Artisan // 2000 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // November 20th, 2003
Live spelled backwards is evil...and crap spelled backwards is parc!
When the citizens of Springville need a rejuvenating repast, they travel deep into the woods to a magical pond and take a long luxuriating dip in this cell-refreshing fjord. Seems that once you go lake, no death will you take. That's right, the residents of this small town in the middle of someone's paltry imagination of nowhere are all immortal. Never gonna die...gonna be around a long time. And they celebrate their unending future of possibilities by agreeing to be suspicious pricks with suicidal tendencies. When freelance writer (read: too much time on his hands) Dennis Conway and his skate rat son Brian stumble onto their conspiracy of chronic childhood, there are plenty of disturbed glances and unfriendly stares to go around. Then a series of logs have to up and smash Brian's leg, and before you can say "when I'm 164," Dennis has fallen in love with the town's lovely blond doctor, Sophie, and the local law is giving the interloper and his offspring the malocchio. Eventually, the fine physician can't keep the town's secret any longer and lets Dennis in on the potential life extending qualities of drinking their own wellness water. Immediately delighted in learning that he can live forever, the unattached scribbler is determined to relocate. But his son is sour on the idea of staying pre-pubescent and the villagers aren't exactly rolling out the artesian red carpet for the newbies. But when Dennis learns that, at age 100, the old are required to off themselves in a bizarre Town Hall drowning ritual, he reconsiders his residency. But it may be too late. He knows about The Spring, and the desperate denizens of the undying municipality will do anything to keep their secret safe. Anything.
Immortality is a tough cinematic nut to crack. Unless you are fond of the Highlander series with all its non-erotic sword and sorcery male bonding, examples of the subject matter are few and far between. It just seems impossible to tell a tale of life in the infinite over the course of 90 minutes or less. Perhaps it's because of the vast moral, ethical, and purely personal issues it raises, or maybe it just seems hard for genre filmmakers to craft good living forever storylines. Of course, some films do try, trading on the idea of cryogenics or time travel to flash freeze their stars along the space-time continuum. Later, when they are microwaveably fresh and ready for a dramatic defrosting, our seemingly eternal entities tend to disappoint, as they go all nostalgia and longing on us. But no recent or past motion picture has really dealt with the actual elements of immortality: the loss of individuality, the real issue of timelessness, the psychological and ethical torment of total isolation, not only from family and friends but from the universe itself. All of which means that a made for television troglodyte like The Spring is bound to bungle its ridiculous reading of the fountain of youth legend (and could it be anything else -- it was based on a novel by Clifford "I swear this is Howard Hughes' signature" Irving).
The main reason this Spring is so brackish is that it cannot decide just what its plotline wants to focus on. Is it about living forever and the pain and problems associated with it? Is it a Logan's Run-ish cult mediation on youth and its opiate-like power needing protection? Is it about a clandestine cabal of people who shield the rest of the world from their own private fountain of youth? Or is it really all just a yarn about the loss of love and affection that comes from a sudden death or terminal disease? The Spring indeed tries to touch on each one of these subjects, but the most it can give us is a cursory glance into small town politics and bad old-age makeup effects.
This movie feels like an enormous mini-series micromanaged down to a mass audience friendly pre-packaged tidbit. You can see where subplots could be exploited and tensions drawn out as the secret of Springville is slowly and systematically revealed. But the real implications of what is happening in the town are never rationally explored. Would people in possession of an immortality elixir really decide to kill themselves at age 100? Why 100, since most of our elderly push that limit daily? And couldn't and wouldn't they be far less suspicious in their actions and lifestyle to protect themselves? With centuries to work out the parameters of a decent cover-up, they can't even provide the tell tale signs of life's "normalcy," like a smattering of old people, and a friendlier set of police officers. Everyone in this movie acts so suspicious that you'd swear the town was a haven for tax cheats, or boy bands. There is no enjoyment in their rejuvenation, just a strange desire to engage in ritualized death like a Ponce De Leon version of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. Maybe if this were paced better, or slyer in its revelations, it would work. But director David Jackson (a seasoned creator of mostly sci-fi/ fantasy TV films) takes far too long in his set-up to make any disclosure significant. Just like Kyle MacLachlan in the film, we figure out a lot of what is going on way before the movie catches up with us. Then after 65 anguished minutes of tedium, we are rushed through the truth, the decision, the dilemma, and the consequences. In reality, The Spring has very little to do with the issue of eternal life. Immortality is just a ploy, a Hitchockian McGuffin onto which to hang the rest of the sinister small town trash. You may not learn what it's like to live forever while visiting this Spring, but it will sure feel like time is standing still.
Artisan is also trapped in a time warp of post 1970s VCR mentality as it continues to release title after title in a bare bones format that makes the pallid offerings from Paramount seem positively meaty. Basically, Arty feels that as long as you get the movie and a screen of scene selections, you're all set for some DVD fun. Unfortunately, without anything extra to explain away this dull drivel, you're stuck with the stuff given...and that's nothing special. The 1.33:1 full screen image has some bad grain and compression issues throughout, even during scenes in broad daylight. Only occasionally do the flaws fly away, allowing the image to shimmer with crystal clarity. On the sound side, this is a movie about people talking, so there is no need for atmospheric effects or mood establishing ambiance. Besides, in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo there is not much of a multi-channel experience to be had in the first place. So, without a commentary track or bit of publicity filler, we are stuck with a soggy movie about people who want to protect their youth by any means necessary, only to kill themselves later on. This lack of internal logic renders The Spring a very sad statement on the possibility of life everlasting. Maybe one day someone can come up with a script that tackles the real extravagance and trauma associated with immortality. But all this film can do is turn timelessness into a token to conformity and mob mentality. So pull out your bottles of Evian and line up for Carousel. It's time to put this polluted pond on ice, forever.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13