An Awfully Big Adventure DVDBUY IT AT
STUDIO: Fine Line Features
MSRP: $17.97 RATED: R
• Theatrical Trailer
• Other New Line Trailers
• Exclusive DVD-ROM content

Occasionally, there are those movies that are tough for me to slog through. An Awfully Big Adventure is one of those movies. The films title instantly conjures up this feeling of a grand epic, something in which the characters are battling their way through some sort of personal triumph to save the world (or some such nonsense.) However, such is not the case. I’m conflicted, because there are some interesting moments scattered throughout the whole movie, but as a whole, it jumps back and forth between wanting to be two things. In the end, I just don’t know. This is going to be tough.

The Flick

Opening against the harsh Nazi blitzkrieg bombings of London, circa WWII, we see a young woman laughing it up against the relative carnage of the situation. Flash forward to a few years later – the young Stella (played by fair skinned newcomer Georgina Cates) is now a fully grown 16 – and she’s decided that the play’s the thing. Her Uncle Vernon (character actor Alun Armstrong) and Aunt Lily (Doctor Zhivago‘s Rita Tushingham) manage to get her an interview with theater director Meredith Potter (the devilish waif named Hugh Grant), who for some reason or another, instantly decides that he’ll take her on. Inward she sprints into his troupe of dedicated theater maniacs, assigned to odd-jobs and crew assisting for the down-on-its-luck repertory. Stella thinks this is sheer bliss.

Well, if you insist…

Stella is a strange girl. "She keeps things locked up, that’s why I put ‘er on the stage, to get ‘em out", her Uncle comments. She talks over an empty line on the telephone to her mother, who has gone missing. She practices her lines (even though she’s not in a play) over her Uncle’s down time, thus irritating him (although he can sense her potential and knows that she’s gifted, or so he says.) In short, like myself, she’s a girl with social problems. In public she can’t seem to say the right things, preferring to spout off some inane comment with a touch of stuttering awkwardness, that’s it’s hard to watch others squirm through her first meetings with Potter and company. Granted, this is a girl who is attempting to figure out whom she really is, and as of the start of the film, she’s incredibly developmentally awkward.

Instantly she’s smitten with Potter’s pseudo-artistic musings, hanging onto every word he spews forth. Writing everything down and scribbling the most intensive notes onscreen, her crush is sealed with every drag from Potter’s nicotine stained fingers, which are awful to look at. It’s because, I believe, Stella is looking for a solid figure in her life (after living in such a strange household) that Potter fits the bill of being immovable on most items. After hearing that everyone around her has some sort of dalliance with one another (read: sex!), Stella then resolves to lose her Virginity as soon as her feet can carry her, and has set her sights on Potter and his dangling monocle. Potter doesn’t feel the need to return the affections, thus starting to cement his sexual vagueness into unheralded levels of believability.

Ratify the Constitution? I think not, good sir!

It’s when one of the main male actors of the company accidentally breaks his leg, though no fault of Stella (actually, it’s her fault completely) that Potter must call upon the actor P.L. O’Hara (the saucy scruffian Alan Rickman) and throw Stella’s life into an uproar. O’Hara comes aboard to play Captain Hook in the company’s adaptation of Peter Pan. It’s at this point that Rickman finally makes his debut into the film, and like a better film, The Third Man (or Magnificent Seven), most of the repertory characters spend the first third talking about how great he is. Naturally, they all agree that he’s the only one capable of being Hook, so no argument is needed. Rickman is so built up by this point that anything less than perfection will achieve nothing more than a sand grab. Once Rickman enters the picture, he commands your attention with his role, which oddly enough, is spectacular for this film. It works because he’s such a good actor, and somehow he manages to stay centered, real, and believable.

It’s ironic that O’Hara starts to scheme into seducing Stella into his own good graces, much to his own delight. By having this relationship, we’re going into uncharted territory with both O’Hara and the minor in all 50 states Stella (she still harbors the intensive longing for Potter that seemingly, like evil, never dies), considering he fully pillages her halls of Vagina and takes home the bloodied white sheet of triumph. That’s if you catch my drift. I hope. The remainder of the film focuses on Stella, O’Hara, Potter and the rest of the troupe as some secrets, desires, and general tonal shifts are present and accounted for all the way to the shocking ending. The ending, by the way, isn’t really shocking as much as it is kinda lumbering compared to the rest of the film.

It was at that moment where he knew he had hanky penis.
The dream was dead.

