Paramount // 1997 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 26th, 2007
At the end of the world, his real journey began.
Perhaps it's too cynical of me to think that Seven Years in Tibet was little more than a star vehicle for Brad Pitt (Fight Club) so he could show the soccer moms of the world that he was more than just beefcake. Hey, he's got a brain too! And while the film was released in the midst of a societal recognition (or re-emergence) of the Chinese occupation of Tibet that still goes on today, how does the film look in high definition?
Becky Johnston, (Under the Cherry Moon) adapted Heinrich Harrer's book and Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose) directed. Pitt plays Harrer, who along with Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis, Kingdom of Heaven) attempts to climb a Himalayan mountain. The trek is unsuccessful, and Harrer and his group are captured by the British, the result of an escalating Second World War After several escape attempts by Harrer, he manages to flee with the group, and the pair separate themselves and go to Tibet, where they spend, well, seven years.
I respect films that try to convey a message, or inspire others to take action on behalf of a particular cause, however minor it might be. But in 1997, all of America was in love with trying to free Tibet. And it's a noble cause, to be sure. We saw all kinds of movies about it, and the Beastie Boys had an outdoor concert to help promote the idea of a free Tibet. If there's one thing that the entertainment industry does well, it's raising public awareness, with seemingly very little teeth behind it. But what I don't like is a film that tries to carry the "Free Tibet" banner, but does it somewhat secretly, after you've been roundly bored by an hour of exposition that starts out interesting but winds up being kind of silly and leaves you apathetic.
The first problem I have with the movie was that the title of the film is a bit misleading. It may be seven years, but the first half of the movie has the Dalai Lama seen occasionally, and as a child of isolation, which is saying something about the isolated mountainous country. It's almost as if Annaud seemed to include the Chinese occupation as an afterthought, rather than its assumed (or preferable) key role in the film. The second is that Pitt just doesn't work as the lead. He's miscast, through no fault of his own. He's just too damned handsome for traipsing through the Himalayas. His supporting cast is rather underwhelming. Sure, Thewlis and virtually the only other recognizable actor here -- B.D. Wong from Father of the Bride lore -- try as they might, but this film is the equivalent of someone who has got several different things going on in his or her head, but can't put the proper words together to make the communication effective or memorable.
Sony released Seven Years in Tibet as part of its Superbit line of discs way back when, a curious selection to say the least for someone who hasn't seen the film. Now that I've seen it, the MPEG-4 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation isn't too shabby. For a 10-year-old film, you can still make out fine snow textures in the Himalayas. For facial features, my wife was watching it peripherally, and she could spot the makeup that was applied on Pitt's face in some scenes. Pretty strong stuff. The PCM soundtrack is a little bit bland, dialogue does come off as pretty crisp, but for some of the stronger areas that involve things like rock slides or whatnot, it didn't pack much of a punch, either in its range or its low end fidelity. And like the Superbit counterpart, the film has nary an extra.
It is clear, though, that what Pitt tried (and failed with) in this movie was the groundwork for his recent film that also dealt with somewhat similar "fish out of water" circumstances in Babel. He's not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do some work, but it looks a lot more believable a decade later with some years on him than it did back then. I was half expecting one of the sherpas to say, "Hey, isn't that Brad Pitt?"
There are many other films that show the struggle of the Tibetan people with much more emotional power than Seven Years in Tibet. And while the story doesn't presume much about the conflict, and shows more of the interaction with Harrer and the Dalai Lama (which would have been a touching relationship if executed a bit better), and shows this rather Aryan-ish character doing things that some more culturally aware of us can and have probably done better. If you want the upgrade on Blu-ray feel free, but you're not missing too much.
Instead of a verdict, the court recommends we all assume the butterfly position for some heavy duty meditation in hopes of spiritual awakening.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Czech)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Polish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site
* Official Tibetan Government Site
* Heinrich Harrer Fesses Up