Friday, Aug. 26 saw the release of “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” writer-director George Miller’s first film since 2015’s blockbuster hit “Mad Max: Fury Road.” This film sees Miller operating in somewhat unfamiliar narrative territory with mixed results, yielding a finished product that will only have audiences longing for the film’s end.
The story follows narratologist Alithea (Tilda Swinton) as she travels to Istanbul for business — the only bit of this we see is her giving some nondescript lecture at a nondescript university that only exists to allow Miller to establish the film’s themes on the importance of storytelling.
In the first portion of the film, Alithea has some strange interactions with weird apparitions, seemingly to set up magical elements that appear later in the film. These moments come off as confused and muddled, largely due to Miller’s strange lack of effective pacing through these scenes. Not only that, but they don’t play a larger role later in the film at all despite what the structure would suggest, with the apparitions only coming back in flashbacks for another character introduced later on.
Following Allithea suffering from a fainting spell while giving a lecture, she is gifted a glass bottle of which she inevitably rubs and out pops a massive Djinn (Idris Elba), an angel-like figure from pre-Islamic Arabian religions that can take the form of a human or animal. One thing to note here is the film doesn’t bother in naming Elba’s Djinn, instead opting to just call him Djinn, which feels progressively lazy and presents a roadblock in the audience’s ability to relate to Elba.
The majority of the film follows Alithea and Djinn essentially conversing in Alithea’s hotel room on many things, mainly concerning Djinn’s past and Alithea’s hesitation to cast her three wishes. Alithea, being a narratologist, is all too familiar with the genie’s tale and the cautionary themes that tend to come along with those stories — it’s only after hearing Djinn’s tales of woe that she finally decides to cast a wish.
It’s at this point that it becomes remarkably obvious that the film was adapted from a short story, as the story itself feels like it could have been about twenty minutes long. Even with an 108-minute runtime — a remarkably brisk runtime for current moviegoing standards — the film drags on at so many moments. Even Djinn’s flashbacks, which are supposed to serve as exciting moments to break up Swinton and Elba talking in a hotel room, are remarkably boring, never succeeding at drawing us into the world of the story.
The hotel room scenes are especially difficult not only because they are so dialogue heavy and genuinely uninteresting, but because Swinton and Elba have virtually no chemistry. Elba acts as if he’d rather be anywhere else but in this film, while Swinton does her best to salvage what she can from a self-important slog of a script. It’s impossible to believe that these two characters fell in love when neither of the actors appear to be remotely invested in each other.
With that said, Elba and Swinton are really given no assistance to aid their performance from the script or Miller’s direction. Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore seem far more interested in crafting lines that have the guise of being deeper philosophical ruminations than they actually are rather than writing engaging dialogue. I have my doubts that Miller even showed up on set to direct the film considering how absentminded the whole thing feels.
Nothing demonstrated this absentmindedness more than the cinematography. This film easily had some of the worst Steadicam work I have ever seen, with the camera lazily hitting poorly composed marks, shaking and jittering all the while. There are some engaging visuals, but on the whole, it largely felt as if you asked someone with no camera or compositional know-how to shoot an entire movie.
Ultimately, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” never lives up to the potential presented in front or behind the camera. The film attempts to demonstrate the importance of storytelling but only shows us the opposite: perhaps some stories are better left untold.
John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @JScott050901