Archive for February, 2017

This is another one that has been making the rounds on HBO lately, and I happen to catch it at the same part every time: the horrible ice skate root canal scene. Ugh.

Back in 2000, the world was aghast at the prospect of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors spending two-and-a-half hours on an island with a volleyball. Could even Robert Zemekis pull this off? Is Tom Hanks that good that we would sit through such a movie that sounds like an intriguing disaster-in-the-making?

Apparently the answer was a resounding “Yes!” To the tune of $233 million worldwide gross, and a Best Acting Oscar nom for Hanks. Impressive feat, seeing as how Hanks didn’t interact with anyone but a volleyball the entire movie. Right?

Or so they would like us to believe. In fact, whoever came up with the marketing plan for this movie should get some award nominations, too, because there is a little bit of Hollywood magic at play here.

First, the quick poop on Cast Away, the pretty much universally-loved tale of a Fedex executive who takes on a last-minute assignment and is stranded on a deserted island when his plane crashes. He told his girlfriend at the time, played by Helen Hunt, that he would “be right back” – which is always a good sign in any movie – and was gone for four years, presumed dead. However, he was alive and living off the land for four years, until some weird port-a-potty siding or whatever it was washes up on his beach one day, giving him the means to build a raft that will get him past the powerful surf and off the island. He is found in the middle of the ocean and brought back to civilization, only to discover that Hunt has married a dentist and had a child. Total bummer, but at least you’ve got your health, right?

At its most basic roots, this is a movie about a person surviving with nothing but his wits and some stuff that crash-landed with him, literal man vs. environment stuff. Other than Hanks and Hunt (a little bit), there isn’t a whole lot of character development, so it’s basically, “How do we pass the time imaginatively with one guy on an island by himself?” Which was a pretty novel and cool concept, I’ll admit. But I will say that they probably didn’t have to pay Tarantino to take a pass at the dialogue on this one. But there was a lot more at play here than just your basic movie, and this is what I’ve decided as time has gone on and the movie has settled.

The run time of Cast Away is listed at 144 minutes (2 h, 24 minutes, for the people who hate math, which I do). Using basic Screenwriting 101 principles, the plane crash that maroons him on the uncharted island comes around 25 minutes in, and he wakes up on the island at just about 30 minutes. Interestingly enough, he wanders around looking for food and salvation for another half-hour before opening the package that contains the other major character in the movie; Wilson the Volleyball, which he was delivering on that plane. Wilson obviously doesn’t speak, but Hanks does draw a face on him, which instantly makes him slightly more expressive than Helen Hunt.

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We then get about ten minutes of him trying to make fire, which he eventually does. At about 1:18, we get the awful root canal scene, and then the time jump to four years later, and now he has a huge beard and is an experienced spear-wielder. At about 1:45, after escaping the island and floating aimlessly through the ocean for days, Wilson slips off the raft and floats away, and is never seen again, and we feel horrible.

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However, despite the clever marketing, Wilson was only in the movie for about forty minutes. Granted, people have won Oscars with much less screen time than that, but no one ever described Elizabeth as, “Cate Blanchett talks to an old lady for two-and-a-half hours.”

Hanks is discovered floating a couple minutes later (call it 1:47), but there is still almost forty minutes of movie left, while we learn about him rejoining the world, reconnecting with Hunt, and delivering the one package that he kept on the island, never opening it because it had cool angel wings drawn on the outside of the box. To me, this last forty minutes is the real crux of the movie, because not a whole lot happens while he’s on the island. He makes fire, bashes out one of his teeth and talks to a volleyball. We did learn while he was planning his escape that he contemplated suicide by hanging himself off of a cliff, and the only reason he didn’t do it was because the branch he wanted to use wouldn’t have held and he would have smashed on the rocks below and possibly not died, but been in immense pain for awhile. Good character development there.

