Disinformation Company // 2008 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // May 9th, 2009
A Journey Through Megalithic Britain
Standing With Stones is a case of extreme truth in advertising. The title says it all. For 136 minutes, stone enthusiast Rupert Soskin travels across the British Isles, visiting stone monuments, including henges (Stonehenge), cists (stone burial boxes), the remains of ancient huts, and other assorted stone ruins of unknown purpose. That's right, 136 minutes on stone ruins. I'll give you a second to decide if you want to keep reading before I continue.
For those who have decided to sally forth, the goals of Soskin's tour are manifold. The main objectives appear to be to: 1) show there is much more to the United Kingdom than Stonehenge; 2) offer theories about the purpose of various ancient structures; and 3) highlight how confounding it is to try and definitively know what our ancient ancestors were all about. Believe or not, he is keen, sincere, and engaging enough to keep the journey interesting, at least up to a point, but more about that later.
If anything, Standing With Stones serves as a useful map for visiting ancient stone monuments other than Stonehenge, and there are thousands of them. I have visited Stonehenge and it is a tourist trap. Worse, however, is that you cannot get close to the stones because the area is roped off. Soskin surveys a many sites across seven geographic regions: The West Country, Southern England, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man & Northern England, Scotland, and the Scottish Isles. Almost every place he visits is completely devoid of anyone, except for the occasional sheep or pony. Also, the sites appear to be barrier free. Furthermore, many of the sites, such as the Nine Maidens and the Ring of Brodgar, are just as impressive, if not more so, than Stonehenge.
The other intriguing aspect of the survey is the lack of information about the original purpose of what are now considered monuments. Most of the sites are from the Neolithic (4,500-2,200 BC) and Bronze (2,200-700 BC) Ages. Some go back to the Mesolithic Age (10,000-4,500 BC). Some are clearly burial chambers or huts, but what about the rest? Theories abound: religious, astronomical, political, and geographic markers. Soskin offers some of his own ideas, but draws attention to the fact that it's pure speculation. Even historians and archaeologists don't know with any degree of certainty. Part of the problem lies with the fact that many of the structures would have been a combination of wood and stone, but over the centuries the timber has rotted and disintegrated away to nothing, leaving only a fraction of them for modern day man to examine. So, it really is impossible, in the absence of other evidence (a skeleton or tools) to assign a function to the remnants.
So far, so good.
Now there remains the matter of the running time and highly specific subject matter. In the film Search and Destroy the character Dr. Waxling, a self-help guru played by Dennis Hopper, remarks "Just because it happened to you does not make it interesting." Well, just because Soskin and director Michael Bott are stone aficionados doesn't means the rest of us are, especially those of us who do not live in the UK and cannot visit these sites without great expense. The sheer volume of sites looked at is overwhelming. We are presented with stone after stone after stone and many look very similar. It's too much to endure in one sitting. Furthermore, many sites are discussed very briefly before moving on to the next one, raising questions about why they were included in the first place.
The technical aspects of the film are excellent for what is literally a two-man production. Soskin and Bott went on the road with a couple of cameras, a camper, and a car. The video is excellent, showing off the very green beauty of UK's countryside. Indeed, it may impel your to visit. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is adequate, delivering Soskin's voice without problems, although his accent is sometimes difficult to understand.
There are a number of extras, including a commentary by Soskin and Bott where they joke around, provide details about filming, and discuss the uncooperative weather. There's also an interview with the pair, as they offer more background on making the film, revealing their original plan was to make a series of short episodes for television, but decided they preferred the freedom of self-producing a feature length film. Additionally, there are outtakes, extra footage, a trailer, photo gallery, and the 2001 pilot they shot for the proposed television series.
Soskin and Bott deserve much credit for spending two years to make a film about a subject they appear to be genuinely interested in and sharing with a broader audience. However, the broadness of that audience is not broad at all, but rather extremely narrow. That narrow audience will love this film to death and they are located almost exclusively in the British Isles. The rest of us may hold a passing interest in the material and be able to tolerate twenty minutes of it, but definitely not a two-plus hour movie. There is some interesting material here, but it would have been better served by pursuing the envisioned televised format.
The court is issuing a split decision. The creators are found not guilty, on
account of their passion for the subject matter and determination. The film
itself is guilty of overkill.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Disinformation Company
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage
* Photo Gallery
* Original TV Pilot
* Official Site