• SWASHBUCKLER, the first major pirate film in years, is old-fashioned, romantic, anything but realistic, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, and first-rate entertainment. Robert Shaw and James Earl Jones head an able cast of derring-do pirates, folk heroes to the people of Jamaica and thorns in the side of the island's utterly corrupt Royal Governor (played with convincing menace by Peter Boyle). Genevieve Bujold turns in a fiery performance as a fearless, liberated and determined young rebel, who enlists the aid of Shaw and his pirates to free her father from Boyle's dungeon. Beau Bridges is comical as the slogan-spouting, ineffectual officer assigned by Boyle to do battle with the pirates. The literate script by Jeffrey Bloom, from a story by Paul Wheeler, bristles with frequent swordplay and sparkling dialogue. Especially effective are a daring rescue of James Earl Jones from the gallows in the film's opening sequence, and a verbal confrontation between Bujold and Boyle near the end. A few of the sequences are deliberately overplayed, but for the most part Swashbuckler is designed to elicit cheers rather than laughter. Rated "PG."
—Charles F. Barr
• THE OMEN is an obvious, contrived and labored effort to cash in on the financial success of The Exorcist. But the enterprise is not likely to succeed, because it shortchanges the audience on every ingredient except explicit gore (including a hideous beheading). The plot, tenuously based upon a Biblical prediction of the coming of the Antichrist, finds a U.S. diplomat and his wife (he wittingly, she unwittingly) bringing up a child who is not their own. By the time he is five, it is obvious that not only is the kid a devil, he is the devil. This is demonstrated by the awful things that happen whenever he gives out with glassy-eyed, significant stares, and by his refusal to go to church. From here on, the plot gets murkier and murkier, despite the best efforts of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick to keep it afloat. All the overworked cliches are present: a pair of guilt-ridden priests, a midnight visit to an abandoned graveyard (why not high noon instead?), an arcane ritual to destroy the Beast from Hell. Worse, The Omen (in sharp contrast to The Exorcist) is suffused with an atmosphere of impotent good and efficacious evil. From the standpoint of believability, the movie's greatest flaw is that regardless of the external evidence, the child simply does not act like Satan reincarnated; he behaves like a five-year-old child. And without this believability, The Omen becomes a pointless exercise in mysticism and gore. Rated "R."
• Although few science fiction movies have atomic monsters now, the typical sf film is still likely to be a bit of fluff like Logan's Run—heavy on special effects, short on depth. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is different; it treats serious themes seriously and with great sophistication. Some hardcore sf fans may not like it because it is not a straight-forward action film a la Asimov but unlike many "artsy" films, this one works.
David Bowie plays the alien who comes to Earth on a desperate mission to save his world and, disguised as human, builds a fantastic Howard Hughes-like technological empire. Bowie's characterization is one of the film's strongest points; his sensitive performance, his mysterious manner and strange, beautiful face create an aura that is fascinating and perfect for the role. The performances of the supporting cast (Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry) are also outstanding.
Although the style is somewhat avant-garde, it is essentially a romantic, even moralistic, film that indicts power and corruption. The innocent, totally good hero is no threat to humans yet is menaced by a powerful government that considers his innovations "technologically overstimulating" and a threat to the "social ecology." On a psychological level, the hero struggles poignantly against succumbing to the corruptions of this society and to the alienation of being different and the alienation of despair and loss of loved ones.
Because of the style, the story is sometimes obscure but the hypnotic effect of the visual imagery, Bowie's extraordinary performance and the poignancy and power of the themes more than make up for the flaws. It is a beautiful and thoroughly fascinating film. Rated "R."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".
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