I may not spend a full three thousand years at it, and my longing for films by George Miller qualifies more as anticipation than yearning, but I find myself bouncing on happy feet whenever I head to a theater to see one of his projects. This includes Miller’s newest, Three Thousand Years of Longing.
With films as varied as the Mad Max movies plus Babe: Pig in the City, and the penguins of Happy Feet, Miller goes off in unexpected directions that explore different aspects of fantasy and storytelling. Three Thousand Years of Longing addresses both with Tilda Swinton as a literary expert on the roots of tales and Idris Elba as a genie she inadvertently frees. Both suit their parts perfectly, the tall, stately Swinton in a dowdy professorial ensemble and Elba shirtless and sporting flexible serrated ears.
Setting out a few rules like quote you can’t wish for as many wishes as you want, Elba’s genie finds himself dealing with a knowledgeable and wary woman, one who knows about trickster ways that lead to bad results. A highly verbal duo, the two narrate and talk over much of the action, almost undermining the hugely cinematic nature of a story featuring an exotic Turkish setting, colorful costuming, and magical effects. Visual splendor abounds but content proves far more esoteric and talkie than Disney’s take on Aladdin.
Following a short story whose author A.S. Byatt explores origins of myths, Three Thousand Years of Longing retains self-consciously intellectual elements. The film also avoids a cliched view of romance with the odd pairing of Swinton and Elba. Neither exude much passion, but they seem happy overanalyzing their compatibility. As for me, Elba emerging from a bottle seems like a great idea and I might show just a little more excitement.