Quintet (1979 movie) review…

Quintet (1979 movie) review after the break…

Quintet (1979 movie) review…

We’ve all heard of the phenomenon known as the “re-make,” where Hollywood takes a previously made movie that performed fairly well at the box office and simply ‘re-makes’ it (hence the name) with a new cast and crew (also see: “re-boot”). Sometimes, a re-make occurs because producers feel that a successful foreign film, shown with English subtitles, would not be a sufficient box office draw and so the movie is re-made with American actors and an American setting.

However, the 1979 movie “Quintet,” starring Paul Newman (yes, that one), doesn’t feel like a re-make but more like a “de-make” – As though someone from the future sent a script back through time and challenged older Hollywood to attempt to make it using older Hollywood effects, actors and scriptwriting conventions. In “Quintet,” you see hints of contemporary movies like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Waterworld” and even a splash of reality television, such as “Big Brother.” To be fair, though, at it’s core, “Quintet” is nothing more then just another re-dressing of “The Most Dangerous Game” cross-bred with “Ten Little Indians.”

“Quintet” gives two large concepts for the audience to swallow: One – That the world is seeing a new ice age, one that is perceived to be hopelessly long with no chance of survival for the human race. Two – At this last bastion of humanity, a board game is so popular with the remaining populace that it is being played out, in some circles, with the highest possible stakes.

Paul Newman plays “Essex,” a man visiting his brother in an abandoned mall or pavilion (it’s never specific just what the building was prior to the ice age, but the shooting location was an abandoned pavilion) being used to house those enduring the new brutal ice age. While Essex runs an errand for his brother, his brother (along with Essex’s wife), is killed by a bomb. Essex chases the guilty man down and thus begins a quest to find out why the bombing occurred and who else was involved.

The film is constantly selling the concept that it is cold – Frost, ice and icicles adorns everything in the building, even where people normally eat and sleep. No, you don’t have glaucoma and your television doesn’t need to be replaced – The film purposely “smears” the edges of the screen so that only the center is crystal clear to the viewer, a visual effect meant to convey that even the camera lens is partially frosted over while filming. People’s breaths are also frequently seen, signifying a temperature far below that which is comfortable. All the cold imagery becomes a bit ridiculous over time. Yes, we get it, it’s cold. Thanks for tell us. Get on with the script.

Apparently, our survivors must have found the costumes from a renaissance fair (or is it “faire”?) to use because everyone is dressed as though they are participating in one. Large, floppy hats are all the rage and dark clothing is aplenty (except for Mr. Newman, sharply adorned in white-hued clothing, in case the audience forgets that he’s the protagonist in this movie). I was half expecting to see residents of this repurposed pavilion dance around a maypole and play the lute and fife.

For all the attention paid to project a new, alien world of ice and hopelessness, the real star of the show is the board game itself. “Quintet,” believe it or not, is an actual game with actual rules. While it was probably quickly designed by a journeyman board game designer for the expressed purpose of the movie (having looked at the rules, I’m fairly certain the board game was made to fit the movie and not the other way around), it is a nice little detail that typifies the difference between the movies of today and the movies of yesteryear – That theatrical run movies had to actually “feel” like movies and convey a certain level of quality.

Unfortunately, the movie does concentrate on the board game and that’s where the movie falters. The movie is nothing more then a re-dressed version of “The Most Dangerous Game” although more contemporary viewers will see it as an arctic version of “TAG (The Assassination Game).” It’s not even a fast-paced version of it – The deaths are mostly off-screen and, even when they aren’t, are played out in old-time network TV-movie fashion. The most violent the movie gets is when a character slashes the throat of another character; There’s a quick flash of thin redness across the character’s throat and… That’s it. No violent struggles; No elongated fight sequences. Anyone thinking they’ll see some action… Well, there’s other offerings out there.

Reviewing an older movie is always a bit tricky because the high concepts of yesteryear are the well-worn cliches of today. In this case, the central theme of the movie is “You can only experience life when constantly facing death.” To modern viewers, it’s not exactly a bold new concept – Several other movies have since tread that very familiar path. The horror movie franchise “Saw” pins it’s entire existence to that very concept. Yet the revelation that, once again, there is no there there in this movie was a bit disheartening. It makes the entire journey feel hollow. What do these people do afterwards? How many of these types of games occur? Why would anyone even bother to play them to begin with?

The whole “ice planet” setting is wasted if the entire point of the movie is merely a game in which people kill other people and even that game doesn’t make much sense. The point of an assassination game is that you don’t know who is aiming at you – In this game, there’s only five players. The pool of suspects are so small that it’s not inconceivable to manage the risk.

I’m guessing that the “ice planet” science fiction setting might have been foisted onto the script as a result of the blockbuster “Star Wars” success two years prior, when, all of a sudden, science fiction was white hot again and everyone wanted to get in on that success. “Quintet” ultimately feels awkward in it’s setting, much like “Logan’s Run” did when attempting to sell a re-dressed mall as an underground utopia.

I envision that “Quintet” would have been far more successful in a contemporary setting without the science fiction dressing; In a casino hotel where no one could leave until a winner emerged. With casino security notorious for multiple cameras, how could it not be feasible to have a few paid off casino guards ensure that our participants wouldn’t be able to escape until the game had been played? Paul Newman could’ve starred as a Las Vegas detective who unwittingly gets involved and must now fight his way out of an increasingly bizarre set of circumstances.

“Quintet” is visually arresting but it ultimately doesn’t make use of it – Unlike “Waterworld” where the world was the story (the plot was to find Dryland, the only place that wasn’t water), “Quintet” has a story of survival but not from the elements but from other people. It doesn’t fit and the use of accomplished actors only makes the movie more painful to watch.

“Quintet” is like a bad AAA-title video game – Nice graphics but lousy game play and when it comes to games, game play is king. “Quintet” wasn’t a success at the box office and, if you watch the movie, you can see why.


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