Review: AT WORLD’S END

This ridiculously fun adventure flick that combines 1980s style comedy-adventure film a la Romancing The Stone with the mannered deadpan sensibility of Danish comedy. That At World’s End is a Anders Thomas Jensen screenplay is immediately obvious despite the grenades-and-jungle clothing. Shot all over the world, from Copenhagen to Jakharta to Sydney, it is an enthusiastic reminder of why we (I say that as those who grew up in the eighties era of Lucasfilm and Golan-Globus) loved these films, but with more than a few surprises in where it goes and how the story plays out. Deep in the Sumatra jungles, there is a rare flower that (legend has it) provides eternal life for those who consume the pedals on a regular basis. The living proof of the legend is Severin, a European man born in the 19th century (making him 129 years old) living in jungle-isolation with Hedvig (his name for the plant) until a team of BBC documentarians accidently discover the prized possession. Severin is perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic in defending the source of his immortality, and it is not long before there is an international incident between the local government and the Danish consulate. Enter Adrian, (Nicholaj Lie Kaas here a bundle of anxieties and nervous tics) a meek psychologist in mid-career crisis and a closet smoker who was just informed that his mother is dying of lung cancer (a taste of the films humour), is volun-told by his boss to go (along with his pretty, blonde secretary, Beate) down to Jakharta to assess the Severin’s sanity, declare Severin mentally unstable and get the loopy possible citizen (the jungle-man is bearing a 1906 Danish passport) shipped out and away from further bad press. Meanwhile, the local authorities are hell-bent on getting their hands on this miracle-plant.

Adrian is quite happy to get down to doctor-patient protocol, despite the messy way of doing things in Indonesia, and of course does not believe the immortality story for a nano-second. And with all the bad karma that goes on in Jakharta it is as if the filmmakers want to punish their lead for being a rational skeptic in the face of the inevitable high-adventure. Suffice it to say, through a series of blackly uproarious mishaps, and the surprise appearance of Bond Villain Steven Berkoff as a the films own Walter Donovan style billionaire, machine guns are soon firing, stuff is exploding, and a wild collection of interested parties, The military, the corporate goons, the psychologist & secretary and the 129 year old jungle-man are off into the deep green vying for the plant that gives eternal life. While Hollywood blockbusters of this type are either too cynically formulaic (Prince of Persia) or too egregiously disappointing (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the injection of a little of the Adam’s Apples or Green Butchers taboo slapstick into the equation refreshes everything. While Severin is the Harrison Ford type of competent adventurer, the film choses to stay with Adrian, who could not look more out of place in the jungle (simply how he carries the machine gun is a subtle sight gag worth looking for.)

Director Thomas Villum Anders (yes confusingly similar in name to his colleague and screenwriter) doles the plot in almost a comfortingly familiar way, but like any good magician, you are not watching what the other hand does. Thus, rules you were not even aware of within the genre are broken with impunity and the film becomes one of those loving quasi-parodies of the genre while also also being a quality entry within it. Of course, sight is never lost that this type of film should be peppy, fun and above all, adventurous and it lives up to that account handsomely.

It is always a treat to see Nicolas Bro (The Danish Timothy Spall!) show up in a supporting role, but a real bit of surprise casting is Birgitte Hjort-Sørensen, wearing that red oriental silk number sported by Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom. She may be sporting blonde hair and a knock-out figure but Beate could not be further from the shrieking tangle of princess and urbanite, Willie. Beate is the competent and trusty (if a bit naive) side-kick, to Adrian, mainly out of a crush she has on him that has never been returned. She is as savvy with research on the internet as she is gorgeous, and surprisingly holds her own in the Jungle. Most importantly she has dynamite chemistry with Lie Kaas. Where as Adrian is the skeptic voice of reason (something that runs counter to this type of film!), she is the faithful optimist willing to go into the jungle or stoically confront an armed road blockage if necessary. Already performing theatre on the big stages across europe and Broadway, I would not be the least surprised if in a few years she is an international star. Remember that Rachel Weisz got her big jump to fame in The Mummy franchise.

Made to be exported around the world, it is only a matter of time before the opportunity to see At World’s End comes along (Magnet, Rogue, E1 are you listening?)





27 comments

  1. I couldn't help but think of Korean films while watching this. There is a lot of darkness mixed in with the action and the humour. My only real gripe with the movie is the poor CGI effects for the helicopter scene. This movie was a lot of fun as a throwback to the 80s movies like Romancing the Stone, Alan Quartermain and other romance while on an adventure. I also found it somewhat interesting to watch as it plays with gender a bit. Beate is much more masculine than Adrien for most of the movie which was a nice twist.

  2. Kurt Halfyard

    It's kind of slapstick darkness (same as Adam's Apples). I don't think anything in this film is meant to be taken the least bit seriously. I'm fine with that, and even so it is still a little bit audacious. I love Anders Thomas Jensen, genius and prolific to boot.

  3. You are right on the not taking it serious but I do feel that the ending was a nice change of pace but I also think it will alienate casual movie going audience with its ending… of course its not like the casual movie going audience would go out and see an action flick with subtitles here in North America.

  4. Kurt Halfyard

    Everything about that ending was excellent (yet quite predictable if you've seen other films written by ATJ!) I enjoyed the living hell out of this movie. I think Gamble will supremely dig on it.

  5. Henrik

    Kurt you're out of your god damned mind. This is a brainless comedy based on people falling into holes and looking goofy in big glasses. This isn't even on the level of something like The Hangover it's utterly idiotic. Thomas Villum Jensen is a brutal hack, and if this movie had been a big american release instead of a big danish release, I can't possibly think you would have 1) gone to see it and 2) remotely liked it.

  6. If it had been an American Release instead of a Danish Release, it would have been ROMANCING THE STONE, and I like that film very much thank-you.

    Also, if you cannot appreciate that some of the humour here is of the smart-stupid variety, playing with conventions and audience expectations in a very good way considering how well-worn this genre is.

    I like the Rundown (with the Rock and Sean William-Scott) very much as well – and that is also big and dumb with people falling into holes and eating drug laced foliage.

  7. Henrik

    This is closer to Norbit than to The Rundown. The Rock isn't wearing funny glasses and tripping over his own feet.

    It would be like Romancing the Stone but with Michael Douglas playing his character like King of California.

  8. I love Jensen & Lie Kaas. I NEED to see this movie.

  9. You are clearly insane on this one Henrik, I'd say At Worlds End is actually a better film than The Rundown, because it really does mix up the usual tropes and whatnot of the genre.

    So this thing is like Norbit because it happens to have a joke revolving around feces (And it is pretty funny that it is, and even actually makes sense the response, because the authorites have other motivations and simply use the feces mishap as more reason to incarcerate Lie Kaas's character, but I digress).

    And really, because Lie Kaas wears glasses, this movie is idiotic? Seriously?

    I think you are off base on this in a big way.

    Curious as to your thoughts on The Green Butchers and Adam's Apples in light of your comments above. This may enlighten a bit on where you are coming from on ATJ and his humour and screenplays.

  10. Henrik

    Yeah it might. I love Flickering Lights (it's kindof the danish Big Lebowski, everybody can meet people by quoting it), was a big fan of The Green Butchers (Sven Sved is hilarious), but Adam's Apples was a bit too much of the same.

    You're forgetting that this is only written by Anders Thomas Jensen, it's directed by Thomas Villum Jensen who directs turds like the My Sisters Kids remakes and The Sun King. ATJ writes a shit-ton of movies, and this movie is no more an ATJ-film than Antichrist was. I think you're just seing things because it's all the same actors playing the exact same parts over and over again.

  11. Henrik

    This thing is like Norbit in that it's so extremely dumbed down, it's hard to even imagine a grown-up wanting to see it, let alone liking it, and I don't even say that to scorn you or anything, these are basically excerpts of conversations I had when the movie opened (I think it did gangbusters).

  12. Kurt Halfyard

    Henrik: Have you actually seen the film, and if so, why did you in the first place?

  13. Henrik

    I guess I'll have to come clean that I only saw the trailer, wanted to gouge my eyes out, talked to my friend who makes it a point to follow danish cinema, and he said it was as horrible as it looked in the trailer and he thought it was the worst movie of 2009. This is from an apologist of danish soap operas and action movies, so I trust his word combined with the trailer. (For anybody interested the trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ux-p8vP3TJA )

  14. Kurt Halfyard

    I'm glad we have established that you have not actually seen the film, the quality of the film is in the details, not the broad shell. No, not ever single joke works, but the vast majority do.

