A Far Off Place
1993, PG, 108 min. Directed by Mikael Salomon. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Ethan Randall, Jack Thompson, Sarel Bok, Maximilian Schell.
REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., March 19, 1993
There are big guns all over A Far Off Place: Uzi-bearing bad guys, shotgun-carrying Great White Hunter turned anti-poacher vigilante, rifle-wielding young heroine... Even bigger guns are behind this film about two teenagers and a Bushman fleeing across the Kalahari: Walt Disney Pictures, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, the breathtaking grandeur of the African desert and the equivalent of a moral Mauser -- the wholesale slaughter and threatened extinction of Africa's great wildlife. Unfortunately, they all misfire. The movie opens with a scene of poachers gunning down a herd of elephants and taking a chain saw to the tusks. Up rides good guy Colonel Mopani Theron (Maximilian Schell). Too late to rescue the elephants, but early enough to catch the perpetrators, he promptly kills one poacher in self-defense, then takes dead aim at the other who, unarmed, slowly and fearfully walks toward him. The screen goes black. We are left to wonder if the great, good Mopani takes his man in or summarily executes him on the spot. The trouble is (aside from the fact that moral ambiguity and a young audience is already an uneasy mix), I suspect the scene is not meant to imply anything. It is simply a poor editing choice. Indeed, poor choices abound in this picture. The expanses of African desert and undulating dunes are awesome indeed -- for about the first ten shots. Then it gets to be just so much sand. Ditto for the trio's trek through the parched landscape. It is admirable at first, but becomes nearly as wearying for the audience as for the actors. Reese Witherspoon, one of the most compelling young actors to grace the big screen (Man in the Moon, Wildflower), is wasted in a role that demands little more of her than parched lips. We simply never are given a reason to really care about the desert, about the slaughtered animals, about the characters. (I was, however, intrigued by the Bushman's odd clicking language and spent most of the latter part of the movie trying to quietly reproduce the noises he made with his tongue, which gives you an idea of how involved I was in the plot.) As it turns out, the title of this movie was a miss, too. It might have more accurately been named A Far Off Base. Unfortunate, too, is the pairing of this movie with its opening cartoon, "Trail Mix-Up." The frenetically funny adventures of Baby Herman and Roger Rabbit set a pace that the live-action movie simply can't compete with. And it's hard to justify the full admission price just to see a few minutes of animation -- no matter how superior it is to its full-length companion.