Koch Vision // 2005 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 24th, 2006
"For what purpose does it serve, apart from being a sumptuous lightning rod?"
When you think of European monuments, what structure comes to mind first? If you're like most of the people polled by the Eiffel Tower's operators, the Eiffel Tower is the monument on the tip of your tongue. Not exactly, since it would be an awful thing to balance on your tongue -- especially with shifting from heat and wind. Around 6 million people visit the Paris monument each year, with more than 220 million having visiting since 1889. Even if you haven't visited, you're likely to have seen the Tower lighting up the night Paris sky in movies or TV.
Constructed of puddle iron through "a special baking technique" that Paula Deen won't be demonstrating anytime soon, the structure stands 300 meters high (984.25 feet). When it was built, it was the world's tallest structure.
The Tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who's also responsible for the Statue of Liberty. He went into the construction business after a "family dispute" kept him out of his family's "rubber cat-nip mouse factory," where he undoubtedly would have devoted his life to building a better mouse.
The story of how Gustave Eiffel came to design the Tower is told in The True Legend of The Eiffel Tower (La Légende vraie de la tour Eiffel in its 2005 airing on French TV).
As the story opens, cannons are going off in Paris. It's not an attack, but an alarm clock, as we see when a reporter slumbering in the arms of his love bolts upright and hastily dons clothes over his pajamas.
"What's the matter?" the woman asks.
"I'm going to miss the opening of the Eiffel Tower," he says.
The reporter runs through the Paris streets toward the large pointy thing along the River Seine. As he reaches the site and looks over all the dignitaries gathered, he begins his voiceover narration about the structure built for the Paris World's Fair:
"This monument, unique in the world, marks France's return to the ranks of powerful nations. This masterpiece of modern engineering, inconceivable only a few short years ago, will symbolize the progress achieved in this 19th Century of ours."
Soon we meet Gustave Eiffel (Jacques Frantz, who dubs Robert de Niro in France), who needs a big project to boost his reputation after the collapse of a viaduct he'd been building. The widower lives with his daughter Claire (Annelise Hesme, Alexander), who ponders, "After the Eiffel Metro, how about an Eiffel Pyramid?" Soon, he's working on plans for what one newspaper editor calls "Eiffel's scrap-iron monstrosity."
True Legend covers the construction of the tower, Eiffel's efforts to have the Tower used for wireless telegraphy so it would not be torn down, and his failure on the Panama Canal project. The movie sticks mostly to facts -- "two-and-a-half million rivets, half of which are assembled in the workshop, will support the structure" is an important plot point revealed in narration. The moviemakers do manage to work in a few sequences of Can-Can cabaret dancers, though, so you get a few eyefuls of lovely legs amidst the otherwise dry proceedings. But it's mostly a docu-drama that presents its historical story straightforwardly.
Shot in Sony high-definition video, True Legend uses CGI, period photos, and close-up shots to simulate the construction of the massive tower. Thus, it has a variety of cinematic looks -- documentary, movie, and cartoonish action picture -- at various points. The voices are dubbed -- De Niro didn't return Jacques Frantz's favor, by the way. It's noticeable when there are close-ups, but there aren't that many close-ups. Lots of narration by the reporter is used to cover up the dubbing, in much the same way that Godzilla: King of the Monsters inserted the Raymond Burr character into the action.
If you're interested already in Eiffel's towering tale, you might give this one a try, since it acquits itself as a well-done retelling of the facts. However, it misses some opportunities in Eiffel's battles with unions, his efforts to prevent the Tower's demolition, and his Panama Canal troubles, ultimately failing to turn riveting into riveting drama.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Eiffel Tower Official Site
* Wikipedia on Gustave Eiffel