Universal // 1998 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 17th, 2000
It's not the end of the world...there's still six hours left.
What would you do if you knew it was the last night on Earth? What would society do? First time director Don McKellar (co-writer of The Red Violin, also the writer and star of this film) tells us what some Canadians do on the world's curtain call, from an unspecified disaster. From one gas company employee who spends the day reassuring customers that the gas service will stay on until the very end to a man who is trying to fulfill every sexual fantasy on his laundry list before the end, the people choose their final paths and their lives entwine to a final embrace. A bit reminiscent of the '50s film On the Beach the people gracefully accept their fate.
I'll try to be fair here. Critics pretty much like this film, and if you can accept the premise, and are willing to jump right into the lives of these people knowing there is no future for them, then it may be enjoyable for you. An interesting quote I read: When asked what the difference between a Canadian film and a US film was, one Canadian director mentioned a scene from this film. "Sandra Oh goes into a grocery story to find a bottle of wine for dinner," he said. "The store has been looted, but she finds two bottles still on the shelf. She takes them down, evaluates them, chooses one, and puts the other one politely back on the shelf. That's how you know it's a Canadian film. "This scene tells a lot about the film. Except for a few people who decide to kill someone for the heck of it, the people are basically polite and accepting. A New Year's Eve air permeates the film as some party their way into the Afterlife, while others treat it almost like any other day or gather in awkward family dinners. Critics seemed to like this approach of matter-of-factly meeting their ends with dignity.
There is a touching scene here and there. When Sandra Oh (HBO's "Arli$$") realizes she's spending her last moments with someone she just met, and says "Tell me something that will make me love you" even I saw some magic.
This film won the Prix de Jeunesse at 1998's Cannes Film Festival, which I missed due to actually having a life. This type of film will appeal to that crowd while leaving the more pedestrian of us in the dust.
I guess I'm not like other critics. Since the cause of the world's end was not specified (though it appears to have something to do with the sun, as the world ends at midnight in daytime) I cannot gauge how escapable the world's plight was. Apparently they knew it was coming for months. I simply couldn't stomach how people accepted this verdict. Everyone knows the world is ending on the stroke of midnight on this date, and the power and utilities are still running fine up until the end? Not only don't I buy it, since I expect half the world's population would have killed off the other half by then, but I can't stomach the idea that McKellar has of the human race. We are survivor types, who rise to meet a challenge rather than meekly curl up and die. Critics seemed to think this idea was better than sending a team of redneck oil drillers into space to save the world, but I don't think those were our only choices. What ever happened to phrases like "the indomitable human spirit" and such?
Most of the people's lives were simply too trite and uninteresting for me to explore this topic with. When you spend a good quarter or more of the film watching an awkward family gathering I was already gone. I was only 16 minutes into the film the first time I hit my "time remaining" button to find out when it would be over. If I hadn't had to review it I assure you I would not have watched the rest of it. Even after watching it all I wish I'd spent my time doing something else. The art of writing this has more pleasure than watching the film did by far, and its only purpose is to warn you.
And warn you I must about buying this disc. Even if the film sounds like your cup of hemlock tea, the DVD will disappoint. First, and most important, it is a pan-and-scan only disc. Universal: never put out a pan-and-scan only disc. Nothing about this disc gave us any reason to buy it rather than a VHS version for less money. The image was no sharper than a videotape, in fact it looks just like a video tape. The sound is a rather bland Dolby 2.0, also exactly what you would get off a VHS tape. The only extra is a trailer. This disc hits my "get rid of it and never watch again" pile faster than I could say yes if the Swedish Bikini team showed up and asked me to go to their place to take a look at their etchings.
The art film crowd might appreciate this film. I actually like some art films but this one doesn't even come close for me. Even if you think you'll like this film, or have seen it and know you like it, the lack of quality or care put into this disc recommends only a rental.
Don McKellar is sentenced to continue to write art films for art film buffs, so long as no more of his films cross my desk. The actors are acquitted, I really can't complain too much about the performances; awkward and uninteresting as I found them they were exactly what McKellar was shooting for. About five minutes of the film is acquitted for actually being moving and special, unfortunately there was another hour and a half to wade through to get to it. Universal is fined $250 million to be put into a pool for making films that actually entertain.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated