2022 has been a solid year for theaters and the industry that supports them. Finally, the masses have returned, albeit slowly and cautiously after the global pandemic has slowed down business 2 and a half years ago. Understandably so, being in a crowed theater feels like we’re human anchovies, and the concept of it during quarantine made the experience nearly impossible, even closing some legendary theaters in the process. Certain films need the theater going experience to thrive on, going straight to streaming simply isn’t the option to grasp the director’s full vision and I don’t blame the trepidation in dumping a film on one of the many streaming services.
Look at what Tom Cruise was able to accomplish in keeping Top Gun: Maverick on the release schedule, push back after push back, refusing to let his baby, 36 years in the making die a slow death on streaming. No at home theater system, no matter how expensive, would be advanced enough to capture the piercing sound design from the billion dollars plus film the way a theater can. I can’t imagine experiencing Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis at home either nor the visionary George Miller’s film Three Thousand Years of Longing. The title says it all, we long to share the same theatrical experience of an opening night together – the buzz in anticipation leading up and the emotion of the roller coaster ride hitting its peaks and valleys along the way.
Before the film even begins, Miller thanks us, the viewer for our solidarity and patience in viewing his film where it belongs, on the big screen. To reiterate, I can’t imagine seeing this visual powerhouse on a dated flatscreen with distractions around every corner that could draw the eyes away from the screen that may not be able to support the dark blacks contrasting with the lush pops in color. Simply put, Three Thousand Years of Longing is breathtaking, sucking the viewer into the escapism a film like this can manage while filling the frame with a unique perspective of detail.
Beauty in every frame aside, much of Three Thousand Years based on the literary work The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eyes by A. S. Byatt takes place in a simple Istanbul hotel room during a conference. A room occupied by Alithea Binnie (Tulsa Swinton) who comes across an ancient glass sculpture in a shop in the grand bazaar which, once she cleans it with a toothbrush unleashes a Djinn (Idris Elba).
During their time together in the Istanbul hotel room, the Djinn grants Alithea 3 wishes of her hearts desire which would in turn free the Djinn. He proceeds to tell Alithea of 3 stories in his past about love and loss and how he came to be trapped in the bottle Alithea purchases. At 108 minutes, Miller paces the film rather steadily, splitting time between the two with the 3 stories in the past. Though, the stories of the Djinn’s past are crucial to the narrative as a whole as each past love is reincarnated in Alithea. She is the embodiment of the Queen of Sheba (Aamito Labum), and Zefir (Burcu Gölgedar) the two loves of the Djinn’s everlasting life.
Together, Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are the films core strength, the chemistry between the two propels the many themes and emotional depth Miller is going for in his script, which he co-wrote with Augusta Gore forward, constantly moving. But with the dense subject matter of the heart’s desire, the spectacle is given more emphasis than the story. I found myself latching on the visual effects more than hoping for a happy ending full of love and desire where Alithea finds true happiness and the Djinn is set free from his everlasting bondage. However, when it is just Elba and Swinton on screen together and nothing else matters, Three Thousand Years finds its footing between stories. I’m a sucker for moments in films where it’s just two people talking about ideas, concepts, and reality.
Naturally, Elba exudes charm – as a mythological creature, charm pours out of his humanity and spirit. Elba is one of the few actors that no matter who he is paired with, chemistry burns bright as if they are the only two in existence. During the Djinn’s stories, the chemistry is matched by the supporting ensemble, creating a desire to stay with these characters for the three thousand years, instead of getting an abridged version of events.
For its sheer ambition, Miller is an interesting choice to tackle this type of concept. His ability as a director isn’t in question since Miller’s range goes from Mad Max to Happy Feet. As a visionary, I can’t imagine many other directors pulling off the scale of visual effects that are used to tell the story. The rules of the 3 granted wishes are established immediately after the Djinn begins to adapt to the world in its current state and the continuity never falters or forgets the rules like many genre-based films do. The concept of magic and science is briefly explored and given that both Elba and Swinton’s MCU counterparts are magic based, in which their magic is science we don’t understand yet, the two find a comfortability in the topics.
Unfortunately, Three Thousand Years suffers at the mercy of the release schedule. Debuting in 2,436 theaters, the high concept is considered a huge financial failure, given the $60 million budget and little ROI despite a magical tale that will expand the imagination. The visuals and Miller’s direction alone should be enough reason to venture to the theaters while not much else is playing with the transition into Oscar season. Add in the two magnetically charged performances by Elba and Swinton and Three Thousand Years sticks the landing on the rougher side, in one way or another.
Screenplay By: George Miller & Augusta Gore
Directed By: George Miller
Music By: Tom Holkenborg
Cinematography: John Seale
Starring: Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Aamito Lagum, Matteo Bocelli, Burcu Gölgedar, Kaan Guldur, Jack Braddy
Release Date: August 26, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 48 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
Based On: The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A. S. Byatt