    If there is one thing to struggle with, it is some casual moments of indifference racism, but I'm thinking that this is actually a part of the joke on the Danes here from the screenwriter. Your mileage may vary.

    Please have your friend come into the comment section here Henrik, I'd be happy to debate someone who has seen the film on the finer points merit.

    Oh, and I do respect that you have no interest in the film. That is fine, but don't tell me the film is like Norbit until you have actually seen it, OK.

  15. Kurt Halfyard

    (in a bit further irony, I should make it clear that I've not seen NORBIT).

    How's that for funny! haha.

  16. Kurt Halfyard

    While the Cannon films release of both Alan Quartermain (Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone) films are nothing special, I am wondering what the reviews of Zemekis' Romancing The Stone were upon its release. This is not really the type of film that plays well to the mainstream press. The same mainstream press that embraced Indiana Jones 4. Not sure how the Danes reacted to Spielberg's Indy sequel though.

    • I believe the reviews were quite positive for Romancing the Stone.

      I watched the Siskel and Ebert review on YouTube at some point (since deleted) and they both gave it thumbs up – as they should!

      • And now I'm curious. How many times has Henrik jumped in here (or any forum he trolls) and called someone an idiot based on a movie he has not seen; but pretending like he has?

  17. Kurt Halfyard

    We do know that he's seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (The CGI one), and that he can enjoy a light fluffy movie for what it is on occasion, and he has a fetish for all things Reed Farrington, so I cannot always fathom the motivations that are taking place in his commentary. I do,however, understand loathing your own national cinema, it's a popular sport around the world! So I think it is more his local bias, than my exoticizing a Danish Adventure film where I would fail many a Hollywood entry.

    That's my thoughts on this strange little tangent we are having.

  18. Henrik

    More analysis of my speech and commenting patterns! Great.

    Yeah I can enjoy a good movie. Bad ones I don't enjoy.

    It's a bit of both Kurt, I was genuinely surprised (I would almost say shocked) that you would be positive towards a turd like this (I'm also surprised it made it out of the country). It's also frustrating to see these actors who used to be in amazing movies giving amazing performances being reduced to something like this, that seemingly has no heart and just tries to copy an american formula on a danish budget.

  19. Kurt Halfyard

    "More analysis of my speech and commenting patterns! Great."

    surely you see that this is brought upon by your own behavior and our consistent failure to understand it! Surely you know this and it gives you a secret little thrill, or our tastes and choices would have had you look elsewhere for film conversation long ago! You are either a saint or a masochist sometimes when it comes to Rowthree and FilmJunk (and Facebook).

    At Worlds End does try to copy an american formula on a Danish budget, and that very restraint (this is a what, $4M film?) pretty much forces it to be something else, and that something else is pretty damn good. I think, quite solid entertainment in the end. It beats all of those cynical over-produced $200M Jerry Bruckheimer productions by a country mile with its sense of humour and yes, very good actors and one of the worlds best screenwriters, especially for this sort of savage slapstick!

  20. Romancing the Stone was a bit of a critical darling, though no one expected it to be a hit. The studio was even so convinced the movie would flop that they pre-emptively fired Zemeckis from directing Cocoon. Then, once it blew up, his pet project was greenlit, a little film called Back to the Future.

    Shame that Diane Thomas died before writing another script. Supposedly she had finished a rough draft of an Indiana Jones sequel. Just think where that series could have gone.

  21. Henrik

    "surely you see that this is brought upon by your own behavior and our consistent failure to understand it!"

    Whatever, do we need to discuss it is the point? Yawn.

    Kurt I still think you're out of your god damned mind in this case.

  22. @kurt

    The Danish press gave the movie really bad reviews, only a couple of years after giving Indy4 glowing reviews.

    I really liked At World's End. I saw it twice in the cinemas and I now own the DVD.

  23. I rewatched Romancing the Stone quite recently and it still holds up, I really enjoyed myself.

  24. Favourite line from RtS, try to use it often where appropriate:

    "What started off as a hell of a morning, turned into a Bitch of a day."

    • I always prefer:

      "That's what I call a campfiiiirrrre…. *shudder*"
      or
      "Well, I think its time to throw another [kilo] on the fire."

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