Monday, May 28, 2012

#651. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Directed By: Hugh Hudson

Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Tag line: "With Wings on their Heels and Hope in their Hearts"

Trivia: Brad Davis and Dennis Christopher appeared as a favor to producer David Puttnam, waiving their fees, in order to attract finance from backers who wanted "marquee names."

Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire is the account of two runners who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. College student Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), the son of a Lithuanian Jew, is subjected to racial prejudice while attending Cambridge University, despite the fact he’s the school’s star sprinter. Scotsman Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a deeply religious man who is also a gifted athlete. After an impressive performance at the Highland games, his friend, Sandy McGrath (Struan Rodger), encourages Liddell to train for the Olympics, while Liddell’s beloved sister, Jennie (Cheryl Campbell), tries to talk him out of it, hoping instead to convince her brother to become a missionary. With one man running for God, the other for respect, each feels they have something to prove, not only to the world, but to themselves as well.

Aside from the sweeping score of Vangelis, which it still, to this day, one of the most recognizable pieces of music in cinematic history, the overall scale of Chariots of Fire is strengthened by the respect it gives its characters and their individual quests for glory. The title sequence alone, which shows the Olympic team jogging on a beach in slow motion, is an early sign that we're about to witness something special. In fact, many of the film’s races, from the Highland games to the Olympic showdowns, are shot at least partially in slow motion, thus bringing an air of reverence to both the athletes and their competitions. In taking on this epic sensibility, the filmmakers were convinced this seemingly small tale was an important one, and by the time the ending credits rolled, they had me believing it too.

Chariots of Fire lends credence to the assertion that big stories can be found in nearly every facet of life. Kudos to director Hugh Hudson, Producer David Puttnam, screenwriter Colin Welland and Cinematographer David Watkin; they found the grand tale itching to break free in Chariots of Fire, then told it very well.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Love this movie, it's a little slow for some people, but it wows me every time I watch it.

Lasso The Movies said...

I saw Chariots of Fire for the first time last year. I was surprised, not by how good it was, but rather by the fact that even today this movie is still remembered at all. So many of movies from the early eighties, that aren't filled with mind-numbing action, are swept out of memory today. It's nice to see that somethings are still enjoyed thirty years later. Thanks for the post.

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks for the comments!

Robert: Yeah, I've heard the "slow and boring" criticism myself, but like you, I always get wrapped up in the story, and it never drags for me.

Lasso The Movies: Yeah, that's a good point. One thing I'm finding is that certain non-genre movies I used to watch regularly on cable in the early '80s (films like FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER and THE IDOLMAKER) have sort of passed into obscurity. Even a few genre movies (like BRAINSTORM, with Christopher Walken, or THE LOOKER with Albert Finney) have been forgotten. Like you, I'm glad to see some people still like to watch these from time to time!

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I also LOVE the Idolmaker! It was in Netflix instant a while back so I watched it again. Great performances.

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: Agreed! I think I'll have to get around to watching THE IDOLMAKER again pretty soon. It's been a while!