BIFF 12 - South Seas Adventure - Cinema Review

'The vintage quality of the narration and the images has a relaxing effect, as the mixture of directors keep the locations moving and the scenery lush.'

A genre now lost in the annals of time, the Travelogue seems to have been a particularly popular way of showcasing the ultra-widescreen Cinerama format in the 1950s. Like the marriage of Horror and 3D today, this seems to have been a well-planned choice, the wide vistas and sweeping aerial shots looking majestic on the elongated and curved 'SmileBox'-style screen.

South Seas Adventure, the fifth and final of the Cinerama travelogues, sets out from Hawaii, travelling towards Tahiti, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand. The format, for those unfamiliar with the idea, is very similar to a dramatised documentary. A narrator guides us through what we are seeing, whilst a mixture of on-screen actors and real-life island inhabitants interact in various scripted processes. Hawaii, for example, is introduced to us through the medium of Kay Johnson (played by an actor, Diane Beardmore) whilst a narrator (stunningly, Orson Welles) tells us about both Kay's home-life and the history of the island, all seen whilst Ted (Tommy Zahn, a real-life expert surfer) tries to woo her.

If this sounds odd then the effect is actually much less jarring than it might appear. The vintage quality of the narration and the images has a relaxing effect, as the mixture of directors (there are five credited in total) keep the locations moving and the scenery lush. The new restoration, overseen by Dave Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch, has given a new saturation of colour to the film and with Welles booming out politely funny anecdotes it is easy to sit and let South Seas Adventure wash over you. It says something that, despite this being a film made in 1958, I still learned new things about some of the locations and saw sights I've not been privy to elsewhere.

The Cinerama format is, obviously, a huge selling point and the aerial shots - sweeping over outback, pirouetting between mountain tops - are a sight to behold whilst subtle uses - capturing more dancers than usual in a crowd scene for example - also add depth and worth to the final product. The second half of the film, after the intermission (yes, there's an intermission) is far less interesting than the first, mainly because the Australian segment is so badly dramatised, but even that isn't enough to break the spell of romantic nostalgia the film holds. If you can find a way to see it at a Cinerama cinema (if you're in England, that means Bradford) then seek it out. If not, a DVD and Blu-ray release, which attempts to replicate the format, is currently in progress.

The 18th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 19th - 29th April at The National Media Museum and several satellite venues in and around Bradford. It includes a European Features competition, the Shine Short Film Award and several major UK premieres and retrospectives.

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