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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Rapa Nui
Rapa Nui
Warner Archives // R // October 20, 2015
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Nick Hartel | posted December 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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I'm still more than a little surprised that Kevin Reynolds' "Rapa Nui" managed to avoid a DVD release for nearly two decades of the format's viability. "Rapa Nui" has long remained on the list of films I've longed to see but due to it's missing in action status on any decent home video format and streaming, I've been unable to up until now. Produced in 1994, three years removed from Reynolds' finacially sucessful, but critically mediocre, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", "Rapa Nui" explores one of the more mysterious places and cultures of the millenia, Easter Island. Shot on location, "Rapa Nui" (the name for the people who inhabited the island centuries prior and built the iconic Moai) is part romance, part drama, part adventure film that seems to find its spot in the history of the island somewhere around the time of a civil war between the island's ruling class, Long Ears and the working/indentured servant class, the Short Ears.

Our eyes into the world of the Rapa Nui is Noro (Jason Scott Lee), a Long Ear and grandson to the island's current ruling Birdman. The film wouldn't be exciting without some form of conflict and drama, so naturally, Noro is in love with Ramana (Sandrine Holt), a Short Ear who is the focal point of unrequited love of fellow Short Ear Make (Esai Morales) a secret friend of Noro. Normally this would be enough to sustain a film on its own, however Reynolds and fellow screenwriter Tim Rose Price heap more conflict on top of things, thorwing Noro into an ancient contest that will result in the crowning of a new Birdman, with Noro's prize being permission to marry Ramana. All this is set against the backdrop of the cruel treatment of the Short Ears as they are forced to create giant towering Moai while the island's food supply dwindles as a result of deforestation that drives the Moai production. If all this sounds complex and confusing, it's actually not as Reynolds' film provides a simplistic view of almost every aspect of the Rapa Nui culture lending to a very shallow, unsatisfying film.

It's a tremendous shame that on-location filming is squandered on such a poorly crafted genre-vague film. While the majority of the blame goes to the blasee script, another portion goes to a poor casting choice of Jason Scott Lee as the film's lead. Although Lee was coming off great success in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" here he seems way in over his head, not knowing whether he's an action hero (the film's finale is its strongest section featuring the race for Birdman, which is beautifully filmed and edited), romantic lead, or reluctant leader. Lee struggles to command screen presence, most notably when put into dramatic conflict with co-star Esai Morales, who comes off as more suited for the role. Add to this, a mixture of trite dialogue peppered with outlandish statements by the reigning Birdman which are so absurd I don't know whether they were intentional or trying to keep with the film's faux historical authenticity (I won't even go into detail here apart from saying the Moai were no longer being built during the events portrayed in the film).

Apart from the film's thrilling action-adventure sequences, "Rapa Nui" is a dull, serious mistep of a film. Beautiful cinematography and fascinating production design can't save a film that fails as a tale of civil war and injustice nor its poorly executed love story. In hindsight, when compared to Reynolds' most noteworth offerings: "Robin Hood: Price of Thieves" and "Waterworld", it's clear he's a director of tremendous ambition, whose sense of scope often exceeds his ability to reign in a truly compelling narrative. "Rapa Nui" is guilty several times over of the cinematic sin of kitchen sink storytelling. At a scant 107-minutes, it tries to do way too much and is stuck in a painful cycle of mediocrity that perpetuates until it's closing scenes. A truly unsatisfying experience, made all the more frustrating by its incredible visual appeal.


THE VIDEO

The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a crushing disappointment. This Warner Archives disc suffers from an antiquated transfer that wouldn't have passed muster in the early days of the format. Colors are slightly washed out, neutering the fantastic cinematography of the real Easter Island. There are a few sequences even far out in the ocean, that show glimmers of eye-catching wonder, but are plagued by a slightly unnatural look. Added to that is a smeary, poor level of detail that permeates the entire image; it's somewhat reminscent of overcranked DNR, yet there's a slight focus issue that betrays the likely culprit being a pre-HD transfer. There's some minor compression issues that I often see associated with these MOD discs, although in the pantheon of Warner Archives releases of more modern films, "Rapa Nui" looks the worst by a long shot.


THE AUDIO

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio track is head and shoulders above the image in technical prowess. Dialogue is clear and dominates the front channels, while the surrounds get a healthy workout, bringing in some strong LFE during the film's final act. It's definitely an aural presentation that give a sense of atmosphere and scope to Reynolds' vision.


EXTRAS

None.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite having wanted to see "Rapa Nui" for nearly two decades, finally seeing it from start to finish is a crushing disappointment. Reynolds' final film only vaguely captures the sense of wonder one gets when they see a Moai and think of the people responsible for their creation. "Rapa Nui" is a mediocre cinematic exercise, betrayed on DVD by an incredibly poor transfer. I honestly walk away from this presentation, wishing I had never viewed the film to begin with; it's a shame, despite its flaws, it will likely never see a proper HD Blu-Ray release as such a release would at least allow the inherent beauty of the production design to take center stage. Skip It.

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