Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. USA/Netherlands, 1979. Dino De Laurentiis Company, Famous Films. Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the novel by James Norman Hall, Charles Nordhoff. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Music by Nino Rota. Production Design by Danilo Donati. Costume Design by Danilo Donati. Film Editing by Sam O’Steen.
Dino De Laurentiis was so satisfied with the experience of remaking King Kong that he decided to bring more 1930s adventures to the modern screen, commissioning this abysmal update of John Ford’s classic. Essentially the same story but with some details moved around, it’s now about Mia Farrow as the daughter of Jason Robards (instead of Mary Astor as Raymond Massey’s wife) coming to the island of Pago Pago (filmed on Bora Bora) where Robards is ruling the island as a protectorate of the United States. Hunky young Matangi (Dayton Ka’ne) is set to take over the island’s native population as chief and marry the beautiful Moana, but when he and Farrow strike up a romance it threatens his future as well as Robards’ already insecure rages about keeping order. Arresting Matangi for a violation of colonial rule (he allows his people to engage in an outlawed wedding ritual that verifies the bride’s virginity), Robards means to lock him up and throw away the key, in theory because he believes in the law but actually because he doesn’t want his precious daughter getting mixed up with the guy. Matangi gets himself into more trouble by trying to escape, and the melodrama that it inspires is eventually made moot by an amazing storm that hits the island and wipes out thousands of extras. The film checks off a lot of boxes for popularity in seventies movies, particularly a romance set in exotic places and the popularity of disaster movies, but the characters are wooden and impossible to endure and this one comes nowhere near the quality of the Ford version. Despite filming on location with actual south sea islanders playing race-appropriate roles, the remake is actually far less in touch with the cultures it is portraying than the 1937 film was (even if it did have Dorothy Lamour in the role equivalent to Moana), while the efforts at massive special effects don’t come anywhere near the feeling that the earlier magicians had on the viewer despite the updates in technology.