Hugh Grant plays his character with such spindly appendages and wily drugged-out eyes, that it’s fun to see him fully jump into Potter as a full-on asshole. He’s stiff faux upper crust British here, large ascot and all. Grant has this allure of Adolus Huxley (whose Brave New World, like this film, I couldn’t really ever get into) surrounding him and he uses this to his effect. Allowing his sexual vagueness to wrap around the characters he’s involved with helps further drive home the fake artistic musings he waxes on and waxes off about. Georgina Cates (or Mrs. Skeet Ulrich to some of you), who makes her big screen debut in this film, fits into the mold a first time viewer such as myself has of her. It’s like that first high school dance, as everyone is awkward stepping on one another’s feet. As the night goes on, you get more comfortable with what’s happening, but that still doesn’t mean what’s occurring is ‘normal’. It’s impossible to mold a character’s personality into less than 02 hours, but it is something to imply what she might become. Unfortunately, this film barley hints at this, preferring to not go into it in grand detail. Finally, Alan Rickman adds the necessary buoyancy to the narrative as the arrogant and flamboyantly talented P.L. O’Hara. Allowing his spoken past to precede him, we’re subject to his wanderlust attitude, his clockwork machinery behind his eyes, and of course his great deep accent. It’s a great character for him to play, and it shows across the imaginary line between reality and the film.

Director Mike Newell (such an interesting name, if I do say so myself) attempts to balance a sense of comedy and drama with seemingly awkward results. Much like Stella’s desire to grow into a full-fledged person with all of the repercussions and consequences, I feel that Newell teeters on a slippery slope that doesn’t quite materialize between those moments of comedic lightness and melancholy. Much like how I felt watching The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at first (it has since grown on me tremendously), An Awfully Big Adventure shifts between those two tones with squeamish results. It’s not a horrible film, it’s just I could never seem to get into it all that much. I feel like I might be missing out on something, but as to what, I guess future viewings might tell.

"When I said wax the wood, I meant MINE!"

The score, provided by Richard Hartley, doesn’t help by adding the uplift of fantastical sounds coupled with very dramatic sounding elements (those types of reverberations you’d hear with a serious drama). For an example, the harsh opening bombing sequence has the juxtapositions of war, the horrors of things exploding against a very tinkly musical sound. It oddly works, but it doesn’t feel right. I feel like in conjunction with the imagery Newell gives us, it just aids in further reinforcing those elements that I am conflicted about, and it most likely all boils down to the way the story is presented. Based upon the novel by Beryl Bainbridge (which I haven’t read), An Awfully Big Adventure doesn’t really live up to the promise allured at by its title. Instead, we get a film that I find conflicting, one filled with some terrific performances wrapped around an idea that feels a little half-baked.

7.0 out of 10

The Look

"And when Mr. Hopper said touch it right here, well that’s where I drew the line!"

An Awfully Big Adventure is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (or what you’d call Flat.) Dick Pope’s cinematography has this hazy stuck-in-the-past imagery to it, as if you might be floating in a dream, or perhaps surrounded by a pleasant tale of awkwardness. His expressive use of colors works to foretell the story and allows for Newell to bump up character aspects (in the case of Stella, she’s most always in Red and works to bring out her gorgeous light frailty.) I’m probably looking too deeply into that last part, but all in all the imagery is presented in a great transfer.

8.0 out of 10

The Noise

Not even mere mortals can escape the Rickman stare of desire.

The DVD comes with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and a DTS track. By all accounts, the sound was splendid, working my channels rather nicely. I don’t have a DTS decoder, so I felt left out, and cried myself to sleep right afterwards. Waking up, I shouted, fist raised to the ceiling: "never again, never again." I’ve been saving up ever since.

8.0 out of 10

The Goodies

Absolutely barer than the nudity scattered throughout the film (wait, did I get your attention now?) Included on the DVD is:

"It was great giving you one of these last night!"

A theatrical trailer (2:00) which tells the summing up of the story, minus all of the twists and turns. Movie voice over man tells us that "in a world of make believe" she was some sort of winner, topping it off with "she’s on An Awfully Big Adventure." Thanks, movie man!

A scattered smattering of New Line trailers, for such films as The Grass Harp, Widow’s Peak, and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Basically all for films that have nothing to do with this film you’re inevitably watching.

Finally, you get a DVD-ROM extravaganza of information pertaining to the film, all accessible for those with DVD-ROM drives. The rest can suck it.

3.0 out of 10

The Artwork

An Awfully Big Adventure DVDAdequate, but not spectacular. It won’t kill you to look at it, but it’s not some scrapped together Photoshop big-headed hack job that we commonly see time and time again on these things. Taking two stills from the film, I feel that the way Hugh Grant is looking towards Cates and Rickman might imply something it shouldn’t. In no way whatsoever is Grant angry or lusting over the fact that these two are together. He’s more interested in stealing hearts, you understand. By placing the ADMIT ONE ticket in the background, the artists have subtly implied that this is a movie about a theatre. But – which one? Movie or Play? I’ll let you decide.

P.S. I gave you the answer way back in my review.

Additionally, the tagline of From The Director Of Four Weddings And A Funeral should seal the deal for some people. I’m not jazzed about the imagery. It’s just okay.

6.0 out of 10

Thompson had a problem holding in his interior monologue.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10