But the real character stuff comes in those last forty minutes, and that’s what makes it a good movie that settled pretty well. In a very understated way, Hanks plays this guy trying to be normal again. After the Fedex gala celebrating his return, he picks up the ¬†claw of the half-eaten lobster that they served, and stares at it, no doubt thinking that he used to catch stuff like that with his bare hands so he could live, and now it’s a delicacy. When he goes to bed that night, he lays on the floor, his body not used to sleeping on a comfortable bed yet, and flicks the light on and off so he can look at his locket containing a picture of Helen Hunt, just like he used to do with his flashlight while trying to fall asleep in the caves of his island.

Which brings us to his reunion with Hunt. She was supposed to meet him at the airport, after a brief Fedex press conference. Instead, her douchebag husband (played by Sex in the City‘s Mr. Big, another d-bag) comes in to tell Hanks that she’s not ready yet, and it’s all been a big shock to her. My instant reaction was, “Her? What about him?”

But it’s not true. Perhaps realizing that is not the reaction his girl would have, after the husband leaves, Hanks goes to the window and sees Hunt arguing with him, wanting to come inside to see her lost-and-now-found ex, but Mr. Big leading her to their car and driving away. This convinces Hanks to take the initiative and go to her late that night. Don’t ask me how he knows where she lives. More movie magic.

They have awkward coffee, discuss football, her daughter, and other mundane stuff. Then she shows him the map that she kept showing where his plane went down, where his island was, and how far he drifted until he was rescued. Despite everyone telling her to let go because he was surely dead, she saved everything relating to him. She even gave him back his car. She saved everything but Wilson.

As she watches him start to drive away, she begins to run after him. Simultaneously, he throws it in reverse and goes back. They share a passionate kiss in the rain. She tells him, “You are the love of my life.” They get in the car and are about to drive away, when they both realize the truth: she is married to someone else, and it cannot happen. She returns to her home and her stupid husband. And there’s still fifteen minutes left in the movie!

Hanks goes to his friend’s house to drink Scotch. He admits that he never thought he would get off the island, that he thought about killing himself, that he had power over nothing. But he kept breathing, kept surviving, and miracle of miracles, the tide gave him his sail (port-a-potty thing), and here he is, alive, and yet, he still lost her. And he admits, “I’m so sad I don’t have Kelly.” But he has to keep breathing, because tomorrow will come, and “who knows what the tide will bring.”

And there’s still 12 minutes left of running time! (OK, including credits)

Next we see Hanks delivering the package that he never opened, the one with the angel wings drawn on it. He drives to the the address, in the middle of nowhere, and finds no one is home, although there are similar angel wing sculptures all over the yard. He leaves the package with a note, saying, “This package saved my life. Thank you.” He then drives back to a four-way intersection, and stops to contemplate his next move. As he stands outside his car, a map laid out on his hood, he is approached by a Samaritan who helps him with some directions, and kind of hits on him. As she drives off in the direction of the house he just left, Hanks sees the same angel wing drawing on the back of her truck, and realizes that she was the angel on his shoulder. He stands in the middle of the intersection, looking in each direction and wondering where to head. Then he looks back in the direction she drove off in, and smiles. FADE OUT. Finally!

I’m not actually complaining about the length of the movie, because it flows very well, but merely commenting on how most of the stuff that actually happens in the movie takes place after he is rescued. The movie itself, to me, isn’t really about a guy stranded on an island, foraging for coconuts. It is actually a tragic love story about a guy who is gone and presumed dead for four years, only to return and find his true love has married someone else. It could just as well have been called “I Thought He Was Dead for Four Years: The Kelly Frears Story,” except that the island stuff made things more interesting.

I know that I’m barely touching on the religious aspect of the angel wings, the bro-mance between Hanks and Wilson, and I didn’t even mention the “divine” whale intervention that awakens Hanks just as his would-be rescue ship is going by what remains of his man-made lifeboat. That is all very cool stuff that adds to this movie, but in the end, it’s just stuff that fills the time until we get to the real story, the story of tragic lovers Chuck and Kelly. The story of a man who never married his girl, and now he never will. But the tragedy makes it all worth it, because let’s face it, if he had come back and she left her family for him, wouldn’t that have been pretty ridiculous. Yeah, for this movie to settle well and not be remembered as simplistic, Hollywood pap, it had to end this way. So, sorry, Chuck. Hope it worked out with the angel chick.

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Unless you went a different way.

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