I saw this film several weeks back and while I wound up enjoying it, it also wasn’t something that sent me scrambling to write a review ASAP. Three Thousand Years of Longing has elegance and grace in the portrayal of its love story and I often found myself enraptured in its telling, but it’s far from the adventure epic it’s made out to be in the trailer.
A lonely Scottish woman, who’s in Istanbul to give a lecture, ventures into a street bazaar to find a memento for her trip and ends up picking a vessel that contains a tormented genie. Through her interaction with the Djinn, she realizes that their meeting wasn’t by chance.
This isn’t the typical 3-wishes narrative we’ve seen on the big screen before. Yes, that central element of the genie mythology is, of course, present in the script adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s short story by George Miller and Augusta Gore, but this is much more of a reflection on the perils of those familiar narratives.
In the vast majority of other stories involving wishes, things tend to revolve around the desires of the individual holding the wishes. However, what Miller and Gore’s screenplay hones in on is the plight of the being bestowed with the power to grant the wishes of others but is powerless to help itself. In getting to know The Djinn in this story, he’s paired with a very analytical scholar of mythology who is there to dissect all the elements of the genie’s very existence. I appreciated that the script really hones in on what life had been like for the one in the bottle and essentially uses the lead character’s experience to help provide context for that past. However, that approach doesn’t leave much room for adventure and the energy level of the film plateaus fairly early.
As much as I enjoy Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba as individual performers, the romantic chemistry between the two is nonexistent, leaving them as a narrating tandem. It seemed like Swinton’s Alithea had a story that doesn’t ever get told in a rewarding manner. She exists to flesh out the past details of Elba’s Djinn but it’s really his story that contains all the passion, romance, and fantasy that the creative juices of this endeavor flow through. While it is easy to sympathize with Alithea, she’s just boring in comparison. It is by design to some degree but the film itself is constantly pulling back from all the things that make it the most interesting in order to come back to the very small life of its lead character.
I am going to use The Never Ending Story as a point of comparison, so bear with me. Both are stories within stories, where there’s a massive and spectacular fantasy world within a much more grounded and realistic cinematic reality. Where TNES excels is in the elevation of its fantasy elements. Three Thousand Years looks absolutely incredible, filled with color and robust production design elements. Seriously, Roger Ford’s production design, Lisa Thompson’s set decoration, and Kym Barrett’s costuming are phenomenal! The problem is that all of that amazing stuff gets pulled back to Alithea’s much less than amazing reality. I know this is by design, but I would have preferred even a slightly different approach to how that character dynamic functions just for entertainment purposes.
At the outset, I said this movie was both elegant and graceful in the handling of its love story. I stand by that, even though the love story between the two main characters doesn’t move the needle. I did enjoy the film but also found there was a large disconnect between what the trailer suggests and what this film really is.
Paired with “2020” by SUUNS, the promo trailer has a far higher level of energy than the film itself ever achieves. In that way, it’s a brilliant piece of marketing that suggests an epic fantasy adventure. After all, Miller’s last feature was Mad Max: Fury Road and the ads don’t shy away from “mad genius George Miller” in the branding. So, when the finished product never finds that frequency, the reactions are understandable.
For one of the more anticipated films of 2022, it bombed…capital H…hard. With an estimated budget of $60-million, barely broke the $10-million mark in worldwide box-office gross. That’s a word-of-mouth thing because it’s currently in the sub-7 range on its IMDB score and is holding firm on its 60 Metascore.
In time, I believe that will change and more people with a different set of expectations will be able to view this film through a different scope that allows them to appreciate all the things this film does well.
Recommendation: If you can curtail your expectations and appreciate this film for the measured and epic love story that’s intended, there’s a lot to like. If you anticipating something like Fury Road, look elsewhere.
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