Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 86 mins .
M15+ . PAL
At the end of time, when they hand out the What The Holy Crap Were They Thinking Awards, you can safely bet that right up there with the pick of the nominees will be a movie that’s already passed into infamy less than six months after its theatrical release (well, in countries where it actually got a theatrical release, anyway). Swept Away, writer-director Guy Ritchie’s remake of a moderately obscure 1970s Italian comedy, appears to have been designed as a vehicle for his wife, pop star and aspiring actor Madonna. The resulting film scooped the cream of the various bad-movie awards and polls, and at least for the time being halted Richie’s move to Hollywood in its tracks. But is it really that bad?
The first movie with a review built in.
Amber Leighton (Madonna) is the spoilt wife of a rich chemical tycoon. And she is an utter, utter, utter bitch. Stuck-up, arrogant, domineering, vicious, self-obsessed and self-indulgent, she makes life a misery for Italian fisherman Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini), who is part of the crew of a small ship hired by the Leightons and their rich friends to make a voyage from Italy to Greece. Used to getting her own way when she asks for something, she insists that Giuseppe take her out on a dinghy for some sightseeing despite the potentially dangerous conditions. Inevitably, the pair is shipwrecked thanks to Amber’s stupidity, and eventually they wash up on a deserted island. With only nature to survive on, the tables are turned, and suddenly the put-upon Giuseppe holds the upper hand. And he uses it with relish, making a slave of the out-of-her-element Amber and eventually forcing her into a sexual relationship. Needless to say, she falls in love.
If you think all that sounds like a bad 1950s Mills & Boon novel, you’d be just about right. Maybe the idea was to explore gender politics in an abrupt, confronting way. If so, the script misses the mark by miles, and instead comes across as one of those dumb, sweaty I-hurt-you-because-I-really-want-you chest-beaters, all bravado and grunt but without a brain cell in sight. The core message here is, quite literally, that a stuck-up rich woman can be made human by enslaving and then near-raping her, all of it justified because she happened to be a bitch. That’s a character arc that you’d perhaps expect in a serial-killer drama, but here, in a romantic comedy? The story might be the same as the Italian original, but something appears to have gotten lost in the translation.
The acting is uniformly dreadful; Madonna spends half the film looking like she’s swallowed a vat of wasabi, and the remainder as though she’s wondering what the hell she’s doing here. Giannini, meanwhile, intones his dialogue indecipherably with all the theatricality of the lead in the school play, with body language and gestures that look more like interpretive dance than acting. The supporting cast are immaterial; Bruce Greenwood just pouts as Amber’s husband Tony, Jeanne Tripplehorn is irrelevant as Marina, and we defy you to name any other characters after the film’s finished rolling. Very little time is given to actual character development anyway; there are several tedious montages of “happiness” backed by songs (including Mazzy Star’s brilliant classic Fade Into You). This 86-minute movie would have been a featurette without them.
The dubious politics of the script could be forgiven if there was anything to justify them, but there’s not - it’s all there to serve a “love” story, and European-style ending or not, it leaves a nasty aftertaste.
Presented at the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, this is a reasonable transfer - but certainly not up to the usual Columbia Tristar standard. The main problems appear to be the fault of the telecine transfer; there’s more than the usual amount of film grain visible along with a rather unnatural “edgy” look to the whole thing, indicating that too much digital sharpening was applied at some stage. And the entire movie is bright, almost to the point of being washed out. This may perhaps have been a deliberate decision to convey the bright sun of the locations, but the glare and lack of really saturated colours really hinders the glamour of the locations.
There are of course no compression problems anywhere - there almost never are with this company’s discs, of course. The dual-layer disc employs a fairly well-positioned layer change.
The workmanlike 5.1 sound mix is reproduced well on the disc, with dialogue mixed a little too quietly in the centre channel - a real problem when it comes to understanding what Giannini is saying at times. The other four channels are used extensively for the way-too-loud music score, and the rears do the usual thing for this kind of story - creaking wood on the ship, rain, thunder and so on.
Like all Columbia Tristar DVDs, this one’s encoded with DVD Text for those who like to feel smug and clever that their player’s display knows the movie title. The main menu is nicely animated. Interestingly, there’s a full-screen disclaimer on this disc which plays before the movie when you watch it without the commentary, pointing out that the views expressed in the extra features are not those of the management blah blah blah. But this disclaimer never appears before any of the actual extras are played, including the commentary.
Audio Commentary: A fairly relaxed, chatty commentary from director Ritchie (soldiering on with a head cold, and referring to Madonna as “the wife”!) and producer Matthew Vaughn. Don’t expect any insights into the reception the film received from critics and the public, though; Ritchie seems quite pleased with his creation, and the commentary was probably recorded before the movie’s release, as is so often done these days.
Featurette: One of those rare featurettes that’s actually worth watching, this 20-minute gag holds another rare distinction - it’s better than the actual movie! Guy Ritchie and Madonna sit down to interview each other, tongues planted firmly in their respective cheeks, and the whole thing’s illustrated with lots of home-video behind-the-scenes footage. The tone is set early when Madonna asks Ritchie why he cast her in the movie. “You’re available, you’re cheap… you’re my wife,” he replies, deadpan. Produced in 16:9 but supplied here non-anamorpically.
Deleted Scenes: What’s less interesting than Swept Away? The 16 (sixteen!!!) deleted scenes that they cut out of Swept Away, that’s what. If you’re feeling masochistic or just need to get to sleep, here they all are, each complete with a director/producer commentary. Nothing to see here, folks… All are letterboxed 4:3.
Filmographies: Five “selected filmographies”. You know the (incomplete) drill.
Trailers: Three are on offer here: the theatrical trailers for Swept Away itself, the Mariah Carey disaster Glitter and, inexplicably, Riding in Cars with Boys. All are 16:9 enhanced and offer Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, except the Swept Away trailer with only contains flagged Dolby Surround audio.
Dolby Digital City Trailer: Please Dolby, make more trailers. And please Sony DVD Center, for the sake of all humanity, please use one of them. The repeated use of the City trailer is a special flavour of torture that should be illegal.
On the surface, Swept Away seems to be trying for the same results as the Harrison Ford/Anne Heche vehicle Six Days Seven Nights. But it makes the latter film seem like Citizen Kane by comparison. Technically competent it may be, but that’s about all Swept Away has going for it. May it be a valuable lesson for future filmmakers: a film that offers nothing but loathsome, reprehensible and unredeemable characters is a shipwreck waiting to happen.