt and his girlfriend seems to be yet another case of that forced Hollywood pairing that so often exists in movies, with her dialogue seeming a lot more stale than everybody else’s. At the very least, though, the relationship is defined before the film starts, which is rather an improvement over the current model of shoehorning romance for the sake of it, rather than any actual connection between the characters.

Bottom Line: Bullitt is a solid introduction to the police thriller genre which proliferated during the 1970s, with a car chase which is difficult to top. Sometimes a bit slow for modern audiences, but overall a decent film.

Threads – A Cinematic Review

 

Author’s Note: As a computer gamer, I probably encounter post-apocalyptic scenarios more often than other people, and as a result, it may occur to me that I might survive better in these scenarios than my contemporaries. Sometimes, though, it’s useful to take a step back and realise that I am no less vulnerable than anybody else, and no film expresses this like Threads.

 

In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union was at the height of its military power, possessing thousands of active nuclear warheads and vast conscript armies. With this overwhelming firepower aimed directly at them, it comes as no surprise that the prevailing mood in the United States and Western Europe involved a certain amount of paranoia. It was in this state of paranoia that a number of films, comics and other media were produced dealing with the myriad of “what if?” scenarios which the Cold War was rife with, and among these films was Threads, a BBC-made film dealing with the consequences of a Soviet nuclear attack on Great Britain.

 

Threads, made in 1984, is set in the city of Sheffield, one of Britain’s industrial centres and one of the prime targets for Soviet nuclear weapons. Part documentary, part narrative, Threads takes a narrow focus by focusing on a few select groups of people, but predominantly focusing on two families, the Becketts and the Kemps, who are entwined by an unplanned pregnancy and a prospective marriage. However, in the wider scope, the Soviet Union has invaded Iran following a coup d’etat, and American and Soviet forces begin to fight over possession of the oil-rich deserts of the Middle East.

 

The general premise of Threads is hardly unique – nuclear apocalypses have been a staple of fiction ever since the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, there is a level of detail and a realistic presentation in this film which sets it far apart from the fantasies which usually accompany the portrayal of the nuclear scenario in media.

 

In order to tell its story, a story of ordinary people subjected to extraordinary pressures, the film approaches the scenario in several ways. The predominant method is by using a standard narrative, following the Becketts and Kemps, along with several municipal government staff selected to lead the city in what were then current “continuity of government” directives. By focusing on a small number of people, the film enhances the emotional response towards the characters as well as the drama of the situation that the characters find themselves in.

 

Threads also takes a documentary approach, with informative details occasionally being displayed on screen and reinforced by the narrative elsewhere in the film, which graphically portrays the numerical and textual data shown on screen. With high-quality research throughout the film, including an army of researchers which includes the late Carl Sagan, the film ably manages to demonstrate its data in a realistic fashion, with as few concessions to fantasy as possible.

 

The realistic factor doesn’t just extend to the research – the actors manage to play their parts authentically and realistically, with proper accents and believable dialogue which makes it easier to sympathise and understand the characters. It could be counted among the greatest strengths of the film that it manages to portray such a harrowing and difficult subject without ever seeming mawkish and without hammy acting.

 

Another of the film’s great strengths is the detail and authenticity of the setting. Not only is the wider detail of the setting captured, with trade unionists protesting against the government and CND activists protesting against the potential use of nuclear weapons by the belligerent sides, the minor details are captured as well, including the use of the infamous Protect and Survive commercials which were designed to be played in the run-up to a potential nuclear attack.


I don’t think the irony was lost on the director.

It seems obvious considering the genre, but it stands to be repeated: Threads is not a happy film, nor is it optimistic. The film pulls no punches when it comes to its central message: In a real-life nuclear war, you are probably going to die, and if you don’t die, you will soon wish that you were dead. There is no happy ending – just a slow, horrifying decline towards the end of humanity.

As such, this movie is among the most frightening and disturbing things ever put to film. Unlike the horror films of that decade, though, this isn’t frightening because of cheap scares and sudden shocks – this is frightening because it could have happened and could still happen today. During the actual nuclear attack, people are burned to a crisp by the enormous heat-wave emerging from the hypocentre of the explosion, while in the aftermath, radiation poisoning has its slow, painful and terminal effects on many of the survivors. Yet, after all of this devastation, there is still more suffering to come – overwhelmed hospitals, plagues of cholera and typhoid and widespread starvation.

This film could be admired for its presentation and its detail alone, but even more impressive is the way it manages to portray its very important message without seeming over-the-top or exaggerated. Threads could easily be argued to be one of the most important and significant films ever discussing the subject of the nuclear apocalypse – as the tagline goes, it really is the closest that you’ll ever want to come to a nuclear war.

Bottom Line: Hard-hitting and uncompromising, Threads is a detailed and often-terrifying representation of one of the most powerful threats to ever befall the human race. If this film doesn’t make you think twice about nuclear war, nothing will.