George Miller is an eclectic director, shifting from Happy Feat to Mad Max: Fury Road, with the kind of energy that seems boundless for a 77-year old whose been making movies since 1979. His new film Three Thousand Years of Longing is a swooning romance, a commentary on storytelling, and a fantasy involving a Djinn. While the film is a bit uneven, it is also an often moving and exciting watch full of creativity.
Storytelling is at the center of the film and really all films. However, in this crowded age of prequels, sequels, and remakes, stories have become a bit routine. How many superhero movies veer from a standard hero's journey formula? It is in contrast to this barrage of unoriginal storylines that Three Thousand Years of Longing stands out. At least, when the film is working. Written by Miller and Augusta Gore, the film understands that images and stories weave together seamlessly. While the stories told within the film don't quite reach the gravitas they aim for, the film still bursts with romance, lurid visuals, and a pulse driven by the need for stories to have audiences. The result is one of the most intriguing if uneven films of the year.
While Three Thousand Years of Longing is often telling grandiose tales that feel like they are out of Arabian Nights, it begins as an intimate character study of Alithea (Tilda Swinton). Alithea is a renowned narratologist, a character type tailor-made for Swinton. She is a loner, often by choice, who prefers to connect to emotions via narratives rather than with people. She is seen early on giving a lecture on how myths and creation stories have been replaced by science and that has led to a diminished value of wonder and creativity. She is academic about stories but soon finds herself in one when she unleashes a Djinn (Idris Elba).
The Djinn has been trapped inside an old bottle for 3,000 years and now released, is beholden to Alithea until he grants her three wishes. Alithea is all too aware of the pitfalls of the offer, citing that almost every tale of wish-granting has a lesson that is at the expense of the wisher. She doesn't plan on asking him for any wishes but rather engages with him as he tell three stories about his past.
These tales are full of love, betrayal, greed and magic. Miller fills these tales with visual wonders even if the CGI is a bit lackluster at times. Fear not, Miller's penchant for strange imagery is in full effect here, including a severed head that transforms into a large spider before bursting into hundreds of tiny spiders. There are several moments like this that offer up some of the most imaginative visuals this summer. However, the emotional core of these stories often pales in comparison to the compelling and believable romance that develops between Alithea and the Djinn. It is an odd thing to want to get back to two actors in bathrobes in a hotel room instead of elaborate palaces and mystical adventures.
Credit to Elba and Swinton for that. They have a chemistry together that is undeniable. Elba gives the Djinn a deep loneliness that matches Swinton's performance of a woman who thinks she is content only to see how alone she really is. Stories are best when shared with people and Three Thousand Years of Longing makes this creed into a beautiful adult romance.